IP PBXes and the Future of Unified Communications

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The study hyped by this press release from TheInfoPro shows what might be an important transition in the world of IP PBXes.


First, the release primes the pump by reporting an increased overall interest in the platforms. Its Wave 3 Networking Study showed that 59 percent of organizations queried use IP PBXes and 29 percent plan to. In the Wave 2 study conducted six months ago, 52 percent of organizations said they were using IP PBXes and 24 percent planned to.


That increased use is not unexpected, though it appears to be happening quickly. The horse race between the top vendors, however, is intriguing. The study says that Cisco has passed Avaya in the percentage of enterprises that plan to roll out platforms and pulled even in deployed IP PBXes. Avaya led in both categories in the earlier study.


An IP PBX (or private branch exchange) is a pivotal piece of business networking widgetry. The platform links an enterprise to the public switched telephone network for both legacy (time-division multiplexed, or TDM) and Internet protocol traffic. It also can link various intra-company locations, such as branch offices and telecommuters' homes, by VoIP. This post at Free VoIP provides good information on IP PBXes. These platforms save money by eliminating or reducing intra-office charges, allowing companies to phase out existing PBXes, terminating Centrex services, cutting expansion costs and through other efficiencies.


In the bigger picture, the reason that a change in competitive position between Avaya and Cisco is so important is the core role IP PBXes play in unified communications, which is the next big thing (or one of them, anyway). While UC is poorly defined, Infonetics Research says that two components in almost any description are unified messaging and a presence-enabled directory. These, the release says, are the two leading applications being deployed by IP PBXes. The implication is clear: The future of IP PBXes is deeply linked with UC, and UC is growing rapidly. It sounds like a good time to be increasing market share -- as Cisco is, at least according to TheInfoPro.


This commentary at VoiceCon by Jim Burton, the founder and CEO of CT Link, contradicts the idea that the PBX/IP PBX industry is entering a golden age. Vendors, he says, haven't figured out how to approach UC, but acknowledges prices will drop for PBX/IP PBX platforms. The challenge is that their potential customers haven't worked out their UC strategies and are likely to delay purchases until they do. To make matters worse, the analyst lays out five scenarios in which a company can implement UC without even using an PBX/IP PBX.


On a related front, this week security vendor Bluesocket bought IP PBX maker Pingtel. The idea, according to this Network World story, is to create a platform for mid-size companies that can integrate wired and wireless networks. A statement attributed to Bluesocket's CEO says the convergence of the wireless local-area network and UC is driving the deal.


It appears certain that the IP PBX sector will continue to grow as unified communications and its cousin, fixed mobile convergence, meld together various networks. IT departments are well advised to carefully gauge the features and approach all the major players -- not just Avaya and Cisco.