Avaya Rolls New Video and Voice over IP

By Nathan Beckord

Call it another big leap in the already-leapfrogging demand for Voice over IP marketplace: unified video in a VoIP offering.

Communications network provider Avaya and video conferencing firm Polycom are teaming up on a joint development and marketing arrangement to provide unified voice and video services bundled over IP networks.

The companies’ stepped-up development effort is the result of a tremendous increase in demand for video collaboration systems for both the desktop and the board room, said Hans Schwarz, Senior VP and Chief Systems Architect at Polycom.

The two firms, which have had a domestic reseller agreement for several years, now plan to expand their relationship to include shared R&D regarding voice and video delivery systems. They also plan to build out their reseller channels to include each other’s products.

The move aims to capitalize on the growing demand for voice, data and video over IP networks by business customers, who are seeking to benefit from the potential cost savings inherent in such systems.

The technology, which replaces traditional circuit-switched technology with packet-switched transfer of calls, has a number of advantages, not least of which include the lower operational costs to transport a call or video image over Internet networks.

The savings can be significant. For example, Denver-based telecommunications firm Qwest estimates that residential and small business subscribers could cut their local and long-distance bills between 20 and 30 percent by routing their calls over the Internet.

Most businesses tend to use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) instead of the public Internet for VoIP calls. But even with service guarantees with VPNs, some customers still find themselves trading off sound quality and reliability when it comes to deploying both telephony and video applications over IP networks.

Avaya and Polycom hope to overcome at least some barriers to some customers’ reluctance to switch by making set-up and connection of their forthcoming video system “as easy to use as a phone call, regardless of whether it’s point-to-point or multi-point,” said Lawrence Byrd, convergence strategist at Avaya.

According to Mr. Byrd, this is dependent on the video “traveling” with the phone call. In such a scenario, a user making a phone call would simply press a button on the phone, and the video would come on, versus current video systems that require dedicated video-conference dialing and setup.

At present, voice, data and video typically all run on separate platforms, for both (packet) transportation and directory services. Quality of service, reliability and security are established separately for each media. In the model planned by the two companies, all three services will use Avaya’s Communication Manager as a common IP control layer.

“Currently, companies have a dedicated videoconferencing IT team, and a dedicated telephony IT team,” said Polycom’s Schwarz. “This collapses them into one group.”

Avaya’s Byrd said “the cost savings to IT and the lower total cost of ownership will be due to the integrated management of the directory, scheduling, security, and other functions.” Other cost savings are anticipated due to the use of IP for video transmission, which typically uses more-expensive ISDN links.

Byrd hopes that the convergence of all three media onto one platform will encourage more mainstream customers to switch to IP-based systems. “If they are thinking about transitioning to IP, they want to do it all at once; if it’s seen as two steps (voice and video), they expect it to take twice as long,” he said.

The two companies have worked closely in the past, primarily on a marketing and reseller basis. Avaya has installed 10,000 Polycom video systems over the past several years.

The co-developed offering will be sold through Avaya’s direct sales force and through business partner indirect channels, including resellers. Service and support will be provided by Avaya Global Services. Initial products are expected to ship in mid-2004.

In a related announcement, Avaya also announced an upgrade of its flagship IP telephony software, Communication Manager 2.0. The company said the software suite provides organizations with access to a broader range of advanced communications capabilities, as well as to a comprehensive security solutions for IP telephony, including support for the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). The software also features enhancements to cellular and IP wireless functions, geared towards the mobile-user.

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