Alcatel introduces convergence platform

Alcatel is targeting the voice/data convergence space with a PBX system that the vendor says allows firms to migrate from separate voice and data networks to one network for both traffic types at their own pace.

“We like to say it’s IP without any compromise,” said Mark Truhlar, vice-president and general manager of Alcatel’s internetworking division.

Alcatel’s converged PBX, known as the OmniPCX 4400, is a chassis-based system and incorporates a client/server Unix architecture. The system encompasses components from Alcatel’s telephony division, pieces of Alcatel’s OmniSwitch line, servers, handsets and telephony applications. Truhlar said the system provides 99.999 per cent uptime and scales from 50 users all the way up to 50,000.

Truhlar believes the OmniPCX 4400’s main attraction for enterprises will be the applications it allows them to run.

For instance, Truhlar noted, with the 4400 organizations can link office telephony directories from around the globe and allow employees to dial other employees within the same organization by entering a last name. Truhlar cited unified messaging, and Web-based call centres as other applications the 4400 enables.

Unlike IP PBX offerings from some vendors, Truhlar said, the OmniPCX 4400 does not require an enterprise to shift completely from separate voice and data networks to one unified network.

Enterprises could migrate their voice traffic gradually onto their data networks with the 4400 and keep their voice networks intact. Management software running on the 4400 could track latency on the data network and if traffic became too high, the software could begin shifting voice calls from the data network back onto the voice network to ensure proper voice quality, Truhlar explained.

While the idea of being able to migrate gradually from two networks to one could seem appealing, IDC Canada analyst Dan McLean noted enterprises that keep two networks in place might not achieve the cost savings typically associated with moving to one network for both voice and data.

“Part of the big picture with these systems is they’re going to need to be cheaper and more versatile (than two separate networks),” McLean said.

Alcatel isn’t the only vendor advocating a gradual shift from two networks to one, McLean noted. Other vendors with a telecommunications heritage, such as Nortel Networks, are pushing similar strategies, while data-centric vendors such as Cisco Systems Inc. and 3Com Corp. are advocating a more rapid switch to one converged network.

“Their (Cisco and 3Com) product sets are going the total route – going to a forklift move to IP PBXs,” McLean said.

McLean explained few shops are actually implementing converged voice/data PBXs at present, but he believes it’s important that vendors begin getting their convergence messages out now.

“We’re talking about a market that doesn’t exist in a significant way,” McLean said, “but when it does I think the advantage will go to vendors who have built a good market perception.”

Alcatel Canada in Weston, Ont. can be reached at 416-742-1136 or