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It's Cisco Vs. Microsoft In Serving Up VoIP To Small Businesses

The two companies extend their expertise in Internet Protocol software to companies with fewer than 100 employees.

Small businesses -- often underserved by leading technology vendors -- now have more choice when it comes to deploying unified communications.

In the span of two weeks, both Microsoft and Cisco Systems announced systems that will enable smaller businesses to combine their communications in one user interface and allow them to migrate from traditional phone systems to voice over IP.

Twenty-five percent of Cisco's business comes from the midsize market, companies that have anywhere from 250 to 1,000 employees. Cisco has introduced more than 50 products in that market, including unified communications, routing and switching platforms, and wireless, said Lauren Ventura, senior director of Cisco's Global SMB Group.

With the rollout of its Smart Business Communication System at its partner conference Tuesday, Cisco now has an offering for smaller businesses with fewer than 20 employees.

"The system includes all the necessary components: voice, data, security, mobility, and wireless. It makes it easy to install and manage," said Ventura in an interview.

Cisco also created a specialization program to certify technology partners that want to sell to small and medium businesses. IPcelerate, a Cisco partner, will be the first to offer customized business productivity software for the Cisco system via icons on the dashboard of IP phones.

Businesses with up to eight users would only have to deploy Cisco's Unified Communications 500 Series hardware and software bundle, which is part of the Smart Business Communication System. The 500 Series includes Cisco's Unified Communications Manager Express -- a router with IP PBX functionality, and it supports Cisco's IP phones or softphones. But businesses with a larger employee base would also need to install Cisco's expansion switch, Catalyst Express 520, which expands the IP phone and wireless LAN access point capacity. Additionally, they would need another access point to cover wider areas.

In total, Cisco's offering will cost small businesses about $2,600: $700 for the Smart Business Communication System, $1395 for the Catalyst Express 520, and $500 for the 521 Wireless Express Access Point. Cisco is not the only one stepping up its efforts in the small-business market. Late last month, Microsoft rolled out its small-business unified communications product, code-named Response Point, which should be available later this year. Response Point uses phones and other hardware from D-Link, Quanta, and Uniden, and includes a gateway that allows calls to the public phone network. The system also includes a PC-based management console with features such as incoming call notification on the PC and integration with the Microsoft Outlook address book.

"It's the desktop and the phone coming together," said Jeff Smith, senior product manager of Response Point, in an interview.

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