Cisco launches unified communications for SMBs

The enterprise networking giant is targeting micro-businesses

Cisco Systems has announced a new system to give unified communications capabilities to even the smallest businesses.

The Smart Business Communications System, which includes a new switch/router called the Unified Communications 500, brings Cisco squarely into a relatively new market for small businesses valued at US$10 billion (NZ$13.87 billion) annually, analysts and Cisco say.

The Unified Communications 500 Series switch/router incorporates call-control software and will support a Cisco Unified IP phone with a focus on easy setup and management, Cisco says.

“It is a Swiss Army knife approach,” says Rick Moran, vice president of marketing for unified communications. It will be available at US$699 per seat in June, with one IP phone per seat.

The Unified Communications 500 comes with Cisco’s previously announced Unified Communications Manager and Unity Express software. A Cisco Configuration Assistant, available at no extra cost, is designed to reduce setup time and help configure telephony, messaging, switching, wireless LAN, firewall and other security features, Moran says.

Cisco picked IPcelerate in Carrollton, Texas, to provide customised business productivity applications for the new system, giving small businesses a set of pre-packaged codes and interfaces, depending on the vertical industry they are in, says IPcelerate CEO Kevin Brown.

For Cisco, the small business unified communications technology represents a new market that Cisco has not tapped into, Brown and Moran say.

In many cases, Cisco’s small business system will be the first time a set of communications capabilities are combined in one place, analysts say. Several large vendors sell voice switches that small businesses can use, but creating an affordable set of applications designed for small businesses is something new, analysts say.

“For many small businesses, frankly, they don’t know who Cisco is,” says Deb Mielke, an analyst at Treillage Network Strategies in McKinney, Texas. “Cisco has made the technology simple for small businesses.”

Mielke says the small business market, with around eight to 15 workers, is often ignored by major vendors but is potentially lucrative. “It’s one of the last areas that Cisco can enter,” she says.

The small businesses should consider the Cisco system as a way to control costs over antiquated, paper-based systems that rely on “pieces of paper or Excel spreadsheets,” says Steve Hilton, an analyst at Yankee Group in Boston.

Zeus Kerravala, another Yankee Group analyst, says Avaya’s IP Office is probably the closest product to Cisco’s. “But [it] is not nearly as feature-rich as this Cisco product.”

He says Nortel Networks could have entered this market, “but missed the bull’s-eye.”

Brown says all the major communications equipment makers. including Avaya, Nortel and Cisco, recognise the need to build applications on top of their hardware, although Cisco has the lead. Microsoft has also been building applications for communications networks, he notes.

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