Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Reflections in VON's VoIP Eye

By now everyone has heard the buzz about VoIP's pioneering conference may be joining Webvan and in the dustbin of tech history. If you missed it, here are the reports from Marc Robbins and Om Malik

However, as of this writing PulverMedia still appears to be in business and the buzz looks more like the same two stories repeated hundreds of times across the VoIP blogosphere. But then, think of all those links pushing them to the top of the Google list. It's profitable as well as easy for facts to become casualties.

In the meantime I've been reflecting on Spring VON. Yes, it was very much a VoIP trade show – I think it was the "bottle blondes" in hot pants that set the Shriners Convention tone.

But as exciting at the early VON conferences were, most of us wouldn't settle for the VoIP call quality of ten -- or even five--years ago. There's something to be said for a business that's solved the basic problem. Good sound quality on phone calls isn't a bad thing.

Driven by my compulsive need to find narrative – as well as avoid honest work – I picked up on several everything-in-a-box products designed with the very small office in mind.

First up is British Columbia-based Sutus' office-in-a-black-box, Business Central. According to the company, the 12 x 12 x 3 box replaces your PBX, firewall, router, file server, wired and wireless LAN, email Server, VPN remote access support, PSTN and VoIP gateways, automated backup and even office collaboration tools. Quite a mouthful.

In a quick demo, I was able to set up a company very quickly with the GUI and make a phone call. However, some people I spoke with are skeptical that you can really put all that in a box and have it all perform at business-class levels. However, if you're operating a small office with a phone system from the 1980s and a consumer-grade Internet connection, it seems like this would have to be an improvement and a quick way to transition to VoIP.

A Business Central box costs $4,000 for 1 to 9 users and $5,500 for 10+ users, with no annual subscription fee. It runs on Windows and Mac and supports any standard Polycom IP phone.

Linksys continues to evolve their VoIP devices, packing more and more functionality into what's, literally, at hand. The $115 WRP400 broadband wireless router includes a high performance processor to handle data, voice and video; builds in the ATAs and security; and lets you run two networks. All in a package not much larger or heavier than my four year-old Palm Treo.

In the cute department, the SPA 962 includes a photo album display, which, when you're not looking at pictures of the grandkids, can be used for RSS feeds, IM chat and SIP text messages -- handy for those of us who find ourselves cooking dinner with the laptop at hand to IM our kids when dinner's ready.

For the more serious, the $160 WIP310 wireless phone comes with Linux and the SIP stack built in, and operates seamlessly with all Linksys routers.

Communigate has been busy as a clan of beavers erasing the distinction between the desktop and the Internet with the new release of its Pronto unified communications dashboard. Pronto is based on Adobe technologies and the new release adds Adobe AIR for unified multimedia and highly interactive – Web 2.0 -- applications.

Last but not least, I finally found a reason for a Skype phone to exist. IPEVO's $170 SOLO Skype desk phone is ideal for your grandparents. It comes with the Skype VoIP client built in – no computer required – and plugs directly into a broadband Internet connection. IPEVO also offers a $30 Skype USB handset.

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