Microsoft Set to Deliver Enhanced VoIP Solutions

Microsoft predicts that in the next three years 100 million Office customers will click to call.

In a keynote speech, Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft’s Business Division, predicted that in just three years, the average VoIP solution for business will cost half what it does today, as VoIP systems move from hardware to software. Raikes also predicted that in the same time frame, 100 million people — twice the number of current business VoIP users — will have the ability to make phone calls from Microsoft Office applications.

“Software is set to transform business phone systems as profoundly as it has transformed virtually every other form of workplace communication,” Raikes said. “Over time, the software-based VoIP technology built into Microsoft Office Communications Server and Microsoft Office Communicator will offer so much value and cost savings that it will make the standard telephone look like that old typewriter that’s gathering dust in the stockroom.”

Microsoft also announced that for the first time it is making the interoperability specifications for Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator 2007 available to partners, enabling them to deliver a unified experience with Session Initiation Protocol interoperability between their PBX and Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator 2007. As a result, customers can avoid the costs of ripping and replacing their existing telephony system.

Outlining Microsoft’s progress toward delivering its enterprise voice solutions, Raikes also announced that Microsoft will distribute the public beta-test version of Office Communications Server 2007, Microsoft’s VoIP and unified communications server, and Office Communicator 2007, Microsoft’s unified communications client, to millions of testers later this month.

Changing the Economic Equation

Raikes discussed the challenges and costs that IT departments face managing multiple communications systems for telephony and software-based communications. For example, according to a report from Gartner Research, the cost of branded IP handsets — typically 40 percent to 45 percent of the cost of telephony installation — is still a main obstacle for companies adopting IP telephony.

By bringing a new approach to traditional telephony, Microsoft asserts that Office Communications Server will deliver the following:

Software economics. Built on a proven software platform, Office Communications Server works with a broad array of devices, phones, applications, services and common management tools, via open, published interfaces and standards — increasing choice and, in the long term, helping reduce costs. A prime example: Microsoft’s partner ecosystem will give customers a choice of phones and devices, dramatically reducing the overall cost of VoIP for businesses.

Voice quality. The listening and call quality offered by a pre-release version of Office Communications Server 2007 was “considerably better than that provided by [a leading provider’s] IP phones and CallManager,” according to an independent benchmark study conducted by Psytechnics, a firm specialising in voice-quality research.
Easy transition. Companies can get more value from their existing PBX systems, networks and desk phones by using Office Communications Server to add VoIP and unified communications capabilities without ripping and replacing existing investments.

Raikes also showcased how several customers are reducing operating expenses by consolidating their communications infrastructure, and how many more customers are banking on Microsoft’s unified communications platform to deliver breakthrough economics in the coming years.

“Office Communications Server 2007 represents a compelling glimpse into the future of collaboration and information worker environments,” said Robert Sincavage, section manager of Web and Collaborative Systems for the BMW Group. “This product sets the stage for a back-end infrastructure where archaic hardware PBXs will be replaced by software and industry-standard servers, potentially resulting in dramatic economic benefits.”

Raikes illustrated the inefficiencies of the standard telephone by pointing to a Harris Interactive Service survey that found that two-thirds of business phone calls end in voice-mail messages.* As a result, 25 percent of information workers spend the equivalent of three full work days each year playing phone tag and leaving voice-mail messages.

Raikes described Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator 2007 as the most important new communications technology since Microsoft Outlook® 1997, an e-mail and personal information manager. He predicted the new products would change the way people contact each other by providing more efficient and effective communications:

Streamlined communications. Click-to-call features make it possible to call someone by simply clicking on the person’s name within other Microsoft Office applications, such as Microsoft Office Outlook and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server.

Advanced “presence.” The technology can quickly determine colleagues’ availability and the best way to contact them at work or while they’re away.

More ways to meet. The technology can bring together people in multiple locations for meetings via the most convenient communications method, whether it’s a voice call, audio or video conference, or Web-based document sharing.

Tools that travel. Mobile workers can use their office phone number and other corporate communications tools, including instant messaging and audio- or videoconferencing, when working from home or on the road. With lower-cost calling options and simple, secure access without a virtual private network, remote and mobile workers can be more productive with lower communications and support costs.

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