“For some companies, convergence means extending the office environment into employee’s homes,” says Derek Ashmore, head of customer solutions at Cable & Wireless (C&W).
“C&W offers everything from the traditional PBX to a fully integrated converged internet protocol (IP) solution,” he says. “That covers everything from IP phones within an office, to IP soft phones. It also covers multimedia contact centres that include web front end to email so instead of having different bodies of people looking at different ends of the business you blend technologies to gain economy of scale, so people can handle email and voice calls. So if I rang in to a call centre today, then follow that up with email and then do a web chat, the contact centre can link them all together so the operative has full visibility of my contact. It makes the business more effective.”
Ashmore also points out that with DSL being rolled out, companies are looking at providing services in employees’ homes. “They are not just looking at data but at extending the office environment into the home using IP soft phones or IP hard phones or unified messaging where voice mail and emails alike are dropped into the user’s Outlook folder.
“We are also looking at products that offer almost 3G effects, in other words, voice, video and data. The Nortel MCS5100 multiservices platform for instance, blends Microsoft Instant Messaging into a traditional phone or into a video conference. As a user, I can make traditional person-to-person call, a video person-to-person call, or chat or share a document or do multiperson calls. This has huge ramifications for companies with spread out offices. For instance, we have multiple departments here in C&W. To contact someone I might have to make several attempts. I might have to ring their desk, the mobile or try email. But with our Presence Locator product I know where they are and if they are free. For instance, the person I’m trying to reach might be on the phone so she can’t take a call, but can take a chat message.”
C&W has just launched an IP voice platform in the UK that provides a good indication of where the market is going, according to Ashmore. “The client does not need a typical basic rate, premium rate or analogue trunk lines,” he says. “If there is a data connection between C&W and its customers it can run their voice calls over its data network and we will break it out to the PSTN for them. The customer gets better tariffs and economies of scale.”
Ashmore also points to advances by Nortel. “Nortel has released a session initiation protocol client that runs on a BlackBerry device. It’s similar to having an IP phone hanging off the PBX but going over the GPRS network and paying GPRS data rates”
So, is the Irish market ready for converged technologies? “Two years ago you would have been an early adopter to go the voice over IP route,” says Ashmore. “Now more Irish companies are deploying it. Some of them are using mix and match where they feel they have business critical need to stay with TDM (time division multiplexing). That said, it’s not yet a mass market technology. There is still a huge traditional installed base and for a lot of companies the phone is just a phone. There is a lot of inertia keeping companies from moving over to a pure IP platform. They need a business case to migrate.
“Some companies like to be leaders. Some don’t see the absolute business benefit of moving to converged solutions. It’s not just about cost. It’s about return on investment and how will they make their money back. Then there are other companies that see the advantages of reduced costs and that the services will start paying for themselves.”
The key to mass adoption, he says, will be the domestic market. “The residential market is still the largest revenue source for the incumbent telcos such as Eircom,” he says, “There is a need to get IP handsets into phones connected to DSL lines.”
By David Stewart
Pictured: Derek Ashmore, head of customer solutions at Cable & Wireless.