Mitel Networks is announcing a new fixed-mobile convergence capability in its IP Communications Platform that allows users to set up simultaneous ringing to multiple phone lines and enables PBX functionality on any phone anywhere in the world.
Stephen Beamish, Mitel's vice president of business development and marketing, said the new feature, Dynamic Extension, is aimed directly at North American small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).
The Dynamic Extension feature is written into Mitel's core communications product. Existing customers will have access to the fixed-mobile convergence feature in their next update. They can activate it by purchasing licenses for individual extensions. Customers will be able to buy extension licenses in bundles of three.
Users can set their profile in the Mitel system to ring as many as eight phone lines – the office, a mobile device, a home line, or a desk phone at another company using a different PBX vendor. Beamish said one healthcare customer, which participates in Doctors Without Borders, often sends doctors to work in clinics for the poor in Mexico. He said Dynamic Extension allows a doctor to turn a simple phone mounted on a wall in such a clinic into his office line.
"They can take the phone on the wall in that clinic and make it their four-digit extension," Beamish said. "It will ring a device sitting in New York City, and it will ring down in Mexico. And when that doctor picks up the phone, it will have all the features of a Mitel solution. He can press 1, and he gets the hold-and-retrieve feature. He can press 2 and transfer the call anywhere. He can press 3 to initiate a conference call with up to eight parties."
Dynamic Extension will also allow some presence capabilities. For instance, when that doctor in the Mexican clinic answers a call, Mitel's system will detect this and change the doctor's presence status from "available" (via Mexico) to "busy."
Like Siemens Enterprise Communications, Mitel is better known in Europe and has far more customers in overseas markets than in North America. And like Siemens, Mitel would love to score a big customer win on this side of the globe. Earlier this month, Mitel chairman Terry Matthews shook up the city of Ottawa's bidding process for a multimillion IP telephony procurement.
Matthews sent the city a letter offering to donate $2 million worth of Mitel IP phones if the city would agree to make Mitel its sole communications provider for two years. This promise coincided with the city's revelation that another unnamed vendor was ranked higher than Mitel in the bidding process. Mitel's offer to donate 10,000 IP phones prompted Ottawa's city council to suspend its procurement process while it assessed whether it was legally possible for the city to accept such an offer and whether 10,000 phones actually met the city's operational needs.
IDC analyst Nora Freedman said Dynamic Extension isn't a particularly market-disruptive feature, but it fills an important gap in Mitel's existing product portfolio as the company vies for the North American SMB market, something it has been focusing on since it acquired Inter-Tel in 2007. Inter-Tel is a managed services provider known particularly for its communications offerings to North American SMBs.
"Being able to hot-desk any phone – every vendor does that in some fashion," Freedman said. "This is just Mitel's version of that."
Leading unified communications vendors such as Cisco and Avaya offer similar features, and Mitel's is on a par with those, she said. But those companies tend to sell into larger enterprises. Mitel's Dynamic Extension is a differentiator in the SMB market, giving the company a technological edge over some competitors, such as Shoretel and NEC.
Vanessa Alvarez, industry analyst with Frost & Sullivan, also said the Dynamic Extension mobility feature gives Mitel an edge in the North American SMB market.
"I think they're definitely looking for a niche in [the SMB] space, and mobility for the most part is a driving factor for unified communications -- more so for SMBs," Alvarez said. "SMBs are always on the go, and they need to be connected. Any business deal that has to be done – they have to be available. Otherwise they're essentially and effectively losing money."
She said Mitel's ability to push its extensions to any phone, regardless of that phone's infrastructure, gives it a competitive edge.
"It's vendor agnostic," Alvarez said. "That's important because you see a lot of hybrid environments in this space. This places them in a good position within the SMB space, as opposed to Cisco and Avaya, which generally haven't been able to simplify the deployment process for SMBs. At the end of the day, the sales cycle in SMBs is much shorter than it is in large enterprises. So they need that simplification that Mitel or Shoretel provides. We all know that Avaya and Cisco, with their complexity and their professional services, don't meet the needs of SMBs."
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