While Voice Over IP is making significantinroads into the workplace, quality problems, expensive equipment, integration issues, and limited mobile capabilities have kept some companies from embracing it. Microsoft, Cisco Systems, and Avaya were among the vendors at last week's VoiceCon conference offering products that look ready to overcome those issues.
Microsoft will officially enter the VoIP market later this month with the release of beta versions of its Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator 2007 client. These products also represent Microsoft's entry into "unified communications," where voice, E-mail, instant messaging, and videoconferencing coexist. Microsoft's Live Communications Server 2005 and Office Communicator 2005 combine IM and presence capabilities with support for peer-to-peer audio, video, and data sharing; the new versions include Web, audio-, and videoconferencing, as well as IP voice call management.
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Microsoft plans to use cost as a key selling point against more established VoIP vendors such as Cisco. In his keynote address, Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's business division, predicted that a business VoIP system will cost half what it does now, as vendors shift from offering hardware-centric systems to software running on standard servers. Plus, users will get more phones and devices to choose from. "You're not tied to one vendor," says Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate VP of the unified communications group.