More apps required to drive VoIP: Cisco

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Third-party developers wanting to cash in on voice and data convergence need to come up with telecommunications applications that customers will not be able to use on legacy private branch exchanges, according to a senior executive at Cisco

Systems Inc.

Don Proctor, vice-president and general manager of Cisco’s voice technology group, said many users have traditionally considered migrating to voice-over IP because they are reacting to events such as a PBX going obsolete, a Centrex contract expiring, or the opening of a new office.

Proctor made his remarks during a keynote address at Cisco’s Innovations Through Convergence (ITC) Expo, which continues this week at the Santa Clara Convention Center.

Traditional selling points of VoIP have been the advantages of putting all voice and data traffic on the same network. Advocates tout the ease with which administrators can add phone users and the ability to reach workers at off-site office by dialing their direct extensions instead of going through outside lines.

But now, more channel partners are looking at using applications to sell convergence, Proctor said.

“”What can I do to help identify needs that the customer has that they have not identified yet; the ability to do new things that you can’t do on existing systems?”” he said.

Cisco’s goal is to be the No. 1 vendor in the US$14 billion voice market, Proctor said, adding that one of the ways it plans to achieve this is by placing more emphasis on third-party applications and on forging relationships with developers.

Cisco officials expect 800 people, including about 75 third-party developers, to attend this year’s ITC Expo.

About 90 per cent of sales in Canada are through the channel, said Chris Bazinet, marketing manager of Cisco Systems Canada Co.

One software developer that attended ITC Expo, Spescom DataVoice Ltd., has written a program that takes advantage of a Cisco colour IP phone, the 7970G, announced Monday.

Johannesburg, South Africa-based Spescom DataVoice makes IPRecorder, a software package that lets call centre managers monitor agents and listen to their calls afterwards. One feature lets agents press the “”assist”” button on their IP phones in order to ask their supervisors for help during calls.

Gary Plante, a Spescom DataVoice systems engineer, said in an interview that IPRecorder includes a user interface for supervisors that lets them monitor all of their agents, and if they’re using a colour phone, the icons of agents that ask for help will turn to red. Proctor said most third-party software developed for IP telephony will be targeted at specific vertical markets, such as retail or health care.

He predicts in the future, industry watchers will look back on the year 2003 as a “”transition point”” in the IP telephony market, similar to the transition from mainframe to distributed computing. Just as local-area networks gave individual managers the ability to deliver services that in the past could only be delivered by vendors, IP telephony will let telecom administrators deliver more services to their users.

Proctor said in the last year, Cisco doubled its installed base of IP phones, from one to two million, and about one in five large U.S. companies are using IP telephony at five sites or less. The percentage using the technology at more than five sites was in the single digits last year.

Bazinet said Cisco has shipped about 175,000 IP phones in Canada.

One Cisco customer who attended ITC Expo said that his primary aim is not to look for new applications, but to figure out how to make voice work better on a network designed primarily for data.

Joe Broderick, a systems engineer with Provo, Utah-based Nu Skin International Inc., said he is trying to figure out how to improve the quality of voice calls through Quality of Service (QoS). Nu Skin, which makes skin care products, has about 45 IP phones at three different sites.

Cisco’s ITC Expo ends on Friday.

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