LG-Ericsson unveils unified communications box for SMBs

Korea-based LG-Ericsson hopes to capture a slice of Canada’s small business unified communications (UC) market with the launch today of its iPECS-MG Business-Enabled Communication System.

The hybrid console-based system delivers all the functionality of a traditional PBX (private branch exchange) with the added flexibility of handling unified communication tasks such as data collaboration, voice and video communication, remote mobile network management and IP-based communication. The system is capable of servicing up to 414 lines.

“This product is ideal for many small and medium sized companies that want to move to IP (Internet Protocol) communication but also want to retain PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) landlines,” said Ian Kenney, director of product marketing for LG-Ericsson.

How the LG-Ericsson iPECS-MG works

Industry observers, however, think LG-Ericsson needs to overcome some steep hurdles to break into an already crowded Canadian UC market. The likes of the Avaya-Nortel partnership, Cisco Systems and NEC are already well entrenched in the Canadian market, according to Roberta Fox, president and senior partner of Fox Group, a telecommunications consulting firm in Mount Albert, Ont.

“On one hand, the company would have to offer some pretty compelling features and services to convince small business operators to consider the system. LG-Ericsson would also need to provide enough incentives to value added resellers to carry iPECS-MG,” said Fox.

The LG-Ericsson offering speaks to the growing concerns of small IT shops dealing with the increasing consumerization of IT and the BYOD (bring your own device) trend said Bill Haskins, UC analyst for Wainhouse Research LLC., in Boston, Mass. He said a large number of SMBs have been caught flatfooted by the surge of demand to connect employee-bought tech to the company network.

“Ten years ago the typical IP-PBX was just connected to a bunch of telephones. Now they have to link IP Phones, landlines, smartphones and tablets,” said Haskin. “Making it easy for the small IT shop to handle all this is what the iPECS-MG promises to address.”

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iPECS specs

As a hybrid system, the iPECS-MG supports traditional Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) systems as well as a mixed deployment of both IP and TDM extensions, said Kenney of LG-Ericsson. He said many SMBs are moving towards IP telephony but still maintain a large landline connection installed base.

Each on-site iPECS-MG server supports up to 414 ports and as many as 250 devices which can be networked across multiple locations. “It can support multiple remote users across a campus across the country or anywhere around the world,” said Kenney.

The console works with a full range of fixed or mobile LG-Ericsson handsets (IP or digital deskphones), conference phones and soft clients. For data communication, LG-Ericsson’s portfolio includes Ethernet switches for high-speed data transfer, secure Internet access, VoIP Quality Service (QoS), and Power over Ethernet (PoE).

The system can also push voice and e-mail messages to various smartphones and mobile device.

Telephone features include functions such as alarm, paging, music on hold, directory number, tandem switching, tenant group, auto attendant, voice mail, call routing, last call redial and more.

The TDM signalling processors handle caller ID, SMS and dual tone multi-frequency (DTMF).

The system comes with a centralized network management console for easy set-up, operation and management of the network.

SMB unified communications checklist

Companies seeking to deploy a UC system often make the mistake of focusing on the capabilities of a system rather than the actual needs of the firm’s employees, according to the Haskins of Wainhouse Research.

“This mindset often leads a company into deploying what is possible rather than what is needed,” he said. “The result is often a very expensive system with features hardly ever used by the employees.”

Haskin has the following UC dos and don’t for SMBs:

Determine how you company communicates Conduct a thorough and honest audit of what communication equipment your company has and how your employees use them. This will help you determine the areas where you are adequately and inadequately equipped.

Telepresence, text, e-mail and voice are the most popular modes of communication in the SMB space. Find out in what order of importance do these modes function in your organization. “Then look for the company that can help you solve your current needs and future plans,” said Haskins.

How vital is remote communications? Remote communications can be a substantial portion of your UC budget. Do you really need to invest in it in a major way at this point? Find out if most or your company communication is done in-premise or remotely. This will prevent you from being sucked into purchasing features you do not need.

Look for a future-proof system Any technology is bound to become obsolete especially today when manufacturers are turning out new models at six month intervals. The goal is though, to pick a system with components that will provide maximum ROI possible without compromising equipment performance and employee productivity. For instance, make sure that your UC system can integrate with new hardware and gadgets that may come five to seven years later.

Consider end-to-end cost Don’t be blinded by a very low upfront cost. Consider other expenses tied to your purchase. For example look into your technical support options. Does your agreement with the provider specify technical support to be provided by them as part of the deal (could be cheaper) or will support require you to hire a part-time staff (could be more expensive)?

Canada’s crowded UC market

Fox of Fox Group said the iPECS-MG features and specs appear to be well thought out and carefully targeted at the SMB market – just like products being sold by its competitors. “The feature sets and specs are similar to what the other providers are offering except that the iPECS-MG is more proprietary in terms of software.”

“This company is well known globally but it does not have a well established presence in the Canadian UC space,” she said. “They are world leaders but are not established here because they keep dropping in and out of Canada.”

“The SMB UC space is full and robust. LG Ericsson needs to provide something that is really compelling for the buyer and vendor partners,” said Fox.

Currently, she said, the top three UC providers in Canada would be Avaya Inc. (which benefited from the extensive customer base it acquired through its purchase of Nortel), Mitel Network Corp., and Cisco Systems (recently partnered with NEC). Also popular in the country are ShoreTel Inc., and Interactive Intelligence.

A big plus for these companies, Fox said, is that over the years they had cultivated extensive partner networks and relationships with large telecom companies. “Telecom companies carry networking and communications products from various manufacturers. Most SMBs in the country are content with purchasing UC solutions from local dealers or the telecom provider,” explained.

Kenney of LG-Ericsson admits that other companies are already well entrenched in the SMB arena but he believes his iPECS-MG can help his company carve up space for itself. “Avaya, Cisco and the others say they offer SMB solutions, but upon closer inspection these are inherently products designed for large enterprises.”

“What we offer is something for operations ranging from the smaller home office to organizations that handle up to 414 lines,” he said.

Kenney said the iPECS-MG is ideal for companies that want to support remote workers or those that have a dispersed geographical network. iPECS-MG will also soon release “hospitality features” geared towards businesses such as restaurants and hotels. This upgrade will contain features such as a full billing system, room charges and room changing functionalities.

Other upgrades in the works include a full call recording feature which will be ideal for the healthcare or health centre environment.

Nestor ArellanoNestor Arellano is a Senior Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blog, and join the IT Business Facebook Page.

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