Cisco talks up Voice-over Internet Protocol

It might not be today or tomorrow, but Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP) will be the next technology to take over the desk in your office, according to Mike Volpi, senior vice president and chief strategy officer for Cisco System

          It might not be today or tomorrow, but Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP) will be the next technology to take over the desk in your office, according to Mike Volpi, senior vice president and chief strategy officer for Cisco Systems.

          Cisco already has made close to $US1 billion in acquisitions related to VoIP to strengthen its position in the market, and has 1000 engineers working on VoIP technology, so it's probably a good job the company is confident about the technology's future.

          "We firmly believe that this is the time to take market share," Volpi says, addressing members of the press in San Jose, at the company's headquarters.

          VoIP technology allows users to send voice calls as data is packets across the internet or a corporate intranet, rather than using circuit-switched networks employed by traditional carriers. Advantages include the ability to pull information such as stock quotes directly from the web to an IP phone, or to screen voicemail in the same way that a user might screen a list of email messages.

          "Most people that look at VoIP think in terms of cheap minutes," Volpi says. "That market is interesting, yet it's relatively small," he adds. A decline in the sale of legacy phone equipment combined with growing momentum behind VoIP has led Cisco to conclude that the technology is working its way into mainstream corporate America.

          "Companies are now rolling out full VoIP systems instead of just test systems," he says. Of course, one of those companies is Cisco itself, which runs approximately 16,000 IP-based phones. But the company says it has gained 850 new VoIP customers in the first quarter of this year alone, with eight of those companies installing in excess of 2,000 phones each.

          Although Volpi admitts that Cisco isn't sure what would continue to drive the technology, he did offer a few ideas, such as the appeal of unified messaging, and the potential for IP phones to provide higher quality voice calls -- under the right network conditions. Also attractive may be the ability to easily transfer a user's calling preferences and phone settings to any IP-based phone.

          "What you can do with the phone is what drives the decision at the end of the day, not whether it runs over IP or not," he says.

          Although VoIP products still make up a single digit percentage of Cisco's business, the market for VoIP phones and equipment has seen 100% quarter-on-quarter growth, while sales of traditional PBX (private branch exchange) equipment has dropped 16%, Volpi says, citing research from Phillips Infotech.

          "The reason for us to be in the business first is to make sure the company has a market share to start with," Volpi says.

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