Siemens unveils remote VoIP gear

Taking aim at enterprise voice-over-IP leaders Cisco Systems Inc. and 3Com Corp., Siemens AG last week unveiled several enterprise IP voice products aimed at helping traditional PBX users migrate to converged networks.

With some hardware and software upgrades, Siemens is recasting its HiCom small and midsize phone switches into the company’s HiPath line of IP PBXs. The HiPath 3000 and 4000 switches could help businesses connect remote offices with disparate phone systems into a centralized, IP-based voice network, while supporting more users than Siemens’ previous “IP-enabled” HiCom PBXs.

With operating system and processor upgrades to the HiCom 150 and 300, Siemens says its new HiPath 3000 and 4000 can scale to 1,000 and 100,000 users, respectively. This is an big jump in scale from the HiCom 150 and 300, which topped out at 500 attached stations.

The HiPath products consist of the same chassis as the HiCom boxes, with a faster processor and software that let the chassis switch and maintain phone connections over an all-IP network. Line cards can still be added to the boxes letting them support circuit-switched Siemens phones and can be connected to a Siemens phone network with a mix of IP and IP PBX hardware.

While Siemens is pushing the all-IP aspects of the new products, customers such as Chuck Wasson, vice-president of technology for Citizens’ Bank in Flint, Mich., are looking to meld the circuit-switched and voice-over-IP technology.

Wasson needs to connect with a single phone network 64 banks that his company acquired in Iowa, and is looking to do it with frame relay connections that can carry data and voice traffic.

By putting voice on the IP WAN, Wasson says, “we’re looking to address problems that are keeping us from doing business.”

The bank branches are not integrated into Citizens’ centralized voice mail system, and workers can’t transfer calls among branches or dial other offices without going to an outside line.

Up to 100,000 IP and/or circuit-switched phone users can be supported by clustering HiPath 3000 or HighPath 4000 boxes together. Up to 15 HiPath 3000 and 64 HiPath 4000 boxes can link in a cluster, which can be managed as a single system. Additions, moves and changes can be made to a cluster through a Web application that synchronizes the clustered servers and replicates data to all nodes.

Siemens also debuted a digital phone last week with the optiPoint 500 handset. The phone looks the same as Siemens’ IP phone, the optiPoint 500, providing a common interface for IP and digital phone users. The new phone also comes with two Universal Serial Bus ports that can connect to a PC for computer telephony applications. An adapter is also available for connecting the phone to an Ethernet/IP connection. Software and firmware on the phones can also be configured in batches of up to 200 with a software Phone Manager application included with either HighPath system software.

The new HiPath systems will compete with IP PBXs such as the Cisco CallManager, 3Com’s NBX LAN telephony platform and similar IP PBX products from Nortel Networks Corp., Avaya Inc. and Alcatel SA. Cisco and 3Com were first and second in IP line shipments for midsize to large companies’ telephony systems in the third quarter of 2001, according to Phillips Infotech, while Siemens held only 1 percent market share.

The optiPoint 500 phones are available starting at US$140 per set. The HiPath 3000 and 4000, both available now, cost between $400 and $600 per user, depending on number of users and configuration.