Cisco details VOIP strategy

Cisco Systems Inc. plans to do more than simply provide the equipment necessary for delivering VOIP (voice over IP) telephony services; the company will also deliver value-added services to carriers, service providers, and enterprises.

That was the message delivered by Michael Frendo, vice-president of Cisco’s protocol and session application division, who gave details this week about the San Jose, Calif.-based networker’s VOIP strategy.

“If you look at Cisco’s play in the enterprise space, it’s not just about building the backbone and the types of switching technologies and quality of service mechanisms to deliver voice,” Frendo said. “It’s also about enabling some of the services that we believe uniquely deliver value.”

As examples, Frendo cited unified messaging, IP-based call centres, and “customer interactive” applications that could enable a user to click an icon on a Web page to be connected, by voice, to a live operator.

However the success or failure of those types of services will depend heavily on converged networks that combine data, voice, and video, Frendo said, because converged networks form the basic pipeline that will allow new applications to be delivered to customers quickly and cheaply.

Not surprisingly, a widespread movement toward converged networks would almost certainly translate into more router, switch, and software sales for Cisco. Still, Frendo was quick to add that the process of actually migrating to converged networks could be tricky – especially when it comes to service providers’ networks, most of which are based on older TDM (time-division multiplexing) technology.

“The billions of dollars that have been invested in Class 4 and Class 5 switches are not going to disappear overnight,” Frendo said. “This is a process that’s going to take a decade. It might even take longer.”

Hence, IP-based services will have to be eased seamlessly into existing network infrastructures. “No one’s going to be satisfied if their phone stops working tomorrow,” Frendo said.

In the future, equipment makers and networkers will have to seamlessly transmit voice packets between the enterprise’s IP network and the service provider’s, Frendo said. “Our experience in both markets is a great competitive advantage,” he noted.

Until then, Cisco will continue to work toward making its products interoperable with offerings from other vendors, according to Frendo. Those remarks conflicted sharply with earlier accusations from Santa Clara, Calif.-based 3Com that Cisco was blocking customers from building mix-and-match VOIP networks.

“Some of our competitors are suggesting that you pull out [your existing Ethernet network] and start again with a branded solution,” said Greg Zweig, a 3Com product manager. “A customer who has a perfectly good, operational system is suddenly told by a sales rep, ‘That’s nice, but it doesn’t meet our requirements for X, Y, and Z.’ ”

Zweig singled out Cisco, alleging that the company is attempting to “control customers at every level of the network infrastructure.”