Avaya combines data, voice, PBX calls in one SOHO box

Avaya is introducing a SOHO box that can network home-office data machines, support traditional, wireless and IP voice services and provide PBX call features.

IP Office Small Office Edition handles data connections as a small 10/100 Ethernet switch and has enough voice ports to handle many combinations of IP and analog phones and phone lines.

On the WAN side, the device can be plugged into analog phone lines, a DSL or cable modem via an Ethernet port, or a T-1 line via an optional T-1 card. On the LAN side, Small Office supports any Ethernet-connected device, analog phones or IP phones.

In an office supplied with several IP phones that share up to four analog phone trunks to the public phone network, the Avaya box would make the necessary packet-to-analog translation. Similarly, customers could plug an analog phone into the box and network it with IP phones locally or enable it to make calls over the Internet.

If customers buy IP services from a provider that offers multiple quality of service levels, the Avaya gear can mark priority packets such as voice using DiffServ so the voice packets are treated appropriately in the carrier network.

Small Office also includes an 802.11 wireless card to support Avaya wireless phones as well as standard 802.11 wireless data machines.

This flexibility and the support for integrated messaging give workers in small offices or home offices features they could not afford before, says Peter Bernstein, president of Infonautics. He also says that despite the fact that the box would be critical to all voice and data activity in the office, it could be backed up by a battery power supply to keep the office going. Also, analog phones attached to analog trunks through the box would stay live, he says.

Headsets.com, a US maker of phone headsets, uses IP Office gear in two of its office, enabling workers to connect by just dialing extension numbers. They can also see who is on the phone and who isn't in the other the office, making it seem as if they are in the same office rather than 30 miles away in Walnut Creek. Using the Internet to carry the calls saves money as well, says Mike Faith, CEO of Headsets.com. "The cost savings are good, but the real benefit is the psychological connection," he says.

Using the Internet means lower voice quality, he says, but the offices also have analog lines plugged into the IP Office boxes that they use for sales calls.

Avaya competes with small office products from Cisco Systems and Nortel Networks that combine some of the same features, Bernstein says.

Software in the Small Office devices supplies standard PBX features such as call forwarding, call transfer, call waiting and reduced-digit dialing that can extend across multiple sites. The box ships with support for voice mail as well as unified messaging that can combine e-mail with voice mail.

For an extra fee, customers can license IPSec VPN support for the device that enables remote access VPNs as well as site-to-site VPNs with other VPN gateways. Avaya says the gear is compatible with IPSec gateways made by Check Point Software Technologies, Cisco and NetScreen Technologies.

Also, for an extra fee customers can license conferencing that includes a 64-party voice bridge as well as Web collaboration, so participants can view the same documents while they talk.

With all these options, Avaya acknowledges that most customers will buy the devices through an integrator or VAR who will install and configure it. VARs could install the devices with just a few of the features turned on and then charge more separately to turn on the others, Avaya says.

Avaya has introduced a set of management tools that make the boxes easier to configure, manage and troubleshoot. These include an installation and phone-number management wizards, diagnostic software and SNMP support.

Small Office is the fourth device in a family of IP voice/data gear called IP Office, and comes in four models that range in price from US$1,900 to $3,500. They are available now. The VPN and conferencing options are still under limited release.

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