VoiceCon: Microsoft moves into IP telephony

Software maker licenses its audio codec for IP to big vendors

SAN FRANCISCO -- Microsoft Corp. said today it has licensed its RT Audio Codec for IP voice calls to major hardware vendors, including Intel Corp., Texas Instruments Inc. and Polycom Inc. It joins several vendors using the VoiceCon conference here as a showcase for IP telephony advancements.

Also during the show, Microsoft will announce an Oct. 16 launch event for Office Communications Server 2007, its next enterprise telephony and collaboration platform. OCS 2007 has already been released to manufacturers. The official launch event will take place in San Francisco, said Clint Patterson, a Microsoft director of product management.

Microsoft is moving in on the IP telephony market from the software side while Cisco Systems Inc. approaches from the data network end. The CEOs of both companies said yesterday that the market is quickly shifting to so-called unified communications and they will make sure their products work together even as they continue competing in some areas.

Research backs up that sense of rapid change. Not including phones, 39% of revenue in the worldwide enterprise telephony market went to IP instead of traditional circuit-switched infrastructure in the second quarter, according to Dell'Oro Group Inc. analyst Alan Weckel. That's up from 31% in last year's second quarter.

Small and midsize businesses, latecomers to IP telephony, are now joining in, he added. Looking for big-company features such as the ability to have employees make calls from anywhere in the world using a software phone on a PC, these smaller players installed one IP line for every three traditional connections in the second quarter, Weckel said. A year earlier, only 19% of the lines they installed were IP.

IP telephony makes voice calls, video and conferences into a series of data packets so only one network is needed, and those functions can be integrated with other applications.

Microsoft developed RT Audio Codec and uses it in OCS, the PC-to-PC calling feature in Windows Live Messenger and the voice-calling features in the XBox Live online gaming platform, Patterson said. The software compresses digital speech samples into packets and then decompresses them. Now third parties are licensing the codec and building it into products such as chips and phones. Other licensees include AudioCodes Ltd., Dialogic Corp. and LG-Nortel Co., a communications joint venture of LG Electronics Inc. and Nortel Networks Corp.

RT Audio Codec has security built into it that is missing in other codecs, and it can adapt to poor network connections so users can communicate in more places, Microsoft's Patterson said.

Also at VoiceCon, Microsoft will unveil the OCS 2007 Quality of Experience Monitoring Server, software that watches voice and video quality. It can be used with other Microsoft performance monitoring software such as Microsoft System Center, so administrators can set up alerts for particular problems, Patterson said.

On Monday at VoiceCon, other vendors were busy:

  • Polycom Inc. introduced Polycom Unified Collaboration for Lotus Sametime and Lotus Notes, a system that lets corporate employees launch point-to-point and multipoint voice and video conferences from within those IBM software packages. The system can be configured several different ways, and prices vary based on what equipment is required, Polycom said. It is optimized for Polycom videoconferencing platforms but will work with any standards-based system, according to the company. The product is available now.
  • Avaya Inc. and Extreme Networks Inc. announced they have developed a system that lets network administrators tightly control the power consumption of IP phones. The arrangement combines the Universal Port feature in Extreme's Power over Ethernet switches with Avaya Gigabit Ethernet phones. It lets companies cut power use by, for example, turning off the power to a phone during hours when it isn't needed, such as on the weekend. People who call while the phone is off can still leave voice mail.
  • NetQoS Inc. unveiled NetQoS VoIP Monitor, which adds two key capabilities to the NetQoS Performance Center. The appliance-based software can watch the call setup experience, including how long it takes to get a dial tone and how long it takes a dialed call to connect, and track call audio quality. It can also isolate the cause of VoIP problems within the network. NetQoS VoIP Monitor works with Cisco IP Telephony systems running Cisco Unified CallManager 4.2 or later. It will be available in September in either a stand-alone unit or a distributed configuration, with prices starting at $29,500.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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