Siemens, 3Com harmonize on LAN telephony

3Com Corp. and Siemens AG have formed a US$100-million joint venture that is slated to begin shipping LAN telephony gear in the first quarter of 1999.

The first available products will include digital phones, LAN telephony gateways and call processing software. The gateways will let users make voice calls from LAN workstations and phones across the public switched telephone network.

According to Ron Sege, senior vice-president of 3Com enterprise systems, initial adopters will be newer and smaller enterprises who will require PBXs as they grow. Established enterprises may be less eager to embrace the technology, he said, because they already have PBXs in place.

However, Sege added, all sorts of firms will ultimately be drawn to LAN telephony by new applications and the cost savings that can be achieved through a common infrastructure.

“Perhaps the most profound benefit is the range of new applications that converged networking technology will enable,” he said. “For example, bringing call centres to the smallest businesses and enabling businesses to conduct their business more effectively.”

Sege used the example of an anonymous package shipping company, a 3Com customer, to illustrate the potential benefits of LAN telephony equipment.

The company had recently installed a Web tracking service to allow clients to track their packages. Fifty per cent of the firm’s customers began using the Web tracker, but many of those continued to call 3Com’s call centre as well, just to double-check their packages had arrived safely.

The company now wants to use LAN telephony equipment to enable a “push to talk” button on its Web site which will allow customers to call in while eliminating some of the firm’s 1-800 number charges.

Georg Haubs, senior vice-president of Siemens’s LAN business unit, said his company already has some banking customers taking advantage of convergence software.

The package allows voice calls and e-mail to be accessed from the same interface.

“For the call centre guys who process all this, it’s one homogeneous circuit in the screen,” he said. “You click a button and you have a voice call established to the customer. You click another button on the same form and it goes out as an e-mail.”

The joint venture’s initial products will team 3Com’s SuperStack II and CoreBuilder LAN switches with Siemens’s Hicom and HiNet PBX and call processing software. Products sold by Munich, Germany-based Siemens will carry the HiNet brand name, while Santa Clara, Calif.-based 3Com will sell them under the SuperStack II and CoreBuilder brands.

Siemens and 3Com are taking a unique approach to the convergence market place, said Mike McConnell, an analyst with Infonetics Research Inc. in San Jose, Calif. Instead of partnering, most companies competing in the convergence space are acquiring other firms to fill holes on either the voice or data side.

“By partnering, you don’t have to worry about the merging of cultures you do with acquisitions,” McConnell said. “We all saw what happened with SynOptics and Wellfleet and how long it took them to integrate (as Bay Networks).”

Although he believes users are interested in convergence technology, McConnell said it will be some time before they begin adopting it in significant numbers.

“Customers are hesitant to put voice over the data network, because if you lose a couple of frames out of a voice conversation, it’s not a good thing,” he said. “They’re waiting to see real products and I think they’ll wait until they see the early adopters go out and work the bugs out of some of the equipment.”

3Com and Siemens are also partners, along with Newbridge Networks Inc., in the Carrier Scale Internetworking initiative (CSI). CSI’s goal is to provide managed IP service offerings to prioritize traffic.

Newbridge is not involved in the new joint venture, Sege said, because the company’s equipment is WAN-centric, while the venture is focusing on the LAN.