VoiceCon: NEC launches all-IP enterprise communications

NEC America Inc. will embrace the next generation of enterprise voice — full IP telephony — with a new architecture and product family to be unveiled and demonstrated at the VoiceCon conference this week in Orlando, Fla.

The new architecture, called Univerge, will include hardware, applications and services for integrating multiple forms of enterprise communication on an IP (Internet Protocol) data network. It is designed to go beyond the wired network to support clients on wireless networks, including wireless IP phones and access points the company announced earlier this year. On Monday, NEC will introduce the centrepiece of the Univerge family, the SV7000 telephony server.

The SV7000 is for companies that want to step beyond hybrid PBXes (private branch exchanges) that combine circuit-switched and IP telephony capabilities and roll out voice systems based entirely on packets, according to Bruce Grant, director of product marketing at NEC, a subsidiary of Japan’s NEC Corp. that is based in Irving, Tex. It also will support SIP (Session Initiation Protocol), an emerging IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) specification that is intended as a universal signalling protocol for all kinds of real-time sessions over IP networks — including voice, data and videoconferencing.

IP telephony systems convert voice signals into packets so they can be carried over data networks, which typically are more easily scalable and less expensive than standard circuit-switched phone systems. In addition, once voice is turned into data packets, it can be integrated with other kinds of communications: With the SV7000 and Univerge applications, employees can get their voice mail and e-mail in the same place, have incoming callers announced via Microsoft Corp. text-to-speech software and even make calls through a PC-based “soft phone” without using a handset, Grant said.

For employees at their desks, the system is designed to make it easy to call both old and new contacts. One feature allows users to dial numbers directly from a personal or corporate contact database. Another, the “clipboard dialer,” lets them copy a number from an e-mail message, document or Web site and save it to a clipboard on the screen, then dial it. At first, numbers in Microsoft Corp.’s Outlook will have to be dialed from the clipboard, but further integration is planned, Grant said. In addition, as with a mobile phone, software for the SV7000 can log and display information about the employee’s last 20 incoming and outgoing calls.

The SV7000 fits on a standard 19-inch rack and can handle 1,536 IP ports for phones that are located in the same facility or connected to gateways at remote offices anywhere in the world. With an optional chassis expected to ship in the fourth quarter, it can be expanded to support as many as 4,000 ports. Using an NEC technology called Fusion Call Control Signaling, organizations could link together many SV7000 units at different locations around the world — with as many as 192,000 ports — so they can be centrally controlled and appear to the administrator like a single system, Grant said.

Companies can deploy the SV7000 with IP phones and network gear from other vendors, including Cisco Systems Inc. phones that use that company’s proprietary power-over-Ethernet technology. The NEC product also supports standard mechanisms for maintaining the necessary quality of service over a packet network, according to NEC.

Though it is designed for full IP telephony systems, the server will support traditional TDM (time-division multiplexing) through gateways. That capability is intended for companies to set up a few analog phones, such as emergency backups, Grant added.

The Univerge products aren’t intended to replace NEC’s current NEAX line of hybrid telephony systems. NEC will continue to maintain and extend that line, and the Univerge products will coexist with NEAX, according to Grant.

The SV7000 will begin shipping on Apr. 15 in NEC’s major markets, including the North America, Australia and Asia-Pacific. It will ship later in Europe. The server will be offered in a bundle that also includes conferencing server software, unified messaging software, a selection of desktop applications for 25 seats and a basic network assessment service. The bundle will have a suggested retail price of about US$25,000, Grant said.

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