New IP Centrex player in Toronto, Montreal market

A new voice over IP (VoIP) communications company is up and running in Canada’s two largest cities, Toronto and Montreal, providing services such as find me/follow me and video-calling.

With OneConnect Inc.’s find me/follow me service, users can specify where, when, how and by whom they could be contacted. With video-calling users are able to contact employees to perform tasks that should be done face-to-face, such as performance reviews.

OneConnect, a division of GlobalLive Communications Inc., is also offering other features, including easy-to-access personal and group directories and whiteboading, which gives users access to multiple tools during one communication session regardless of location, OneConnect said.

Additionally, OneConnect will host these services on top of the user’s PBX. If a user has a legacy or traditional PBX, OneConnect can work with and around it so customers don’t have to invest in new technology, especially handsets, which are a significantly expensive part of any system, said Nicole Mumford, director of sales and business development at OneConnect in Toronto.

“Our Oneservice [feature] provides converged voice, video and data on a single pipe in that system and enables those [legacy] phones to participate,” she said. “At the same time we can provide, through the virtue of soft-clients and Web-clients, access to collaboration, personal management and communications tools in and around the existing infrastructure.”

Switching to a hosted-IP infrastructure can also save a company about 15 to 30 per cent in telephony costs, OneConnect said. Mumford said the biggest cost savings come from converging voice, video and data into a single pipe and the eradication of moves, adds and changes, which typically make up a large portion of telecom budgets.

To provide these services, OneConnect invested $20 million in gear and professional services from Nortel Networks, including Nortel’s Multimedia Communications Server (MCS) 5200 and the Shasta 5000 Broadband Services Node (BSN).

When deciding upon a provider OneConnect looked at almost 40 potential vendors from softswitch sellers to full solution providers, Mumford said. OneConnect chose Nortel because so many desktop handsets in enterprises and SMBs are from Nortel and because its products use Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) as compared to the H.323 or the MGCP standards, she added.

“We chose SIP, not only because it is the leading next-generation technology but it enables us to provide services across any platform or device. For example, users should be able to get presence services from their [Research in Motion Ltd.] BlackBerry tied into their OneConnect service,” Mumford said.

Lawrence Surtees, director, telecom research at IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, said SIP is becoming the de facto standard for business services.

However, Nortel is not the only vendor providing SIP-based gear. Its rivals such as Cisco Systems Inc. also have SIP-enabled products.

Also, because Bell Canada uses Nortel gear, it makes sense for new players in the Canadian telecom market to use the same vendor because they will eventually have to hook up with Bell’s network at some point, Surtees said.

Bell currently offers hosted IP services for businesses but is more focused on IP Centrex than on a hybridized service for companies with their own PBXs. Surtees said currently there are no players in the Canadian market offering the sort of hybridized IP Centrex that OneConnect is. In the U.S., MCI, formerly WorldCom Inc., last year came out with a hybrid IP-managed PBX service where the end result looks and behaves like Centrex but technically is not actually Centrex, Surtees said. MCI has not yet launched any such services in Canada.

Since OneConnect is the first to offer a hybrid IP service, its target clients include companies that have traditional PBXs, Surtees said, whereas Bell would target its current Centrex customers, trying to persuade them to move to IP Centrex.

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