Nortel customers upbeat but anxious

Nortel has until July 30 to detail its restructured operating model

Nortel customers remain optimistic despite the company's precarious situation, officials of Nortel's largest enterprise user group said this week.

Speaking for the Global Connect conference in Pittsburgh, leaders of the International Nortel Network User Association (INNUA) said the general tone among customers was upbeat despite the company filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection early this year. But attendance at Global Connect is down about 40% from last year.

"The customers are very optimistic," says Steve Ford, INNUA president and telecom manager at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, OK. "[Nortel CEO Mike Zafirovski] reaffirmed his commitment to the customer and the product line going forward."

The top priority for Nortel is to not lose any customers, Ford said, referring to a briefing INNUA members had from Zafirovski and Joel Hackney, president of Nortel Enterprise Solutions group. He said members were also encouraged that Nortel wants to get its restructuring and operating model going forward as soon as possible.

"They realize that everybody's antsy and they've acknowledged that orders have been down because everybody's waiting to see what happens," Ford said.

Hackney, at Interop, said customers have stopped buying Nortel products for the time being. Reports also surfaced this week that a group of former Nortel executives are looking to buy the company.

"They understand that the sooner they can get something announced [on the company's future], the better it will be for everybody," Ford said. INNUA officials said Nortel's announcement is "imminent."

Nortel has until July 30 to detail its restructured operating model. Many believe it will sell off large chunks of its business - it's already shopping around its LG joint venture, among others.

Customers expect the Nortel enterprise portfolio to "carry on," said Victor Bohnert, INNUA executive director.

"Their investments are safe," Bohnert says of Nortel enterprise customers' deployments. "They're looking for a roadmap through the transition. Most of us expect that the strength of their solution will continue moving forward."

Bohnert says attendance at Global Connect has fallen off due more to the economy in general than Nortel's plight. But Nortel's bankruptcy was No. 2 on the list of reasons why customers did not attend, he said.At the conference, Nortel announced the latest version of its Agile Communication Environment - ACE 2.0 - and a new release of its Media Processing Server (MPS), a Web-centric IVR for call centers.

ACE is a software platform that provides Web access to instant messaging, voice, video, location, and presence services. Release 2.0 includes features such as hot-desking - or cross-PBX remote call forwarding accessible from a Web browser -- further integration with IBM Lotus Sametime, support for the Microsoft Windows Server operating system and remote call control features for Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007.

Release v3.5 of MPS, meanwhile, supports the latest IBM and Nuance speech engines; VoiceXML, to provide an environment for accelerating application development; and expanded third-party integration support into Avaya AES.

Nortel also announced that Contact Center 7.0, unveiled at the recent VoiceCon conference, will be available globally on June 30. Nortel also said it is now offering a lifetime warranty on its stackable Ethernet Routing Switches, effective July 1.

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