December 15, 2000, 1:23 PM — In extending the corporate office to the home -- whether as part of a formal telework program or to satisfy top executives clamoring for 'round-the-clock connectivity -- the PBX invariably becomes a brick wall.
When remote workers ask for the same seamless access to their office voice systems as they enjoy for data, they find it can't be done -- at least not without a lot of time, trouble and expense.
As a whole, traditional PBXs are difficult to manage and costly to support. Worse is their inflexibility. Circuit-switched PBX systems were never meant to be pushed to the home, let alone serve occasional teleworkers who work at home as it suits their schedules.
As companies look to their next-generation phone system, IP-based PBXs are looking increasingly attractive, especially to organizations in which workers are fanning out under a variety of scenarios. A combined voice and data infrastructure means simplified management and a single support staff, plus the ability to provide remote and roving workers features such as teleconferencing, call forwarding, caller ID and voice mail -- all on a standard analog phone. Because the telephone and PC are integrated, users can manage voice mail the same way they do e-mail.
While voice-over-IP technologies have been slow to take off, momentum is beginning to build due in part to workers' changing work styles, coupled with the high availability of residential broadband services.
A recent Yankee Group report predicts shipments of IP-PBX phone systems will eclipse traditional PBX systems by 2005. Companies vying for this emerging market include Cisco, 3Com and small players Sphere and Shoreline Communications, among others.
A year ago, Ken Denman banked on the future of IP voice services. Denman, a former US West and MediaOne executive, launched AuraServ, a Denver start-up that sells hosted voice services to small and midsize businesses. For its hardware platform, AuraServ partnered with Shoreline of Sunnyvale, Calif.
"We both saw that packet voice was going to become part of the corporate IT backbone," Denman says. "Shoreline's vision best fit our own."
AuraServ first rolled out service in April. Subscribers range from single-site companies to a company with 26 sites. AuraServ also uses Shoreline's system for its own corporate voice network, linking the main office in Denver with offices in Seattle and Dallas. A link to the Boston office is in the works.
Shoreline's IP Voice Communication System includes stackable voice switches in 12- and 24-port configurations. Applications on a Windows NT server provide call management and integrated messaging functionality for single users, workgroups and call center environments.
"Any standard phone plugged in to the Shoreline system can take advantage of all the advanced enterprise applications," says Barry Castle, Shoreline's vice president of product marketing.