Intel box extends PBX functionality

Intel Corp. last month released an IP telephony product that could put the power of a central-site PBX into a small branch office or a telecommuter’s den.

Intel’s iPOD could help companies lower their phone costs by connecting small branch-office and home-office workers to a centralized PBX with voice over IP. Instead of deploying small PBXs or key systems in remote sites, net managers could use the product to provide voice connectivity over a remote site’s WAN link.

The iPOD offering – developed by Dialogic Corp., Intel’s computer telephony subsidiary – is a small, rack-mountable device that connects to a Nortel Networks Corp. Meridian or Avaya Inc. Definity PBX via a standard RJ-11 phone wire. On the other end of iPOD is a Category 5 Ethernet jack that is used to bridge phone calls to an IP network.

One iPOD can be used to connect up to eight IP phones to a PBX by mapping each phone’s IP address to an extension on the PBX. This is done by assigning static IP addresses to specific phones or by assigning addresses on the fly through the device’s internal Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol server. By mapping IP addresses to phone extensions, any H.323-compliant IP phone (from makers such as Cisco Systems Inc., PingTel Inc. and Siemens AG) can become a regular PBX phone extension, whether the phone is sitting on an internal LAN or in a remote location and connected by an IP WAN link, such as a T-1 or ISDN line.

Once iPOD is configured and mapped to IP addresses on the PBX side of the network, deployment of phones is simple, said Vince Connors, product manager for iPOD.

“IT managers could just send IP phones to a remote site, tell employees there to plug them in, and they’d be off and running,” Connors said.

Workers at a remote site can use all features of the remote PBX, such as in-house extension dialing, hold, call forwarding, conferencing and voice-mail access.

iPOD was previously available to PBX vendors (such as Mitel) as part of an offer for IP-enabling a legacy PBX. The previous version of the product could only communicate through proprietary communications protocols used by the legacy PBX vendors. The new version of iPOD that will be sold to end users communicates via the H.323 voice over IP protocol, which is becoming a standard protocol in IP telephony.

iPOD will compete with products such as the PBXgateway II from MCK Communications, which can connect up to 24 PBX extensions in a single box, but at US$9,000, costs three times as much as iPOD.

The H.323-compatible iPOD is available now and costs around US$2,700.