SIP wins some big converts

Nearly 100 vendors showcased their latest and greatest wares at this month’s VoiceCon in Orlando, Fla., although the star of the show wasn’t a vendor or product, but a standard.

Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) isn’t new, but at this year’s VoiceCon it was apparent that more vendors are committed to embedding SIP support in their communications gear as a way to glue separate voice, video and data transmissions into single, unified sessions.

In the past, vendors have avoided SIP, asserting it didn’t offer as many features as proprietary implementations. At VoiceCon though, Cisco, 3Com and Avaya, among others, made big splashes that included SIP.

Cisco rolled out a bevy of new products, including CallManager 5.0, a Unified Presence Server, and a Unified Personal Communicator. CallManager 5.0 is the first CallManager version to support SIP natively. It replaces Cisco’s Skinny Call Control Protocol. Cisco phones running the Skinny protocol will still work with CallManager 5.0.

“The communications session now (with SIP) is really more multimedia and more importantly media can be added and subtracted and SIP lets us do that,” said Rick Moran, vice-president of product and technology marketing at Cisco. “So you can start in IM, add audio, add video, add other parties, build in collaboration. But as far as the caller is concerned it’s all one session.”

CallManager 5.0 is also the first version available in a Linux format, as well as Windows. Continuing with the unified communications theme, Cisco’s Unified Presence Server pulls together presence information from all Cisco communications apps including Meeting Place, Unity and CallManager.

The presence server can also federate with applications from other vendors, but works best with applications based on SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIP SIMPLE), such as IBM’s Sametime. The Presence Server can work with non-SIP SIMPLE applications, such as Microsoft’s Office Communicator, but the integration isn’t as tight.

The final piece in Cisco’s VoiceCon unified communications puzzle was the Unified Personal Communicator, which allows users to add voice, video, or collaboration to a communications session from one interface.

3Com used VoiceCon to introduce its latest IP PBX, NBX 6.0. The NBX can support up to 1,500 users and includes SIP support which means it will work with SIP softphone software and desktop phones from other vendors.

Among the products Avaya trotted out at the show was the one-X Quick Edition phone system designed for small offices.The one-X includes SIP-based IP phones that don’t require a call server or PBX — either on-site or remote.

The phones plug into a DHCP server and can auto-detect one another. Up to 50 users at one site are supported.

Avaya also unveiled version 3.1 of its Communications Manager, which includes features that allow IP phones to continue working even if their IP PBX software fails. As well, the company updated its SIP-based Converged Communications Server, a presence server that will compete with Cisco’s Unified Presence Server offering.

One common theme among conference attendees, noted Stefan Dubowski, an analyst at Decima Research Inc., is that they’re becoming more sophisticated when it comes to examining business reasons for moving to VoIP.

“A couple of years ago we were looking closely at the cost savings,” he said. “Perhaps as a result of those failing to materialize or perhaps as companies realized there was a better way to justify the cost, there seemed to be fewer people saying the cost saving was the reason they were going in for it and more and more companies saying they went into VoIP for productivity improvements.”

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