UPDATE: Bell partners with Nortel for VoIP, multimedia solutions

Bell Canada has committed $200 million over the next three years to a research and development initiative with Nortel Networks, Aliant Inc., and Bell West to build a converged voice-over-IP (VoIP) and multimedia network for its enterprise customers.

Using Nortel’s Multimedia Communication Server (MCS) 5200, a soft switch formerly known as the Interactive Multimedia Service (IMS), Bell will provide a “One Network” solution for its clients – one platform, leveraging IP telephony as a conduit for all voice, video and data communications. The MCS 5200 is based on Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) – an IETF standard for initiating interactive user sessions for multimedia including instant messaging, video, voice, and gaming.

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, Roman said.

With this network, Bell said mobile workers will be able to establish an instant workspace equipped with their phone numbers and calling preferences. Users will also be able to instantly initiate a video or voice call without having to set up a conference line, plus receive voice, e-mail and fax messages at any time through one device. Bell also said its customers will be able to access their contact information through a single directory and use tools to collaborate with colleagues.

Bell said it will be able to move its enterprise clients to the new infrastructure cost efficiently because the company already deploys Nortel Networks digital switching technology. Additionally, the company says the new VoIP network can be integrated with little or no displacement of existing technology. 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.”

Brownlee Thomas, telecom analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Montreal, said that now, while IT purse strings are tight, there isn’t a big demand for these types of services in the enterprise market. However, she 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,” Thomas said.

“[The proposed network] allows you to do this for new locations, it allows you to do this for user groups and new locations, and buildings and so on. It makes a whole lot of sense – from an industry perspective it seems to be a realistic approach.”

Bell West will roll out the first of these 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, but the goal is to create a nationwide-network. Aliant has partnered with Bell to provide these offerings in the Maritimes.

Thomas said Bell has small amount of marketshare in Western Canada, which makes it an ideal place to kickstart the new services because this set of offerings is distinct from its main competitors, Telus Corp. and Allstream Corp.

Part of the deal with Brampton, Ont.-based Nortel involves the creation an Innovation Centre in Ottawa where the two companies will work to create new IP telephony services and address compatibility issues with third-party providers.

Initially the centre will focus on both wireline and wireless voice and multimedia applications for the hosted IP network infrastructure. Bell already runs a testing facility for IP-based technologies called the iTechCentre with locations in both Ottawa and Toronto.

Bell Canada is based in Montreal. For more information visit www.bell.ca.

Nortel Networks is online at www.nortelnetworks.com.

Bell West is jointly owned by Bell Canada and Manitoba Telecom, with offices in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. For more information visit www.bellwesternbusiness.ca.

Aliant is based in Charlettown, and is online at www.aliant.ca.

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