Vendors launch innovative VoIP gear for SMBs

While large IP PBX vendors continue to build on server-based platforms, some international vendors are taking more unique approaches to small-business VoIP systems.

Among the distinctive small-business VoIP products emerging is an embedded IP PBX appliance for small offices that fits in a briefcase. Or, for customers not interested in any extra hardware, another VOIP system uses peer-to-peer technology in IP phones, eliminating the need for an IP PBX. One company, German VoIP vendor Snom Technology AG, has crunched down an IP PBX into a device smaller than a home answering machine.The Snom Box is an IP PBX for companies with 50 or fewer users. The device runs Snom’s 4S IP PBX and voice mail system software on top of an embedded Linux operating system.

The Snom Box is tiny: 3.5 inches tall by 3 inches wide and 1.5 inches deep. The IP PBX software uses Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) for transport, so it is compatible with any standard SIP phone.

The Snom Box is scheduled to be available this month starting at US$1,400. Another VOIP system for small businesses — from Canadian firm Aastra Technologies Ltd. — does not use an IP PBX. Rather, the IP phones communicate with an IP-based peer-to-peer call setup scheme.

The VentureIP 480i phones are set up by entering an end user’s name, extension number and IP addresses into the device. The phones also include programmable feature buttons, speakerphones and an eight-line LCD display. Individual voice mail boxes are included in each phone. Users also can point a Web browser at the IP phones to view calling records and other management statistics.

The US$380 phones are connected via Ethernet switch ports and discover each other over a LAN using a proprietary discovery protocol developed by Nimcat Software, which also makes the call control and operating system for the devices. A VentureIP Gateway (US$280) is used to connect the LAN-based phones to an outside PSTN trunk. Up to 200 VentureIP phones can operate on a LAN.

The VentureIP phones and gateway are deployed in the 10-person office of MoneyVest Financial, an Ottawa brokerage firm.

“I always had a dilemma with small-business phone systems,” says Ben Fard, managing director at MoneyVest. “Most phone systems require a lot of money up front for equipment. Then they hit you again (with more upgrade costs) if you want to expand.”

He says with the VentureIP system, “you don’t have to invest in a lot of back-room infrastructure.”

Fard says he looked at a Nortel small-office PBX system, which started at about US$10,000 for just the phone switch; phones and licences were extra. At US$380 per phone, Fard says he is seeing equal performance and features on the VentureIP system at a lower price than a switch or server-based PBX or IP PBX.

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