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Simple VoIP Shifting To Unified Communications

At the VoiceCon show this week, new Internet telephony players like Microsoft may upset the competitive equilibrium, according to one analyst.

The rise of unified communications and the entry of major players like Microsoft into the voice-over-IP business are just two examples of how simple Internet-based communications are changing the marketplace, according to one industry analyst.

Allan Sulkin, an industry analyst and long-time contributor to Business Communications Review, notes that the voice networking software business has definitely shifted in the last 10 years.

"Only now are people getting past the education phase of why Internet voice software is important and discovering how to integrate IP phone systems in their business," Sulkin told InformationWeek on Monday. Sulkin is one of several experts in the field advising attendees on VoIP trends at this week's VoiceCon show in San Francisco.

Sulkin said the massive shift to IP-based phones is a telltale sign that companies are rethinking their communications infrastructure.

"Five years ago, I asked a crowd like the one I spoke to today how many had IP phone systems in their offices. About 5% said they did. I asked the audience today, and somewhere between 65% to 70% said they use IP phones in the office," Sulkin said.

However, a quick scan of the audience resulted in only 20% of the crowd using integrated messaging and only a handful of people replying that they used some form of unified communications (voice, data, e-mail, and voice mail). The barriers to entry, Sulkin suggested, are the initial cost to install and concerns about mass market adoption.

The shift has created opportunities for large software companies like Microsoft to join Cisco Systems, Nortel, and Avaya in offering integrated services.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Cisco CEO John Chambers sat down together Monday to discuss their expanding relationship in several markets such as VoIP, security, and collaboration. For example, Cisco said it will introduce a Linksys router that will work together with Windows Media Center to stream video to a display that isn't even hooked up to a computer.

Gurdeep Singh Pall, who is responsible for developing Microsoft's Unified Communications and VoIP strategy, on Tuesday is expected to outline Microsoft's efforts to deploy its Unified Communications products and services such as its VoIP server and client, Office Communications Server 2007, and Office Communicator 2007.

Also making waves this week will be IBM, which has a strong VoIP partnership with Cisco. The two companies recently partnered with IBM on open unified communications platform.

IBM executives are expected to announce additional partners that will support the company's strategy for open standards to help fuse Internet communications and its middleware products such as Lotus.

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