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Cisco to be crowned voice giant

According to a recent Gartner report, networking giant Cisco is muscling its way into the voice market thanks to new features and functionality.

While Cisco Systems Inc. is widely known as the networking giant, it may soon bear the title of "voice giant" as well.

With the release of Cisco's CallManager version 4.1, Rich Costello, research director Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc., recently updated the research firm's ongoing report entitled Cisco IP Telephony Solution.

Costello said the report was originally published three years ago when the company began to make significant headway in the voice market.

The CallManager software extends enterprise telephony features and capabilities to packet telephony network devices such as IP phones, media processing devices, VoIP gateways and multimedia applications.

He said Cisco sufficiently added features and functionalities to v 4.1 traditional telephony users were looking for -- but that hasn't always been the case.

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"I can safely say CallManager now has all the good basic telephony features that enterprise users need," Costello said. "That wasn't true two years ago when it was still struggling to add the right components to it."

According to Costello, Cisco's enhancements include a new video telephony application, PBX interoperability standard and security features such as voice encryption.

But even with these additional features, CallManager is still lacking in comparison to its rivals, such as Avaya Inc.'s Communication Manager and Nortel Networks Ltd.'s Meridan 1 and CS1000. Costello said competing vendors have 400 and 500 features on average in their products, but CallManager offers about half that number.

Despite being at a disadvantage in the feature-function war, Costello said Cisco is soon to be crowned "voice giant."

"I really expect them to continue to grow," he added. "We already have them as a leader after only four or five years in the market. "

According to Gartner data, Cisco currently claims approximately 40% market share in the pure IP-PBX realm in North America, while Avaya maintains 14%; Nortel, 11%; and 3Com Corp., 10%.

He said Cisco's ability to be so pervasive is a core strength because its stronghold in data networking is leveraging its ability to saturate the voice market.

But Cisco's CallManager isn't without faults. Its pure IP system design appears to be a blessing and a curse.

Costello said CallManager is ideal for those early adopters that want to aggressively take on new technologies. However, it isn't optimal for risk-adverse companies wanting to ease into technological advancements.

This serves as a hindrance for Cisco because those customers opt for vendors such as Siemens AG and Nortel, which offer a hybrid approach.

Yet, Costello said this hard-nosed approach forced some of these more traditional vendors to make aggressive changes, which ultimately made a large impact on the market and technology.

"It's a work in progress," he said. "They've made a significant penetration into the market, and it's really had an impact on the enterprise telephony space."

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