At Enterprise Connect 2011, Cisco came out swinging with a mid-market voice-over-IP (VoIP) solution that, according to company officials, puts it in a game that it hasn't played in until now: IP-based voice telephony and videoconferencing for companies of up to 300 people.
While in Orlando, I caught up with Cisco product manager Nihal Mirashi for a video interview about the news. That video is embedded below. The new product from Cisco is called the Unified Communications Manager Business Edition 3000 and like a great many of the VoIP solutions on display at Enterprise Connect, it consists of a central piece of hardware (the VoIP "switch") to which several of Cisco's VoIP handset models can be connected.
At the low end of the compatible handsets is a very basic desk phone; at the high end, a $525 Bluetooth-enabled video phone for videoconferencing. The video below gives you a good look at all of these handsets, including the video phone, shown at the very end.
So, how does Cisco expect to compete in the mid-market? According to Cisco general manager and VP Steve Slattery (with whom I spoke off-camera), the key to competing in the mid-market is to get the resellers excited about selling the solution (vs. other ones that they might recommend). Slattery said that, with the Business Edition 3000, Cisco is accomplishing three things.
First, at a ridiculously low price point, starting about about $100 per user (including the low-end deskphone), the reseller gets to offer a solution that's highly competitive with any other offering in the market. Second, even at $100 per user, Slattery says resellers will make more margin on Cisco's solution than any of the others on the market (a statement I couldn't confirm). Finally, Cisco believes that the setup, which involves a browser-based wizard, makes installation of the systems so simple and fast that resellers won't necessarily have to send highly trained VoIP experts into the field to get the installations done. Given how fast an installation takes, one net result could also be a time savings. Whoever is doing the installation can expeditiously move on to the next task. (The browser-based wizard is also shown in the video.)
As also can be seen in the video, the Unified Communications Manager Business Edition 3000 also has a port for connecting to the public switched telephone network (PSTN) where calls can be routed to and from external callers.
Here's the video:
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