VON: Microsoft, Qwest team up on VOIP

Microsoft Corp. and Qwest Communications International Inc. Tuesday revealed they are collaborating to provide VOIP (voice over Internet protocol) and other telecommunications convergence services to small and medium-sized business customers (SMBs), making Qwest the first service provider to leverage Microsoft’s recently launched VOIP software suite.

The companies made the announcement at the Fall 2005 VON conference, being held this week in Boston.

Microsoft and Qwest, which also will provide e-mail, Internet access, instant messaging and VOIP integration with other desktop applications, will roll out their first joint services early next year, said Michael O’Hara, general manager of Microsoft’s Communications Sector.

Microsoft is contributing its Solution for Enhanced VOIP services to the joint project, a suite comprised of hosted versions of Microsoft server products including Microsoft Exchange Server 2003, Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2005 and Windows SharePoint Services with Sylantro Systems Corp.’s Application Feature Server. Microsoft and Qwest are currently working to deploy this suite with Qwest’s OneFlex VOIP network services, O’Hara said.

Microsoft has been making moves into the VOIP market of late as the technology — up until now primarily a way for consumers to make inexpensive voice calls on either telephones or PCs — becomes more attractive for businesses when coupled with the applications they already use.

“VOIP on its own is interesting, but it’s just cheap phone service,” said Maribel Lopez, a vice president at Forrest Research Inc. “Voice when you integrate it with other things starts to become more interesting. The ability to have an Outlook address book [with] click-to-call [capability] … there’s value add there.”

Microsoft launched its Solution for Enhanced VOIP services in June and said it would be working with service providers to deliver VOIP services over their networks for traditional telephone calls, which typically provide clearer connections than current PC-to-PC voice services.

To improve computer-to-computer VOIP, Microsoft last month acquired Teleo Inc., a developer of services and technology that allow users to make and receive voice phone calls on their PCs via the Internet. The software giant plans to incorporate Teleo’s VOIP technology into its own software to upgrade online services from its MSN division.

All of the major instant-messaging chat clients, such as MSN Messenger, America Online Inc.’s Instant Messenger and Yahoo Inc.’s Messenger, provide services that enable users to make voice calls on their PCs.

Tuesday’s deal also gives Qwest an edge over telecommunications competitors to provide VOIP to SMBs, which provide a huge revenue opportunity for service providers offering convergence applications, Lopez said.

“If you think of the consumer market, they’re not enamored with [value-added] features,” Lopez said. “SMBs can benefit from a robust feature set, the [low] price and the capabilities VOIP can provide with other productivity applications, such as CRM and collaborative software.”

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