Alcatel adds cell support to enterprise IP PBX

The latest release of Alcatel’s OmniPCX Enterprise communications server software allows enterprises to tie cell phones into company IP telephony systems, enabling an end user’s cell phone to ring if a call comes into the user’s landline phone.

The enhancements also allow users to get access to some company PBX features from their cell phones, such as four-digit dialling, call forwarding and conference calling.

Alcatel’s OmniPCX is IP telephony software that can run on either an Alcatel blade, or a third-party server. So far, the only third-party server Alcatel has certified for use with OmniPCX is IBM’s eServer xSeries.

The Cellular Client application works by establishing a logical extension between the OmniPCX server and a cell phone number.

“That would be a fictive extension, because it’s not physically connected,” explained Jeanne Bayerl, director of product marketing for Alcatel. “But it would be an extension with a user profile within the system.”

Once the cell profile is in the server, users could have their cell phones ring at the same time as their desk phones. They would have a single voice mailbox for the two phones and be able to pass calls from one phone to another during conversations.

Other features in the new OmniPCX release include integrated messaging and automatic VLAN assignment.

Support for the Internet Messaging Access Protocol 4 lets users integrate their voice, fax and e-mail messages. Bayerl said users could download their voice mails to their PCs and play them. They could also forward the voice mails as attachments to other users.

The automatic VLAN assignment feature should ease the work of network managers, Bayerl said. Since voice and data are typically segmented into separate VLANs, if a user moves their IP phone from one location to another, they could wind up on a different subnet and have an incorrect VLAN ID. In the past, network managers would have to go in and manually reconfigure the VLANs, Bayerl noted, but the OmniPCX will now handle the VLAN changes automatically.

Brian Sharwood, a Toronto-based principal with consultancy SeaBoard Group, said the addition of cell phones to the OmniPCX is an important feature that should appeal to enterprise customers.

“The integration of wireline and wireless I think is the next really big thing,” he said. “What enterprises want is the integrated system. They want all the features of the desk phone on the cell phone.”

IP PBX system sales have grown rapidly in 2003. According to research from consultancy Dell’Oro Group, IP PBX sales grew 17 per cent in Q2 2003 from the previous quarter to 1.8 million lines worldwide.

Lower IP PBX costs and improving technology are driving IP PBX adoption, Sharwood said.

“There was some skepticism around the early gear, because some of the equipment was released into the market too early,” he said. “A lot of the Cisco stuff that was out there was substandard to what telecom managers were used to. The situation seems to be better now though.”

All of the new Alcatel OmniPCX features are available immediately. The Cellular Client application is available in packages of five user licences, starting at US$597 for the first five users with additional five-user packages costing US$889. Alcatel 4635 and 4645 release 5.1 messaging systems now ship with five free user licences for IMAP4 support. Additional licences cost US$250 for a package of 10. The automatic VLAN support is included in the system price.

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