Saturday, May 26, 2007

Microsoft partners with VoIP suppliers

15 phone suppliers support Microsoft software
Nancy Gohring

Microsoft is launching a qualification programme for phones that are compatible with its unified communications products.

On Monday, Microsoft will show off 15 phones made by a variety of vendors including Samsung, LG-Nortel, NEC, Plantronics, Asus, GN, Polycon, Tatung and Vitelix that will carry a sticker alerting customers that they are certified for use with Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 and Microsoft Office Communicator 2007.

The Microsoft communications software is available to users that are part of a public beta programme. Combined with other Microsoft programmes, they unify email, instant messaging and video conferencing functions so that users can do things like click on an email message to make a VoIP (voice over IP) call to its sender. The software also supports standard desk phone features.

Microsoft designed the software to be compatible with phones already on the market. The new qualification programme is meant to assure buyers that devices will work out of the box with Microsoft's unified communications products.

In order to qualify for the certification, handsets must include wideband audio support, comply with a wide range of VoIP codecs and include specific user interface elements, said Eric Swift, senior director of unified communications product management for Microsoft.

Some of the new phones connect directly to a USB (Universal Serial Bus) port so that mobile workers can bring the phone with them and use it along with their laptop to access features typically only support on desk phones, like call forwarding and conferencing.

Other new phones include Bluetooth and video capabilities.

"We're looking to ignite partner innovation to bring software economics to what has been proprietary," said Swift. Microsoft hopes that the communications software and the qualification program will make it easier for hardware developers to create innovative new phone products in a phone industry that he describes as remaining stagnant for many years.

Microsoft's Office Communications Server competes with VoIP products from networking giants like Cisco and Avaya. Microsoft hopes to establish an edge against them by integrating its server with widely used products such as Exchange 2007 and enabling unified services.

Microsoft planned to make the announcement about the new phones and the qualification programme today at WinHEC (Windows Hardware Engineering Conference).