Avaya looks to IP-based data and voice convergence

With a hopeful eye cast toward a market uptick in the second half of the year, Avaya Inc. is pushing forward with new communications systems that are squarely aimed at helping customers leverage their telecommunications equipment investments while preparing their IT infrastructures for the convergence of IP-based data and communications networks.

Like other players in the voice systems market, the Lucent Technologies Inc. spin-off is hungry for profitable revenue growth. The company’s revenue and profits have been shrinking steadily since the second quarter of 2001, swinging from a profit of US$78 million in that period to a net loss of $10 million in the comparable period ended March 31.

Playing off the return-on-investment mantra of the corporate IT community, Avaya is promoting gear that can help customers use their private branch exchange (PBX) switches while bolting on new hardware and software to further enable IP telephony throughout their enterprises.

For example, an Avaya customer could potentially install a new circuit board on top of an existing PBX to enable international voice over IP (VOIP), an approach that could generate huge savings over traditional approaches to international telecommunications, said David P. Johnson, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Avaya, at an editors’ briefing here this week.

While analysts and IT managers are hot on technologies that promote the convergence of voice and data, they’re split on Avaya’s bolt-on vs. built-in approach to IP telephony. On the plus side, Avaya should be able to make a fairly convincing argument to some customers that they don’t have to go out and buy brand-new, IP-ready PBXs. “On the flip side, they lose some money on the sale of end-to-end” IP telephony systems by offering enhancements to existing gear, said Paul Strauss, a research manager at IDC in Framingham, Mass.

Still, Avaya is taking steps to help customers move toward a multimodal communications infrastructure, where regardless of the device used — iPaq, laptop or Blackberry, for example — they can receive voice, e-mail, fax and other types of messages. Avaya is banking on the maturity of XML to connect various business applications and the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) for VOIP applications.

To that end, Avaya is developing a product called the SIP Proxy that would enable users to work with any SIP device to receive voice, e-mail and other types of messages, said Karyn Mashima, senior vice president, strategy and technology, at Avaya. The system, which hasn’t yet been announced, uses a universal resource identifier (URI) to identify end users, regardless of the type of equipment they’re using, much like a URL identifies a Web site, said Mashima.

If Avaya “can show the value of leveraging existing equipment to do these new things, then that would be of interest” to corporate customers, said Kevin Sterneckert, former CIO at Big V Supermarkets Inc. in Florida, N.Y., who recently became vice president and general manager for retail at DemandTec Inc., a San Carlos, Calif.-based maker of demand-based management software.

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