Mitel aims for migration with IP wares

Industry analysts say Mitel Networks is on the path to impressing the enterprise with its new IP telephony equipment, but they also say the vendor has to hustle for respect.

Ottawa-based Mitel unveiled a bevy of wares in October. Up first is the SX-200 ICP, an IP telephony platform that the company says provides a simple migration path for customers wary of tossing out legacy equipment.

It’s also easy to use, according to Paul Butcher, Mitel’s president and chief operating officer. “It comes out of the box, it self-configures and it’s ready to go,” he said during a product launch in Toronto.

The SX-200 ICP works as a standalone key system, a networked IP-PBX for small- and medium-sized businesses, and a branch office solution for the enterprise.

It supports 96 IP users per controller, as well as 200 digital end-points through expansion bays. As such, customers need not switch whole-heartedly to IP; they can keep their TDM handsets and use the SX-200 ICP for migration down the line.

Bob Hafner, Toronto-based chief of research at Gartner Inc., said the platform makes sense for companies that “tend to look for very good, basic phone services, the ability to continue supporting traditional TDM phones on the new systems….A hotel, for example, probably doesn’t want IP phones in all of the rooms. But they want perhaps IP phone capabilities for some of the administrative staff.”

The SX-200 ICP also acts as a teleworking platform. It authenticates and connects off-site handsets to the network when employees work from home. And this new box supports 802.11b wireless connections, as well SMTP, and messaging features to bring voice mail and e-mail closer together.

On the software side, Mitel announced the Collaboration Suite, designed to help distributed workforces come together. It’s built on Mitel’s Your Assistant collaboration software, but adds new modules data sharing and video conferencing.

In Collaboration Suite, users need only drag-and-drop icons on their computer screens to create audio conferences on the fly. The system also allows for on-screen presentations to be shared among conference members, and provides for sidebar conversations if a pair of participants wants some privacy.

Mitel built the video conferencing portion on its existing Voice First solution, a program whereby users make voice conversations into visual sessions at the push of a button on the phone.

The data collaboration module lets users share documents, and offers a feature that pops info about a particular project onto the computer screen when associates involved in the endeavour call the user.

Mitel also unveiled a dual-boot phone that operates in the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and Mitel’s own MiNET protocol. That means the phone could be used in any SIP environment, attached to any vendor’s SIP-based gear. Mitel said this product would be available early next year.

And Mitel unveiled an access module that attaches to the back of IP phones, providing a plug for traditional PSTN connectivity as well as Ethernet. Butcher said the access module acts a failsafe should IP connectivity disappear.

“We’re seeing an application for this where you have four or five phones” connected to an IP box not on the premises, but perhaps far away at company HQ, Butcher said.

Hafner from Gartner said Mitel’s broad phone portfolio sets it apart from competitors. But when it comes to impressing the enterprise, the firm still has some work to do.

“If you look at the majority of their channels, they’re voice channels. You need to educate them to bring them up to a higher level, to really deliver those solutions, to compete in that (enterprise) space.”

But Butcher said Mitel’s channel strategy is right on the money, what with “numerous new data-centric partners in North America as well as many former Nortel and Avaya channels” on board.

“We have been tremendously successful in highly distributed enterprises, where applications like our Collaboration Suite are targeted to give us competitive advantage. If customers want an end-to-end solution we have numerous best-of-breed data partners such as HP and Foundry” for end-to-end, non-proprietary solutions, Butcher said.

Still, Ronald Gruia, a Toronto-based program leader at Frost & Sullivan, said Mitel faces an uphill battle, especially since enterprises are cutting costs; whereas firms used to request proposals from five potential vendors, now they’ll consider two, to keep costs down during RFPs.

“It could be harder for a company like Mitel to get a foot in the door,” Gruia said. “But once they do, they could be competitive.”

The SX-200 ICP, available in November, is priced at $650 to $800 per line, including the IP phone. The Collaboration Suite, coming in early 2004, is $350 to $500, depending on the implementation. For more information visit Mitel online at