And The Winner Is: IP Phone or Desktop?

LAS VEGAS — As the world moves to an all-IP infrastructure
for both voice and data, the role of the traditional
desktop phone may well be changing.

In a standing-room-only session here at Interop, representatives from Avaya, Cisco and Microsoft debated the future of the phone, which is,
after all, now just another IP endpoint.

Geoff Baird, vice president and general manager of appliances, mobility and small systems at Avaya, noted that the world of voice
has changed considerably.

“Originally we had a phone and it worked with a single
line,” he said. “Now we’ve moved from analog to digital, and the world
of work itself has changed.”

Microsoft, which is a relative newcomer to the world of
voice, isn’t entering the space half heartedly.

Jeff Finan, general manager of the unified communications group at Microsoft,
told the audience all about his company’s voice strategy, which includes hardware compatibility with such industry vendors as Avaya and Cisco.

“The key pain point we hear about is that there are too
many communication silos; we all go to voicemail too
much,” Finan said.

Microsoft’s new Office Communicator 2007 is its answer to the problem. It includes rich presence status that enables a user to contact a person with software-powered VoIP.

Thanks to
Microsoft vendor interoperability partnerships, Finan
noted that deploying Microsoft’s voice solution isn’t a
rip and replace for enterprises since it can be deployed
alongside existing PBX infrastructures.

IP phones, which sit at the crux of VoIP-based
communications, are still a rapidly growing marketplace
that has yet to be fully saturated.

According to the panel moderator, analyst
Allan Sulkin of TEQConsult Group, it won’t be until 2009
when 50 percent of all enterprise phone shipments will be
for IP phones. He said the traditional
desk phone won’t go away, and PC-based soft phones won’t
replace hardware-based IP phones.

But IP phones aren’t about to lead to the disappearance of
desktop applications, either.

Avaya’s Baird noted that
Avaya doesn’t see people running applications on the
phones as much as Avaya had expected. As SIP
further develops and matures, Baird said he expects
it will be easier to develop and integrate phone-based
applications with SIP.

Cullen Jennings, distinguished engineer at Cisco, told the
audience that the types of applications that work on the
phone can only be applications that will work with the
small screen and don’t require a keyboard.

Jennings also noted that most phones in enterprise settings
sit near a PC.

“Applications on the phone work where the phone doesn’t
sit next to the PC,” Jennings said. “There are a lot of
very vertical applications and that’s what will take

However, Finan noted that Microsoft’s voice strategy isn’t PC-centric.

“Really we see a variety of form factors,” he said.
“The desk phone isn’t going away anytime soon.”

That said, with monitors getting bigger and cheaper, Finan
argued that if there is a desk phone and then a computer
next to it, why would someone look at the small-screen real
estate of a phone?

Avaya’s Baird countered that he’s a huge PC user, but the
IP phone is going to evolve in how it fits into the desk

“We’re not trying to replace screen real estate,” Baird said. “It’s
about being practical. It’s about making it
work together. And besides your PC may not be switched on.”

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