Lucent wheels out convergence gear

Lucent Technologies Inc. is introducing a feature server for carriers that will integrate IP phone calls, calendaring, instant messaging, e-mail and other applications to create new voice-data services.

Called Enhanced Business Services (EBS) 2.0, the software runs on Sun servers and sits in service provider networks, where it provides instructions to other network devices to create complex services.

Such services include follow-me messaging that would, for example, let a person receive notification that an important e-mail has arrived at his workstation via an automated call to the phone where that person is suspected to be. Lucent says it will introduce more features on the server platform roughly every quarter. Through interfaces with other network gear, the technology also supports the well-known Centrex services that mimic the functions of a corporate PBX.

The new server will pit Lucent against vendors such as Alcatel SA, Cisco Systems Inc., Nortel Networks Corp., Sylantro Systems Corp. and Santara Systems Inc.

Use of this type of IP phone service requires customers to connect to an IP service network, but not necessarily the Internet. They could run both voice and data over one link to the provider’s network, making it possible to save money by eliminating separate voice and data lines. If customers buy an IP Centrex service they also can eliminate the need to own a PBX.

The EBS 2.0 feature server includes e-mail, calendar and follow-me, or presence, software supplied by Sun via a partnership, says Ken Arndt, product marketing director for EBS.

EBS 2.0 must work in tandem with another piece of Lucent equipment called iMerge Centrex Feature Gateway, a gateway between IP telephony networks and the Centrex feature software that is part of Class 5 switches. IMerge enables use of Centrex software on Class 5 switches to supply PBX-like features to voice phone calls running over IP nets.

Arndt says Lucent plans to create interfaces so EBS 2.0 can connect directly with softswitches, the server-based gear that provides the functionality of traditional carrier voice circuit switches.

To use a service based on EBS 2.0, a customer logs on to a secure Web site where he is presented with a page of the services for which he has signed up. He then clicks on the service, such as voice conferencing. The customer chooses the parties to include in the call, and EBS 2.0 coordinates the network elements needed to complete it.

The jury is out on how popular these IP-based services will be, says Lisa Pierce, a research fellow for Giga Information Group and a Network World columnist. “How many multimedia applications will be offered by carriers and adopted by customers over the next three to five years? Nobody knows,” Pierce says.

But she notes that these application servers let carriers migrate toward IP without getting rid of existing equipment. “This is very important to keeping the cost of convergence down,” Pierce says.

While Lucent has yet to announce any customers for EBS 2.0, it says that within months it will reveal that a regional Bell operating company is deploying the server, Arndt says. SBC Communications Inc. uses Lucent gear already to support IP Centrex services via the iMerge platform.

Initially, Lucent designed EBS to sit on corporate sites and to be owned by businesses. But the company found that customers didn’t want the added expense of buying the equipment. But even if they buy a service, they do so without signing away control of their corporate databases. EBS 2.0 lets carriers tap into customer-located Lightweight Directory Access Protocol databases to gather needed IP address and phone number information, giving customers the ability to control security for the databases.