Quick Conference: CounterPath Targets the Enterprise

CounterPath Corporation recently announced the launch of its SIP-based audio conferencing solution, Quick Conference. The new offering is part of an expansion the company is currently undergoing thanks to its recent acquisitions of NewHeights Software, FirstHand Technologies and BridgePort Networks.

Dave Caughey, the company’s director of server products, says that while Quick Conference was an established NewHeights Software product, the new version adds direct integration with CounterPath’s suite of softphones—along with increased ease of use. “We had all used a variety of products—commercial offerings—in which you either had to contact an administrator or go to a Web site to set up a conference beforehand, which frequently doesn’t mesh very well with the way that people do business,” he says.

Instead, Quick Conference allows you set up a conference in seconds—without sacrificing functionality. “You can customize it,” Caughey says. “If you want to change the greeting, if you want to associate a participant PIN to control who can get into your bridge, you can set up that kind of security. You can look at recording and reports—it’s administrable from within the Web portal—and we’ve tied it in with the other CounterPath products like eyeBeam and Bria, which support instant messaging.”

Additional functionality

Via instant messaging, Caughey says, an administrator can receive notifications when new callers join the conference or go on hold, request information on specific callers, and mute a participant or initiate a recording. “For an enterprise that’s using our products, this is the easiest and most preferable way to deal with a conference server,” he says. “You’re sitting there at your computer, you’ve got your softphone, and a little chat message comes up that says, ‘Rob Mclean just joined the call’—and it’s right there where you need it: you don’t have to bring up a browser and go to a Web page.”

And for users who aren’t near a computer—in a boardroom, for example—there’s an alternate option. “We push a limited interface down to BlackBerries and other PDAs or smartphones through a simple thin client, which you can almost think of as a remote control for the conference session,” Caughey says.

One key addition that CounterPath has made to the offering, Caughey says, is a reseller option for service providers. “Quick Conference can either operate in a shared mode within the enterprise, or it can be offered as a managed service where the capabilities of each specific bridge can be modified by the administrator, so they can offer basic and deluxe versions of a bridge to their various customers,” he says.

Pricing is based not on a pay-per-minute model, but on a flat license fee depending on the number of simultaneous users needed—for example, a 100-seat license can support 10 people in 10 conferences, 5 people in 20 conferences, etc. “We found that when we charged per license and made it a CPE kind of model, the usage of conferencing went up,” Caughey says. “People started using it when they needed it, as opposed to worrying about whether they were going to be overrunning their IT budget for the month.”

A changing company

Company CTO Jason Fischl says that while CounterPath had previously been focused on softphone client software for the consumer market, the Quick Conference announcement and the preceding acquisitions are all part of a larger push towards the enterprise market and towards fixed/mobile convergence (F/MC). “NewHeights had a lot more experience building enterprise-class softphones than CounterPath did,” he says. “They understood the domain really well, and they had some excellent products in the market.”

The other two acquisitions brought expertise in the F/MC space, both for carriers (BridgePort) and for enterprise customers (FirstHand)—which Fischl hopes to combine in the future. “When we’ve got enough deployment of enterprise F/MC solutions, and we also have a number of large mobile operators or integrated operators deploying our BridgePort solution, then the two will work together very nicely and will provide better functionality and more interesting tie-ins,” he says. “That’s definitely one of our endgames.”

BridgePort’s NomadicONE F/MC product is currently being used by the Slovenian operator Mobitel, and Fischl says other deployments are on the way. “You’ll start seeing more customer announcements over the next year with much more substantial operators in Western Europe,” he says.

F/MC aside, Fischl says, another good example of CounterPath’s new enterprise focus is the Bria Add-In for Microsoft Outlook, designed to offer functionality that’s directly competitive with Microsoft Office Communications Server. “You get an integrated softphone that runs inside of Outlook, but you’re using all standard SIP stuff… it gives us the ability to work with basically anybody who makes an IP PBX,” he says.

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