A Toronto-based company is answering the call for a tool that lets road warriors and desk jockeys alike to retrieve their messages from different devices from one central point.

Primal Technologies Inc., which specializes in network applications for carriers and service providers, has signed up its first customer for the company’s Primal Connect unified messaging (UM) product.

Unite Communications Corp., an application service provider also based in Toronto, will be offering the solution on a hosted basis to companies in the Greater Toronto Area (at least initially) that don’t particularly want the expense and complication of buying, installing and maintaining a voice messaging/unified messaging system on their own, says Unite president Brian Presement.

Unite’s target market is mobile workers who want to be able to easily access all their messages over the phone or a wirelessly connected PDA.

“Our market is anywhere from the individual working out of the basement of his house up to national corporations who use it to communicate with their reps and each other,” says Presement. “The bulk of our customers are small companies with five to 10 people who are using the Unite office product, a CPE (customer premise equipment) replacement. It’s as if they had their own voice messaging system in-house with UM capabilities without purchasing anything.”

Unite chose the Primal solution after investigating several other options, such as Lucent products, but found they were either too expensive or “not where we wanted them to be,” says Presement.

Unite settled on Primal because “they’re a big enough company, they have a good product and they’re stable, but they’re small enough to value our company as a client.” Plus, he adds, “If they come up with a solution and we want them to do X instead of Y, they’re willing to do that for us.”

According to Michael Conway, Primal’s vice-president of product development, although he sees Primal’s product as unique, he also believes the hype surrounding unified messaging has been largely unjustified.

A recent Ovum report, for example, forecasts worldwide UM service revenues to reach US$31 billion by 2007. Of the total revenue forecast, almost US$13 billion will come directly from service subscription fees, Ovum says, while US$16.5 billion will come from increased usage of other revenue-generating network services and $1.6 billion will be attributed to advertisers. Additionally, the Boston-based research firm predicts, there will be 218 million active users by 2007, up from 5.5 million in 2001.

Despite those numbers, Conway remains realistic.

“It’s a tool on the desktop. It’s not the centre of the universe and UM has been made to be the centre of the universe that will solve all the problems people don’t really have,” he says.

“We’re not quite convinced that UM will live up to the hype of the past year or this year. Nobody has been successful at it because when they talk about UM they go down the path of faxes and e-mail stored in big repository and we’re shying away from that.”

Primal Connect, he explains, runs on the user’s desktop and is connected to a Primal Service Node (PSN), a centralized service node that interconnects with the public telephone network and Internet simultaneously, via an IP connection, and that scales from one to 16 T1s and supports up to 200,000 subscribers. 

When calls come into the PSN for the user, an icon, which can be branded under the service provider’s name, pops up on the user’s PC monitor, listing in sequence the names and numbers of the callers.

“You can either answer the call or redirect it and the caller would not know that,” says Conway.

Users can also download voice mail messages onto their PC and forward them as an attached WAV file, he adds. In the future, the MP3 format will be available.

Conway, however, says the network management implications of the software are no greater than those that come with having all your employees surf the Internet.

“It’s something that has to be understood by network planners, but it’s not a huge jump.”

The solution will also work on GPRS-enabled mobile phones, as well as CDMA2000 and 802.11-enabled wireless handhelds, says Conway.

Sometime this fall the company’s conferencing solution, which will let users easily arrange conference calls without service provider assistance, will also be released.

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