Cisco Updates Unified Communications Platform

Enterprises get bundled presence, IM and mobile communications options on latest version of Cisco telephony server.

March 5, 2007

5 Min Read
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Trying to jump-start the adoption of unified communications technologies, Cisco Systems will introduce today Unified Communications system 6.0 at VoiceCon Spring 2007 in Orlando, Fla. The newest release of Cisco's telephony server bundles presence, Instant Messaging (IM) and options for extending unified communications to mobile platforms.

Previously, Cisco provided its presence platform on a separate, optional server with what was then called Unified CallManager. The rebranding to Unified Communications Manager is more than semantics. Telephony vendors, including Cisco, are trying to increase their revenue-per-seat by selling customers advanced communication technologies, such as video, IM, presence, unified messaging and collaboration tools.

To date, success has been nominal at best. Few organizations have purchased such advanced collaboration technologies--witness the relative lack of success of Siemens' OpenScape and Nortel Networks' MCS 5100, both of which include such advanced features.

A Wainhouse Research survey of 300 readers last June showed that while some enterprises have adopted softphones (24 percent) and unified messaging (20 percent), only 13 percent have adopted presence and IM. Similar numbers have been reported by Nemeretes Research and others.

The challenge for telephony vendors is that presence is a core technology used not only by instant messaging platforms but increasingly by enterprise applications. Being the provider of that presence server then drives adoption of enterprise IM, video and other collaboration technologies at the desktop. In theory, multiple presence servers could be deployed, but the reality is that exchanging presence information between presence servers has a long way to go.As such, Cisco is developing a dual unified communications strategy--on the one hand going it alone, on the other partnering with would-be competitors such as Microsoft.

To succeed in going it alone, the company must increase adoption of its presence technology. Bundling that technology with its Unified Communications Systems makes sense and continues Cisco's practice of leveraging existing product lines to market and sell other technologies. Thus introducing IM into the Unified Personal Communicator appears to be a necessary move, completing the company's trio of unified communications--voice, IM, and video. The IM system is based on SIMPLE, the IM extensions to SIP. As such, it also positions Cisco to leverage its telephony experience in its IM and presence system, something that IBM and Microsoft might find hard to replicate. Such unique capabilities could easily be used to adapt features such as call transfer to IM session transfer, or call forward to IM session forwarding.

The introduction of the Cisco Unified Mobile Communicator also helps the vendor protect and expand its UC position. The entry allows Cisco to deliver corporate calling, presence and unified messaging capabilities as an application on BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Symbian OS and, eventually, Brew handsets. The move puts Cisco two steps ahead of Avaya's Extension to Cellular capabilities, which provides any cell phone with corporate calling capabilities.

At the same time, the introduction of IM to its platform puts Cisco directly in competition with Microsoft and IBM/Lotus, head-to-head battles that Cisco knows it can't win at this time. The technology investment and brand awareness of those companies' messaging and collaboration offerings far outstrip Cisco's presence at the desktop. The last thing IT wants to see is a brand battle between its leading suppliers. For that reason, Cisco has repeatedly emphasized that its IM offering is specifically for non-Microsoft and non-IBM shops.

To further that strategy, Cisco announced that Unified Communications will integrate with Microsoft in a number of ways. Unified CallManager, for example, can use Exchange Unified Messaging as a message store for e-mail and voicemail. Microsoft Office Communicator users also have click-to-dial capabilities with Cisco Unified Communications system and there is also a tie-in between Cisco's Unified MeetingPlace and Outlook. The company was also quick to point out that its collaboration with Microsoft will expand over time.

FACT FILE

Name: Unified Communications system 6.0

What it is: The next release of Cisco's line of telephony and unified communication products.

Why you should care: Lots of new capabilities. The integration of presence into the Unified CallManager and IM based on the SIMPLE protocols could signal increased competition and tension between Cisco and Microsoft.WHAT'S NEW

Cisco Unified Communications Manager 6.0: Now integrates presence, IM and some mobility functions. New telephony features include: Do Not Disturb, Intercom, Audio Message Waiting Indicator, media encryption on ad-hoc conference calls, call recording and silent monitoring. For a complete list of changes see here.

Cisco Unified Mobile Communicator: Provides employees with access to enterprise unified communications capabilities from their mobile phones. Users can view and listen to voicemail messages, set presence status, access enterprise directories, send secure text messages and query call logs. For a complete list of changes see here.

Cisco Unified Wireless IP Phone 7921G: Supports 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi standards. The telephone incorporates Cisco Compatible Extensions (CCX) version 4 for improved QOS and better voice quality. For complete details see here.

Cisco Unified MeetingPlace 6.0: Improvements include Flash-based Web conferencing capabilities for better PowerPoint viewing. For complete details see here.Cisco Unity 5.0: Includes productivity features allowing users to listen to and answer messages as they are being recorded, hands-free operation with speech recognition and the ability to view, sort and play messages on the display of a Cisco Unified IP Phone. New security features include message encryption and the ability to configure message expiration to prevent users from sending confidential messages outside the enterprise. For complete details see here.

Cisco Unified Communications Manager Business Edition: Combines select Unified Communications applications for SMEs on a single platform. Aside from telephony capabilities, other applications include voice and video communications features, Cisco Unity Connection 2.0 voice messaging and presence services. Other optional applications include Cisco Unified MeetingPlace and Cisco Unified IP Contact Center. For more details see here.

Cisco Unified Contact Center Express: Now enables contact centers to integrate chat (Cisco Unified Web Interaction Manager) and e-mail (Cisco Unified E-Mail Interaction Manager). For more details see here.

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