Nortel Networks is giving its corporate telephone exchange customers a chance to dabble in IP telephony - but only the easy bits for now.
Known as the Internet communications architecture (Inca), Nortel's new product line will give customers the chance to experiment with IP telephony using their existing PBX. It will be capable of functions such as international call cost cutting and computer telephony, without ripping out existing telephone networks.
Over 40,000 European businesses have Nortel's Meridien PBX running in their organisation, some having used it for 10 years or more, and Nortel says customers are not likely to change to IP telephony overnight.
"Meridien customers today have invested a lot of money in the platform and applications," said Erik Larrson, Nortel's IP Telephony product manager.
"It's not overnight, there is a long transition - it could be up to five years. It's not something that can be plugged in on Saturday night and is up and running on Sunday morning," said Larrson.
Customers will be able to connect phone networks at different offices over IP using the Integrated IP Telephony Gateway for Meridien 1. A gateway acts as a translator between a circuit switched phone network and an IP network.
Nortel is piloting the gateway product with a major IT company to connect its UK, Finland and Sweden offices over an IP network and bypass international tariffs. The product will be available in Europe shortly.
"You can take advantage of the juicy bits of IP and take out the risks," said Larsson.
Later in the year, Nortel will release an IP line card for Meridien that will let customers connect IP phones to the PBX via the Lan. Nortel's IP phones - currently being tested at BT Labs - are expected to appear towards the end of the year.
A pure IP version of Meridien will be released in Q2 2000. This product, unlike the current Meridien products, will have telephone functions normally included in the handset on the server.
For businesses not so keen to protect their PBX investment, Nortel has also launched products to support a reverse strategy - adding voice to the IP network, rather than IP to the voice network.
These are typically smaller sites, green field sites where there are no legacy systems, or where there is a really old PBX that needs replacing, according to Larsson.
The third strategy is for small to medium sized businesses who want a bit of both worlds and comprises a single combined circuit switched and IP telephony PBX in a box.
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