3Com Expands VoIP Efforts, Taps Open Source

Though on the verge of going private, communications technology giant 3Com this week continues working as usual, announcing three new products that round out its VoIP offerings for small and medium-sized businesses.

The launch comes as 3Com wrangles with larger business moves. Last week, the company announced that it is going private in a deal valued at $2.2 billion.

Two of the company’s three new VoIP products — the VCX Connect 100 and VCX Connect 200 — were developed by 3Com itself. The third, however, the 3Com Asterisk Appliance, comes as the result of an OEM agreement with open source VoIP vendor Digium.

The new VCX Connect products include IP-PBX capabilities, including VoIP call control and unified messaging. The VCX Connect 100 is geared for organizations with 30 to 100 users, while the VCX Connect 200 is for organizations with up to 250 users.

Those appliances are based on 3Com’s older VCX Enterprise platform, which had been developed for larger organizations, and includes a version that operates on IBM System i.

“3Com has been in the VoIP business for SMBs for about a decade,” 3Com Marketing Director Kevin Flanagan told InternetNews.com. “Now, we have taken the same software base from the VCX Enterprise product and brought it into a form factor to meet the needs of businesses with as few as 100 phone users. This will enable us to meet growing demand from this segment of the market for enterprise-class IP telephony in a smaller, more affordable form factor.”

Of course, the news means the VCX Connect offerings must compete with not just a host of rival solutions, but with portions of 3Com’s existing portfolio — its NBX product in particular. The NBX has the distinction of being one of the first IP PBX’s and according to Flanagan, still sells well.

“Our NBX IP PBX serves businesses with as few as 25 users,” Flanagan said. “But what is new with the VCX Connect products is that they are application-enabled, so various types of database, productivity and other
applications can be placed into the system, and therefore into the network, for use by multiple employees.”

“Voice is just one application on the network, and these new products herald that paradigm shift in how businesses deploy voice,” he said.

For organizations with even fewer users — between 5 and 30 seats — 3Com partnered with open source VoIP vendor Digium to OEM its Asterisk Appliance.

“Digium is the leader in open source telephony, so we are partnering with the most significant company in that space,” Flanagan said. “By taking the [Digium] Asterisk Appliance and placing a 3Com UI on it and supporting it with our Global Service organization, which we believe no other open source telephony provider can do, we are making this technology available to even the smallest businesses and organizations.”

Digium, the lead commercial backer behind the open source Asterisk telephony project, announced the original Asterisk Appliance just over a year ago. Digium’s appliance bundles Asterisk Business Edition, a router and a built-in operating system.

Under the arrangement with 3Com, Digium expects Asterisk to continue growing. Bill Miller, Digium’s vice president of product management and marketing, told InternetNews.com that 3Com understands the value and significance of the Asterisk technology.

It’s unclear whether that means the industry can expect additional Asterisk products bearing the 3Com label. Beyond the core Asterisk Appliance currently in the market, InternetNews.com has reported that Digium also has developed an as-yet unreleased appliance, the AA250, that can scale to up to 250 users.

Miller said that the company has no plans at present to partner with 3Com for a rebranded version of the AA250.

“They’ve seen it, but we haven’t entered into any more detailed conversations about it,” Miller said. “They know it’s coming.”

And coming sooner rather than later, it would seem. Though Miller would not comment on when the AA250 would be officially released, he said Digium is already using the product internally in its new office.

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