Nortel joins Bell on new net

Bell Canada is committing $200 million over the next three years to a research and development initiative with Nortel Networks to build a converged voice, video and data network for its enterprise customers.

Using Nortel’s Multimedia Communication Server (MCS) 5200 Bell will provide a single, IP-based conduit for voice, video and data communication.

The MCS 5200 is a soft switch based on the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) – a standard for initiating Instant Messaging (IM), voice and video sessions.

Eugene Roman, chief information and technology officer at Bell, said the company selected Nortel from a group of 35 vendors. Bell currently uses mostly Nortel switching equipment, making it the logical company to partner with, he said.

With this network, users will be able to initiate video or voice calls without setting up conference lines, plus receive voice, e-mail and fax messages. Bell also said customers would be able to collaborate with colleagues via special tools.

Bell said it will be able to move its enterprise clients to the new network cost efficiently because the company already deploys Nortel digital switching technology, and because the new gear can be integrated with existing infrastructure.

Users can choose which services they want to be hosted and which they want to control themselves. “What we wanted to do was to be able to offer a number of services to the customer – give choice to a customer,” explained Roman.

“Take an office tower in Calgary, the headquarters of an oil company, for example. They could buy the full range of hosted services from us – all IP-centric. We buy the gear, we provide the service to them across the network. It’s very similar to what we do today in Centrex, but it’s IP Centrex so you get the ability to offer new services, which Centrex is limited on today.”

“For enterprises and employees, work becomes a thing to do, not a place to go,” said Frank Dunn, Nortel’s CEO, in a press release.

Brownlee Thomas, telecom analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Montreal, said Bell is pursuing this market in the right way.

“The attractive thing [is how] it allows a progressive transition, a progressive migration. You can do a combination of provider-managed and unmanaged services. You can have the IP Centrex, plus traditional PBXs, plus your IP-PBXs.”

However, Mark Quigley, an Ottawa-based analyst with The Yankee Group Canada, said there isn’t a big demand for IP services. He said carriers have to present value-added services to entice the enterprise.

Bell West will roll out the first of the new Nortel-based services in mid-2004 to customers in Alberta and British Columbia. Roman said Bell is waiting to see how the demand for these services turns out in Western Canada before migrating eastward.

“The interesting thing about Western Canada is the fact they don’t have any types of crazy legacy equipment issues or legacy back offices to deal with,” Quigley said. “So…to get those customers up and running is easier than it might have been in Eastern Canada.”

Part of the deal with Brampton, Ont.-based Nortel involves creating an Innovation Centre in Ottawa where the two companies will explore new IP telephony services and address compatibility issues with third-party providers. Initially the centre will focus on wireline and wireless voice and multimedia applications for the hosted IP network infrastructure.

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