Bell serves up Cisco’s new SMB unified communications products

Bell Canada has partnered with technology giant Cisco Systems Inc. to launch two new unified communications (UC) products designed for small and medium-sized businesses to Canada.

The products were launched March 2 at the company’s Partner Summit in New Orleans. They include the Cisco Unified Communications 300 Series and the Unified Communications Manager Business Edition 3000.

One analyst says the Cisco products may prompt a refresh cycle among frugal SMBs.

“The average SMB keeps their phone system 15 years,” says Steve Hilton of Analysys Mason. “The price points [of the new Cisco products] are good for both developed and developing markets.”

The 300 line’s first product, the 320W, is targeted at companies with two to 24 users. It includes IP phones, small PBX features like voicemail, automated attendant, voicemail to e-mail notification, SIP trunking, and inter-operability with up to 12 public switched telephone network (PSTN) lines.

The Unified Communications Manager Business Edition 3000 is designed for up to 300 users across 10 sites. It consists of a 1RU appliance with two built-in T1/E1 ports, a call-processing and voicemail application and a GUI for provisioning and management.

PSTN: The world’s network of public telephone lines, fibreoptic cables, microwave transmission lines, cellular netowrks, communications satellites and undersea cables.

The 3000 features voicemail, conferencing, the ability to park or hold calls, auto attendant, single number reach, extension mobility, and the ability to connect business calls and voicemail messages to telework employees. It works with the Cisco Unified SIP Phone 3905, which includes fixed keys for redial, transfer, hold and resume, speakerphone, volume toggle, and a PC switch port to reduce cabling installation requirements.

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Capitalizing on small business needs has been a weakness of Cisco’s in the past, says Bernard Elliot, research vice president at Stamford, Ct.-based consultancy Gartner Inc. In fact, Cisco has an eight per cent share of the $33 billion total addressable market for SMBs and mid-size companies, Cisco executives said at the Cisco Partners Summit.

“We’re not getting our fair share” of the SMB pie, said Keith Goodwin, senior vice president of the Worldwide Partner Organization at Cisco.

Todd Madgett, director of small and medium enterprises at Cisco, agrees, and points out that Canada is rich with small businesses, so understanding and providing service to that market is crucial.

UC products usually involve five key features, Elliot says. They include: voice-functionality; audio, video and web conferencing; instant messaging and presence information; collaboration applications such as shared workspaces; and messaging services such as e-mail and voicemail. But not all of these are necessarily included in the same product.

“Big companies have so many requirements that they make the assumption that they need everything and buy it all,” says Elliot. “Small businesses are more conscious of what they’re actually getting.”

For example, instant messaging and presence services aren’t usually necessary for companies with fewer than 25 people, since employees usually are aware of where their colleagues are.

“You don’t need a big box for a little bit of applications,” says Madgett. That’s why it’s a good idea, experts agree, for SMBs to have products that allow them to build up features to coincide with company growth.

Ease of use is also critical in the SMB market, says Elliot. “They want it to be easy to use because they’re often preoccupied with other issues,” he says.

The idea is for these new Cisco products to be scalable, says Madgett. An SMB can start with fewer features and as it hires more employees, or even expands geographically with more offices or mobile workers, it can upgrade. By creating this sort of approach, Cisco hopes to have a long-term relationship with businesses, says Madgett. “Cisco has a good investment strategy,” he says.

Cisco Unified Communications 320W is currently available. List pricing is $995. Cisco Unified Communications Manager Business Edition 3000 is scheduled to be available in the second quarter. List pricing is $12,400 for 100 users.

There is also a zero percent financing option over three to five years available for businesses, says Madgett.

“The price point on the new release is much more competitive than their previous solutions into this market,” says Elliot, which might make it more appealing to businesses looking to make the move into using UC.

Harmeet Singh is a Staff Writer at ITBusiness. Follow her on Twitter, and join the IT Business Facebook Page.

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