New Conference, Touch-Screen Phones from snom AG

It’s been a busy spring for voice over IP telephone developer and manufacturer snom technology AG. The company has launched its first conference phone, announced a touch screen phone planned for release in late spring or summer, and garnered accolades for its environmental sensitivity.

Retailing for about $900, MeetingPoint is Berlin-based snom’s first foray into the conference phone arena. Designed to meet the needs of middle to large-sized meeting rooms, it can support up to 10 users. Four external parties can join in from different locations worldwide—no bridge required. Three speakers deliver full duplex broadband audio.

Built by Konftel, MeetingPoint can record a conference session, and a memory stick is included to make the recording portable.

In the face of competition from Polycom and others, snom is talking up the virtues of integration in MeetingPoint. “Nobody wants to do anything differently when they are in the conference room than they do when they are at their desk phone,” said Mike Storella, snom’s director of business development in the Americas. To that end, the system’s listing-management function offers seamless interaction with Outlook and MeetingPoint can natively connect to Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS).

As a business proposition in lean times, Storella said, MeetingPoint can help bolster the bottom line with its ability to sustain up to a dozen SIP identities. These give managers the option of hosting their conferences through whatever circuit may be most cost-effective for the circumstance.

Most significantly for snom, the new conference phone helps round out a corner of the company’s offerings that had previously gone unfilled. “When our VARs are selling in to the end user, it almost always comes up, people are always saying they need a conference phone. We needed to fill that space so that our VARs don’t have to go to our competition to fill that niche,” Storella said.

MeetingPoint Conference Phone
snom’s MeetingPoint conference phone

Even as it rolls out MeetingPoint, snom is preparing to bring another high-end product to market in late spring or early summer, Storella said.

Unveiled at the recent CeBIT conference in Germany, the snom 870 will feature all the usual snom capabilities, complemented by a touch-screen interface. snom is promising drag-and-drop control of on-screen elements throughout the navigation and menu system. There will be one-touch initiation of new calls and other enhancements to simplify conference calling and other features.

Competitor Avaya made a splash with its recent touch-screen release. Beyond the matter of interface, Avaya’s offering garnered attention for its embedded applications — mapping, a calculator, local weather, world time—and for its plans to make available downloads of third-party applications.

Storella said snom will likewise be emphasizing integrated applications, though he said it is too soon to name specifics. In general, he said, “it’s all about integration of backroom operations, and if you have an application that helps the end user to navigate those things, that is going to be necessary. It’s all about productivity.”

A retail price hasn’t been set yet, but Storella said the snom 870 will sell for more than the company’s priciest $419 phone.

The time of the touch screen has come not just because of the revolution in cell phone interfaces, but because of a long-standing business necessity. “I don’t want to say that people are intimidated by the buttons on business phones, but it is common knowledge that when you install a new phone system you typically need a training program to introduce that phone. ‘This is how you put somebody on hold, this is how you transfer, this is how you get somebody back,’ ” Storella said.

In lean times, with training budgets tight, “the touch screen is a natural progression.”

Finally, snom has garnered attention of late for its environmental sensitivity. The company has received top “green” marks from the Research Group for Telecommunication Networks at the Frankfurt Main University of Applied Sciences.

Researchers tested snom phones against half a dozen other VoIP handsets and found that snom used the least amount of energy across the board.

Storella said the company’s ties to Europe have made its developers more sensitive to green issues, thanks to the high cost of energy in Europe and to the continent’s generally high awareness of the topic.

Do environmental kudos help sell phones? Well, they don’t hurt.

“Companies like to deal with companies that think about these things,” Storella said. “If they know that snom is worried about being green and worried about power usage, that becomes an asset to us. I don’t know that anybody goes out and says, ‘I need to find a green phone,’ but they like to know that we are thinking about it.”

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