Siemens Reinvents IP Communications

Siemens Communications is in the process of transforming itself, from a company people associate with hardware—phones, switches, and such—to a software and service company.

Yesterday, it made a cluster of product announcements that exemplify that transformation—announcements both strategic and tactical.

Starting with the strategic, Siemens revealed the bedrock on top of which the company’s communications solutions will be built going forward: a new middleware platform—Siemens OpenScape Unified Communications Server—that will support, integrate, and manage the basic applications that make up today’s communications arsenal—voice, video, and the aggregate of presence and messaging functions that Siemens dubs UC (unified communications).

Mark Stratton, Siemens senior vice president, enterprise systems marketing, told Enterprise that this paradigm shift places the company in a different market segment: “Our competitors, historically, have been the Avayas, Alcatels, and Ciscos, but in the future, we believe our competitors will be the Microsofts and IBMs.”

Stratton also stressed, repeatedly, that the new communications software offerings were compatible with a wide variety of other telephony and IT environments, meaning that “rip and replace” upgrades are unnecessary to take advantage of the new systems.

“It’s not tied to a specific system; it doesn’t have proprietary technology stacks,” Stratton said. “I don’t want to say ‘eliminated,’ but we’ve significantly reduced the complexity. So you can buy a standalone unified communications offer without these complex technologies.” Moreover, “It’s massively scalable; it’s massively flexible,” he added. “You can put this into your data center, because it’s an IT application.”

The UC Server will be available in three “editions”: The Medium Edition (ME) is a single-server deployment that will support up to 1,000 users. The Large Edition (LE) is a multi-server deployment that will provide voice to as many as 100,000 users and advanced UC functions to 20,000. The Hosted Edition (HE) is currently similar to LE, but, according to Stratton, “over time, Hosted will evolve new, service provider-centric capabilities.”

In terms of functionality, OpenScape UC Server provides a foundation comprising SIP session control, ‘federated’ presence, QoS management (“Mission Control”), session detail reporting (i.e., reporting for all communications modes, not just phone), and administration and licensing.

Atop UC Server will ride a suite of communications applications: OpenScape Voice (aka HiPath 8000 v.3, r2), the brand new OpenScape Video (more on this below), OpenScape Messaging, the newly retooled OpenScape UC, and OpenScape Mobility. But, again, Stratton stressed that UC Server can be integrated with applications from other vendors (via OpenScale integration services—the service part of Siemens’ new software-and-service identity).

On the tactical level, the company has re-architected its existing line of communications apps to work with the middleware, brought out a new version of OpenScape UC, and filled a void in the larger scheme with a whole portfolio of complete high definition (HD) video solutions.

“Traditionally, video has been an isolated island on enterprise networks,” director of emerging technologies Inderpreet Singh told “It’s not integrated into any kind of telephony or IT infrastructure.” So bringing video functionality into a unified IT infrastructure is revolutionary. “Adding high definition also makes it far more useful in the larger group environment,” he commented.

For that larger group environment, there are two conference-room solutions, VHD600 and VHD400, each with a HD video camera, the new Conference Phone VP100, a remote control and interface to HD displays, and a codec with embedded Multipoint Control Unit for either six-way or four-way calls, respectively.

An Executive Desktop solution includes the HD camera and microphone, the remote control/display interface, and the codec unit. Rounding out the new video solutions is full video capability (standard definition) in the UC client.

The key point, according to Singh, “is that the Unified Communications Server is bringing in video as a core component of unified communications—not just voice; not just IM. And all the presence feature that we’re used to in the voice world and the IM world, are now available in the video world—so you can know that the person you want to call is available, and whether she has video capability.”

Then there’s the price points: The six-way HD solution will sell for under $20,000, the four-way for under $15,000. This is new pricing territory for HD video-conferencing.

And speaking of pricing, Siemens has put together some application bundles that further reduce the cost of communications. The OpenScape UC Application Package, for example, provides 100 licenses for the Team version (the most sophisticated, collaboration-enabled version of the client) for a bit under $15,000. The OpenScape Voice Package bundles 100 HiPath 8000 licenses and 100 seats of UC Personal Edition (the basic version) for under $34,000. And a Voice and UC Package combines 100 licenses each of HiPath 8000 and UC Team for just under $40,000, or about $400 per seat.

Availability of Siemens OpenScape Unified Communications Server is as of April 30, 2008.

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