3Com launches set of products for IP telephony

3Com Corp. announced a set of products last week designed to help companies converge voice and data networks onto the Internet Protocol, including a new version of an enterprise-class IP voice module that runs on Linux-based servers.

The voice module revision, the 3Com VCX 5.0 IP Telephony module, starts at US$250,000 (all figures U.S.) and is designed for operations with more than 400 users, 3Com officials said.

The city of Waukesha, Wis., has been using the latest VCX version for about a month for approximately 500 city employees and expects to reap $150,000 in operating expense savings per year through free IP calls between city buildings and less maintenance by external service providers, said Greg Vanness, an IT technician for the city. Waukesha has traditionally used 3Com switches and other networking gear for a decade, so the transition is a logical one, he said.

The VCX is based on the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), which makes it easy to provide connections to a variety of new user applications, including e-mail notification, he said. E-mail notification simply means that users will get a voice mail message saying an e-mail is waiting, although the contents of the e-mail are not conveyed.

The system allows users to play voice messages embedded within their e-mail, although city officials decided to turn off that feature because it meant users could potentially play a voice mail over the speakers on a PC into an office in possible violation of the caller’s privacy, Vanness said.

Another feature that has already proved popular provides the ability for users to set up voice mail so that the caller is transferred to a cell phone or a home phone, based on rules the user determines, Vanness said.

All the new calling features such as Caller ID and e-mail notification were not that impressive to many users at first, Vanness said.

“When we first started, we got lots of complaints, but people began to like it, especially saying the clarity of voice calls is very clear,” he said. About half the staff doesn’t understand the need for many of the SIP-enabled features and wants only basic phone functionality.

But the IP innovations mean that the city can explore a variety of options more easily, including videoconferencing and the chance to run software-based phones on laptops used by city workers and those aboard fire department trucks, he said.

“We have many more capabilities with VCX,” Vanness said.

In addition to the newest VCX version, 3Com announced other products in the new 3Com Convergence Applications Suite, including a new NBX V3000 IP Telephony system for up to 40 users, priced at $1,995 and available at the end of October; an NBX SuperStack 3 IP Telephony system for small to medium-size companies of 41 to 400 users; and an NBX 100 IP Telephony system for small businesses with two to 200 users.

Johna Till Johnson, president of Nemertes Research LLC in New York, said surveys of companies considering or using voice over IP show that most want improved productivity with such deployments and not simply cost savings. SIP and other standards will help enable applications that can deliver productivity enhancements, she said.

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