If you're thinking about buying IP Phones soon, be certain to verify their support for XML. Most of the popular IP Phone vendors, including Cisco, Polycom, Pingtel, and Avaya, are shipping some phone models with large displays and XML support. If you're not familiar with XML, you might want to spend a few minutes researching it, as it will become a significant portion of the traffic on your network. The eXtensible Markup Language is a very flexible and powerful protocol that allows you to define and transport data in a way that makes it very easy to cross platforms and vendors. This is very important to IP Phones because this is the vehicle that your phone will use to pull data from databases, the WWW and elsewhere. Thus, phones without XML support or displays will be significantly handicapped. (For lots of information on XML, click over to our sister site,
Together, XML and these large LCD phone displays will provide a platform to replace the legacy IVR systems. In addition to vanilla IVR, many companies are now deploying voice recognition features such as this one to provide access to an almost unlimited amount of content and to eliminate the "press one to..." menus.
Nevertheless, "gotchas" abound. When evaluating phones, be sure to ask the following questions:
Does the phone support custom XML schemas?
What limitations are there to the XML schemas, such as maximum field lengths?
How does the phone handle authentication to databases and websites and is this compatible with my current authentication?
What security features does it have? (For example, you may want to set up a kiosk where anonymous users can access certain content and restrict access to other content.)
Thomas Alexander Lancaster IV is a consultant and author with over ten years experience in the networking industry, focused on Internet infrastructure.
This was first published in September 2002