MCI unveils managed IP PBX offering

MCI this week used the VON Conference & Expo in Boston to announce a Managed IP PBX service with partners NEC and Cisco. The service is targeted at companies with 200 to 5,000 users and complements other VoIP offerings in MCI’s existing Advantage Portfolio, including its Hosted IP Centrex service.

One of MCI’s strengths is its full portfolio of VoIP offerings, said Nancy Gofus, MCI senior vice president of IP Services. MCI can now either install and manage your IP PBX or host those capabilities in the cloud, and integrate your legacy voice gear using the existing IP Integrated Access service.

Customers can expect to pay US$250 to $350/user for NEC’s upfront planning and implementation work for the Managed IP PBX service, and about $650/user for Cisco’s IP telephony gear, says Jim DeMerlis, MCI’s vice president of managed network services.

MCI’s ongoing monitoring, fault isolation, maintenance and optimization of the resultant network will cost $7.50/handset/month for up to 200 handsets, with that dropping to $5/handset/month when 1,000 sets are managed and to around $3/handset/month for still larger implementations.

The company will pitch the Managed IP PBX service promising cost savings, reduced complexity and the ability to leave the driving to MCI, DeMerlis says.

“We have 3,200 managed WAN customers today we can leverage,” says Laurie Shook, director of IP Telephony. These are mid- to high-end commercial companies that already trust us, DeMerlis adds. “Now they can look to us for all their VoIP needs.”

With Managed IP PBX available in 52 countries from the get go, analysts questioned whether MCI was changing focus, emphasizing this new approach more than the previously announced Hosted IP Centrex service. The latter is available in the U.S. today and won’t be rolled out globally until next year.

IP Centrex requires investment in the network, Gofus says, and that takes time. “With the Managed IP PBX offering, NEC and Cisco already have people on the ground in 52 countries.”

Gofus says MCI is already working on interoperability between the Managed IP PBX and Hosted IP Centrex services, but doesn’t anticipate any problems because they are all based on the same Cisco infrastructure.

Analysts also asked if the acquisition of MCI by Verizon, which is expected to be consummated in 2006, will disrupt any of these investment plans. “We’re working with Verizon, describing our portfolio and direction,” Gofus says. “The message back is spend more, not less. This global portfolio is a great fit with Verizon’s strengths.”

Cisco Vice President of U.S. Channels Bob Gault was at the announcement to answer questions about Cisco’s roll in the service, and said this isn’t an exclusive deal. “We could strike deals with other big carriers, but we wouldn’t want to pile on the channel,” Gault says. “Other deals would have to be different in terms of the solution, the market segment, the vertical market served.”

What Cisco really gets out of such deals is expanded reach. “We don’t have as many account manages as carriers do. We can grow through partners.”

As part of the Managed IP PBX announcement MCI also announced IP Trunking, a new service that makes it possible for customers to do away with voice gateways and separate LEC trunks. All local, Internet and long distance traffic can now be pumped through these IP Trunks, and local traffic can be routed into the local grid as necessary through network-based gateways.

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