Microsoft has, pretty much from the beginning, certified select ITSPs (def.) to support its new IP-based phone system Response Point, so we were not surprised to see a recent announcement that Microsoft and 8×8—the company behind Packet8 Virtual Office phone service—had struck some sort of a deal.
But our interest was piqued when, shortly thereafter, the joint solution won a Best of Show award at the recent ITEXPO West 2008. Surely there must be more to this than 8×8 providing a convenient service option for Response Point customers.
We finally caught up with 8×8 vice president of sales and marketing, Huw Rees, and got a fix on some of the added dimensions of this deal.
“Well, of course we have been working with MS to provide the trunking services, as an ITSP, to the Microsoft Response Point system,” Rees said, for openers. “But we’re doing that using some of our own technology in addition to Microsoft Response Point.”
“Microsoft Response Point doesn’t sit on the public network,” Rees continued; “it sits only on a private network—behind a router—so it needs some NAT traversal in order to ensure reliable connections through corporate networks.”
To that end, 8×8 will send every Response Point customer a little box of its own devising that it’s calling the ‘Response Point Adapter.’ “The benefit that they’ll get from this device is that it contains our NAT traversal technology—the STUN/TURN/ICE technology to do all the NAT traversal,” Rees told VoIPplanet.com.
“There are lots of techniques you can use for NAT traversal,” Rees went on. “We’ve chosen to use IETF protocols to do this—STUN, TURN, ICE—and we believe that’s a very reliable method in which to penetrate not just single NATs, but maybe nested NATs.”
In another contribution to the overall function of the Response Point bundle, 8×8 has begun to implement system-wide call-quality monitoring. “That’s not to say monitoring the voice,” Reees assured us, “but we are monitoring every call that’s made for every one of our customers, gathering data on latency, packet loss, and jitter associated with each call. And we’re mining that data, and making a determination based upon that as to what would be the quality of those calls for each individual customer.”
Ultimately, as the monitoring program is rolled out, 8×8 will develop algorithms “that will alert us to fact that a particular customer is starting to have—or is on the verge of possibly having—quality problems with their voice calls over the IP network” Rees said.
For Response Point customers, the probe that does the data gathering will be located in the Response Point Adapter. For other Packet8 customers (this quality assurance program is system-wide, not limited to Response Point customers) the probes will be embedded in the IP phones or ATA or DTA (analog or digital telephony adapters).
The very existence of the Packet8 network is a great advantage for potential Response Point customers, Rees pointed out. “Suppose you’re a business that wants to use Response Point in your headquarters, but maybe you have some remote offices or home workers,” he said. “They can subscribe to the Packet8 Virtual Office solution. They’ll have almost exactly the same functionality. They won’t have the blue button where you use the voice [to command the Response Point PBX] on the Packet8 hosted service, but the other functionalities of the phone would be pretty much identical.”
The two companies have also inked a broad-based marketing agreement. “The idea is that they will promote us as an ITSP for the Response Point solution,” Rees said, “and we’ll be pitching Microsoft Response Point on our website as a solution for our customers who perhaps are not looking for a hosted solution.”
8×8 will also collaborate with Microsoft on moving the product through retail channels. “We have quite a lot of knowledge and expertise in moving voice over IP products through retail—we’re currently in Office Depot, OfficeMAX, and Staples. So we’re going to work with MS—or at least to explore the possibility of bringing that product and service through the retail channels.”