Nortel Networks' Business Communications Manager 50

This small business PBX has tons of bells and whistles, among them enabling access to hundreds of telephony features, but they'll cost you!

July 1, 2005

2 Min Read
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Deploying the unit is as simple as connecting a DHCP-enabled workstation to the management port, opening a browser and downloading the BCM 50 Element Manager software. Basic telephony features are configured through this Element Manager, while VPN/ router and voicemail/ auto-attendant and call-center features are configured through Web interfaces launched from Element Manager.


• Great entry-level PBX with enterprise-class features• Integrated router and VPN• Support for up to 80 lines in a hybrid digital/IP environment

• Most features licensed on a per-port basis


• Lacks standards-based SIP signaling• IP features and phones expensive compared with digital equivalents

• Single system is limited to 32 IP lines• Per-feature pricing adds up quickly for complex installs

Business Communications Manager 50, $350 to $500 per seat. Nortel Networks, (800) 4Nortel, (800) 466-7835.

The Element Manager gives you access to hundreds of telephony features. Navigating it is easy, but data presentation is inefficient, and the interface lacks copy-and-paste functions for many tasks, making some simple configuration tasks tedious.

The BCM 50 offers a broad selection of more than 400 telephony features. Basic features, such as call transfer, call hold, DID (direct inward dialing), and intercom, are standard. Advanced licensed features include voicemail with auto-attendant, unified messaging, fax services, VoIP trunking and a basic call center supporting up to 10 active agents. I configured and tested each advanced feature and found they all work as advertised. The interactive displays on the advanced desktop phones enhance the end-user experience.

To IP or Not To IP

I confirmed Nortel's claim that the BCM 50 supports both TDM digital handsets and IP phones. The BCM 50 uses Nortel's proprietary UNISTIM signaling for its digital and IP handsets. Don't expect third-party IP/SIP phones to work unless they're compatible with the Nortel standard. Nortel says it will add SIP support in a future release.

Overall, I found that the BCM 50 offers a consistent user experience whether you're using an IP handset, a digital handset or a softphone.Bottom Line

By my calculations, $372 per user will get you into a no-frills eight-user system using digital handsets. Licenses to access advanced features like voicemail, fax service, IP lines and/or call-center functionality are extra. A typical office configuration with midrange digital phones and voicemail will cost $560 per user. A full-blown system with all features enabled would be more than double that price before discounting. Add IP phones to the tune of around $200 per user due to higher per-line licensing and handset costs. Nortel has convergence nailed down, but hasn't quite made converged IP communications a cost-effective reality.

Joel Conover, a former senior technology editor of Network Computing, is principal analyst for enterprise infrastructure at competitive intelligence firm Current Analysis. Write to him at [email protected].

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