MCK turns old digital phones into IP handsets

MCK Communications Inc. last month debuted a voice over IP gateway it says can turn the digital phones common on most enterprise desktops into feature- and application-rich IP handsets.

At the Voice on the Net show in Atlanta, MCK debuted its SetConneX gateway, which it says can be used to provide IP phone capabilities to common digital business phones when installed as part of an outsourced VoIP service. The box could allow an enterprise to make the jump to a VoIP service without having to install IP handsets, which can cost three times as much as the digital phones most enterprises probably have already. For enterprises that want to keep their VoIP technology in-house, the gateway could be used in the future to connect digital phones to an IP PBX.

In a hosted IP voice scenario, the 24-port SetConnex would sit where a PBX or telephone key system would reside in a network, connecting to a building’s telephone wiring rack. An Ethernet port on the SetConneX can link to a router, from which an IP voice service would be piped in from a service provider.

For the SetConnex’s debut, MCK has partnered with VoIP softswitch vendor Sylantro Systems, which will sell the product combo to carriers and voice application service providers. The MCK/Sylantro combo is in trials with San Jose, Calif.-based VoIP service provider GoBeam Inc.

According to MCK, the first version of the SetConnex will be compatible with Nortel’s Norstar digital phones, of which there are over 13 million installed worldwide. The SetConnex mimics the signaling of a Nortel PBX, allowing it to communicate with the phones. The box can also interpret call control commands and applications from an IP softswitch, such as Sylantro’s equipment, and convert those commands back into Nortel PBX signals.

In addition to providing basic PBX functions, such as multiple lines, call hold, transfer and conferencing, the box can provide IP phone-like applications to digital handsets, controlled by an IP softswitch in a carrier network. Such applications include “click-to-dial,” which lets an end user place calls by clicking on contacts from a Microsoft Outlook address book.

Text messages can also be displayed on Nortel handsets with LCD screens. Other IP phone functions that go beyond traditional digital handset features include a listing of previous calls received and calls placed, and the ability to call back missed calls with one button.

In the first half of 2002, MCK will add support for Avaya Inc. digital phone signalling to the SetConneX, in an attempt to tap into the estimated 18 million Avaya and Lucent handsets installed worldwide. MCK next year also plans to release a version of the SetConneX that can be deployed with any IP-based call server or IP-enabled PBX.

The SetConneX is available now for US$150 per phone.