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Expect more mobile phone functionality from your desktop IP phone over the next few years

Despite the advancements in voice technology over the last few years, most desktop IP phones are just more expensive, prettier versions of the TDM phones that were available with traditional PBXs. The next few years will see additional functionality brought to desktop phones improving the usability and overall functionality.

Zeus Kerravala, vice president for enterprise infrastructure, Yankee Group
Much of the value proposition of IP telephony is to drive increased user productivity through the development of new applications that reside on the IP phone. However, whenever I ask end users what else they do on an IP phone other than make calls, the answer is normally the same -- nothing. Companies spend millions of dollars upgrading network equipment, installing call servers and buying new IP phones, and most end users use the phone exactly the way they did 10 years ago. I do recognize that there has been a tremendous amount of desktop telephony integration, and I expect that to continue, but an IP desktop phone still functions basically the same as an old TDM one. Some have big color screens on the phone itself, many have soft function keys instead of hard-coded ones and almost all of them are designed better. But most end users consider IP phones to be almost like the old phone they had.

Contrast this to the development in mobile phone technology and functionality over the past few years. Most of the high-end mobile phones, also known as smart phones, have far more functionality than desktop IP phones and are generally cheaper. I'm not referring to many of the advanced features of mobile phones, but more of the basic ability to scroll through call logs and filter them if needed, or to dial out of an easy to use directory or off of a touch screen. Some desk phones support these features, but they're often difficult to find and require paging through different menus to find the function. When you compare the functionality of a high-end smart phone, such as a Treo or BlackBerry, you get more of a sense of just how much more functionality needs to find its way to desk phones.

[S]mart phones have far more functionality than desktop IP phones and are generally cheaper.
Personally, I'm a Treo 700 Windows user. I was setting up a three-way call and noticed how much easier it is to do when there are onscreen icons that say "add another call" and "join calls together," rather than having to know to hit the flash button on the phone and the sequence to initiate a three-way call. To rewind a voicemail, there are some icons on screen that look like a VCR's front panel, so moving forward or backward through the call is just clicking the right spot on the screen versus having to remember that it's "*4" to move a voicemail back five seconds.

Additionally, there are all the data functions. Many mobile phones support text messaging, some sort of instant messenger (IM) capabilities, Web browsing, emailing, calendaring and gaming, and many now come with MP3 players. Now, I'm not advocating that desktop phones need all of these functions, but my point is that mobile phones are converged devices that run on a converged network making it a true collaboration tool. Desktop IP phones are primarily fancy voice devices that run on converged networks making it merely a communications tool.

I will admit there are a few phones on the market, such as Avaya Inc.'s One-X phone, which has a mobile phone look to the display and Mitel Networks Corp.'s Navigator, which integrates into a PCs desktop environment, but for the most part the selection of functionality enhanced IP phones is limited.

I fully expect this to change over the next few years as the vision of fixed mobile convergence (FMC) becomes a reality. Desktop phones need to act like mobile phones and mobile phones will need to act a bit more like desktop phones in order to maintain a consistent user experience. This will allow the end user to transition between phones much more simply than having to learn two totally different devices.

For those of you out there in the evaluation process, press the vendor into showing you its IP phone roadmap and pay particular attention to the enhancements in user functionality. Bigger, more colorful screens are nice, but you'll eventually want a phone that's more than just a device people make calls on.

Zeus Kerravala manages Yankee Group's infrastructure research and consulting. His areas of expertise involve working with customers to solve their business issues through the deployment of infrastructure technology solutions, including switching, routing, network management, voice solutions and VPNs.

Before joining Yankee Group, Kerravala was a senior engineer and technical project manager for Greenwich Technology Partners, a leading network infrastructure and engineering consulting firm. Prior to that, he was a vice president of IT for Ferris, Baker Watts, a mid-Atlantic based brokerage firm, acting as both a lead engineer and project manager deploying corporate-wide technical solutions to support the firm's business units. Kerravala's first task at FBW was to roll out a new frame relay infrastructure with connections to branch offices, service providers, vendors and the stock exchange. Kerravala was also an engineer and technical project manager for Alex. Brown & Sons, responsible for the technology related to the equity trading desks.

Kerravala obtained a B.S. degree in physics and mathematics from the University of Victoria (Canada). He is also certified by Citrix and NetScout.

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