Nortel aims for simplicity with VoIP bundles

As enterprise businesses continue to grapple with network stability and application integration, Nortel Networks Corp. is pressing ahead with plans to speed the adoption of voice over IP.

The Brampton, Ont.-based company last month bundled together several IP telephony products that offer standardized packages of preconfigured hardware and software, which may help simplify the purchasing process and deployment of uncomplicated VoIP.

Nortel’s IPT 1-2-3 drive is for businesses that aren’t trying to integrate other applications into their VoIP systems, but are looking for a more standard, less complex implementation, according to Diane Schmidt, director of IP telephony marketing.

“VoIP is on the cusp of entering the mainstream, yet many customers are trying to figure out how to implement this technology,” says Schmidt. “The objective here is to help everyone move to VoIP in a very real and cost-effective manner.”

At least one observer, however, doubts whether enterprises can avoid the complexities around implementing VoIP. “Every enterprise’s needs are going to be different,” says Carrie MacGillivray, an analyst for Yankee Group Research (Canada) Inc.

MacGillivray says equipment vendors are talking a different language than the enterprises she’s spoken with about deploying IP telephony.

“Those organizations that have actually made the implementation are just resting on their laurels now, making sure the network is stable before they start piling on applications,” she says. “Equipment vendors are talking about three to five years out, where unified communications are very integrated into our work processes, whereas today it’s not.

“We’re just getting to the point where our voice and data are integrated. There’s a real disconnect between what the equipment vendors are talking about and where the enterprises are at.”

MacGillivray says while Nortel is offering this standard solution, enterprise businesses will still need flexibility in how applications are built on top of it and whether there is a managed or premises-based component to it. It makes sense, for example, for a lot of enterprises to have a managed solution for their branch offices.

Schmidt says Nortel believes IP telephony is mature enough as a technology to offer standardized sets of hardware and software. “It doesn’t have to be as complex as it has been to date,” she says. “The pre-engineering helps things drop into place more easily.

“We’re really trying to make it clearer that if you have a standard implementation, here’s how you do that very simply.”

The first bundles target existing Nortel customers only, but the company says future plans will offer additional packages for new customers. Businesses can buy one of four base packages that will turn a Nortel Meridian TDM switch into an IP-capable Business Communications Server 1000, says Schmidt.

The base package includes a signalling server with data conversion to change the configuration from TDM to IP, four IP desk phones and four softphones, media card, software and a one-year maintenance contract. Schmidt says the base packages depend on the number of phones required and which Meridian PBX system a business is currently running.

Customers can then choose from 10 preconfigured optional packages that offer productivity applications like unified messaging, or additional IP phones, data switches or longer-term support. The third step in IPT 1-2-3 is to review the price, says Schmidt, adding that customers will pay between 15 per cent and 30 per cent less than if they chose the same components individually.

Schmidt says bundling the packages offer a time-to-implementation benefit and lower deployment risk because they’ve been pre-engineered. “By studying what customers have bought in the past, we’ve been able to narrow this down to a few sets of packaged and preconfigured options that make it more like ordering off a menu.”

Schmidt says only about 20 per cent of customers are planning fairly advanced, or large implementations that require customization. “What kicks someone over into the customization realm is if they have some applications that are integrated into their communications system.”

She says the first phase of bundled packages are aimed at medium to large sites.

MacGillivray says because Nortel has a strong PBX install base, it makes sense to migrate those customers who have the existing TDM PBX to an IP PBX. “It’s a logical next step,” she says. “But as you move up in scale, I can’t imagine there’s not going to be some type of integration or customization required.”

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