3Com ramps up its NBX VoIP system

3Com Corp. this month introduced a new version of its IP PBX with five times the user capacity of its current NBX 100 LAN telephony box. Also on tap are new NBX handsets that allow users to make calls by beaming phone numbers from a Palm device to the phone.

The latest release of 3Com’s NBX LAN telephony system, the SuperStack 3 NBX, is targeted at businesses with up to 750 users looking to replace a midsize PBX or upgrade from previous NBX devices.

ChannelWave Software Inc., a developer of partner relationship management software in Cambridge, Mass., has used the NBX for several years and has been beta testing the SuperStack NBX. According to MIS Director Stephen Douglas, the new box’s higher scalability for users and voicemail was exactly what he needed.

“We were about to outgrow the smaller chassis,” Douglas says, adding that his company’s quick growth pushed the 150-user limit of his NBX 100.

By tying two NBXs together, Douglas was able to support the 300 employees now on the system, but this had its limitations, such as the inability to transfer voicemail to users across the two boxes.

“One of the big pluses to the new box is that I’ve got everybody on the same system,” he says.

The new box can scale up to 750 attached devices and support 360 outside lines. The SuperStack NBX includes a new internal H.323 gateway for communicating with other voice-over-IP gateway devices across a WAN and auto-attendant software. The box supports twice as much voicemail (400 hours) as the previous NBX 100, and it can use T-1 lines, ISDN WAN interfaces and voicemail modules from the older box.

3Com also will introduce new NBX 2102 LAN phones that include two 10/100Mbps switch ports for connecting a PC to the LAN through the phone. Previous 3Com phones had two-port hubs for workstation connectivity, which could cause bandwidth contention between the hub and phone, analysts have said. In an October 2000 report, IDC analysts Jason Smolek and Paul Strauss said Cisco moved its LAN phones from hub to switch technology in 2000 for this reason, and 3Com and others would follow this year.

Ed Wadbrook, strategy director for 3Com’s voice group, says he was not aware of any quality problems in the past because of the hub-based phones, but says the switch technology in the new phones should put such issues to rest.

ChannelWave’s Douglas played it safe when he installed the NBX 2 years ago, opting to run two network drops to each of his desktops and put the phone system on a separate subnet. Douglas says he will consider the new switched-based phones, which include an infrared port and software that allows Palm users to dial a phone number from their contact database – another feature Douglas likes.

Systems with 3Com’s SuperStack 3 NBX and NBX 2102 phones cost US$600 and US$800 per user. Both products are available now.

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