In a widely anticipated move that it says will bring SMBs more choice, Microsoft today announced that it’s added seven new partners to its SIP-based IP-PBX (News - Alert) system, called “Response Point.”
Officials from one of those new partners – 8x8 (News - Alert) Inc., a Santa Clara, California-based provider of Packet8 business, mobile and residential broadband communications services – said moments ago during a press conference at the Internet Telephony Conference & Expo that combining their company’s VoIP phone service for Microsoft’s Response Point small business phone system will bring features such as reliable E-911 services and free international calls to a fertile market.
“We’re going to collaborate on bringing these solutions to the market for the small business owner who is looking for a new, capable PBX that will increase efficiencies,” 8x8 Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bryan Martin told VoIP insiders, IT professionals and journalists gathered in a room at the West Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center for the ITEXPO (News - Alert), which runs through tomorrow. “More importantly, it’s easy to use. In general, I think Microsoft as a company has been very successful in bringing advanced technologies to the end-users of their products, and I think a big goal is to do that same thing with phone systems. Get to the point where you don’t have to call a $100-per-hour phone guy to get your phone system installed.”
Response Point with Packet8 is available now through Microsoft agents and resellers.
The 8x8 press conference included information on how to integrate the Packet8 VoIP service with Response Point, a demonstration from the company’s vice president of sales and marketing, Huw Rees, on how easy it is to sign up online for the service, and a demonstration of the combined service itself, infused with comic relief.
The hour-long event was highlighted by a gag phone call to two U.S. presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
After Rees set up an account online in about three minutes, Martin picked up a phone and called “Bill.”
Clinton proceeded to ask Martin whether he could get a phone system to call “Monica,” and also asked how well the phone system worked on dialing 900 numbers – and made mention of “that hockey momma from Alaska.”
A fair and balanced presentation, Clinton – actually impersonator Gary Leavitt, calling from a cell phone – then “passed” the phone to Bush, who was a little confused at first about what 8x8 was.
“Eight by eight. Isn’t that 56?” Bush said through speakers.
“No, not really. It’s a new phone system using V-O-I-P,” Martin said.
Bush’s confused reply: “Yeah, how do you spell that?”
Martin said the combined solution will allow small businesses, regardless of their location or network configuration, to reduce monthly phone costs with VoIP. With the Packet8-supported Response Point system, every company should be able to move from high-priced, complex and inadequate telephone systems to IP telephony, Martin said.
Under their agreement, Microsoft and Packet8 said they’ll market the combined solution jointly, through VAR channels and possibly business retailers. According to Rees, the companies will sell through their Web sites and may leverage current retail relationships with Office Depot, Staples, Office Max and Staples.
Features of the Packet8 VoIP Phone Service Include: inbound and outbound calling; toll-free numbers; direct inward dialing; enhanced E-911; compliance with the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act; caller ID; national directory listing; online billing and account management; and on-site installation.
The company says it has 12,000 business customers.
Other new Microsoft Response Point partners include: Bandwidth.com, Quintum Technologies, ClearOne, Sangoma, tekVizion and AST Technology Labs. Together, the seven companies are said to be partners in the areas of “service, peripherals and certification.”
As TMCnet reported following an exclusive interview with Quintum an hour ago, the Eatontown, New Jersey-based VoIP solutions company has created a pair of easy and swiftly deployable gateways to support Response Point – products that are expected to allow businesses to use the system through a T1, E1 or PRI connection.
Officials from Quintum – a subsidiary of Network Equipment Technologies (News - Alert), Inc. – said the so-called “Quintum Response Point gateways” likely will be made generally available within a month.
Chuck Rutledge, vice president of marketing for Quintum and NET, said the gateways are designed specifically for Response Point.
“This is a product that’s going to address medium businesses that have T1 or E1 connections or fractional T1 or E1 connections, with a four-port FXS gate which will support existing analog equipment,” Rutledge said, such as fax machines, point of sale devices and existing analog phones. The gateways will tie into “the existing analog structure and (provide) a higher level of connectivity into digital T1 and E1 trunks.”
Response Point is designed to offer SMBs the ability to deploy VoIP throughout their networks with IP-PBX telephony advantages – until now, technologies enjoyed mainly by larger businesses. Features of Response Point include SIP trunking, click-to-call, call detail records and even the ability to play non-elevator music to people who are waiting on hold.
During an interview and demonstration with TMCnet in advance of the 8x8 announcement, two Microsoft officials – Xuedong Huang, general manager of the software giant’s communications innovation center and Richard Sprague, a senior director in the center – said that Response Point is designed to solve the major barrier to VoIP adoption among businesses: over-complication.
“It’s easy to use, easy to manage, and everything is done with what I call the ‘magic blue button,’ ” Huang said, pointing to a Response Point phone during the demo that included the blue-colored button with the “RP” logo.
Useful features of the system that Sprague and Huang demonstrated, seemingly using the single button alone, include voice-activated calling and call-transferring – from desktop as well as mobile phones – and a user interface that includes a contacts list which shows whether someone is already on the phone.
“We really put a lot of effort, trying to make Response Point like a phone system,” Huang said.
For Huang and Sprague, part of what Microsoft Response Point is hoping to instill among SMBs is that VoIP is more than a viable phone system option – it’s advantageous.
“Many customers we’ve run into didn’t even know that this was an option at all, period,” Sprague said.
Huang said that most cell phone users, for example, aren’t aware that Vonage (News - Alert) is VoIP-based.
“They think that Vonage is a new phone company,” Huang said.
Microsoft’s addition of seven new Response Point partners marks a major step forward for the software giant’s efforts to bring VoIP to SMBs. Echoing Martin and Rutledge, leaders from the six other companies now partnering with Response Point are hailing the phone system as a scalable, affordable and user-friendly solution.
Zee Hakimoglu, chief executive officer of ClearOne, said he’s “proud” to be the first to market with a conference phone developed for the Response Point system.
“The MAX IP Response Point conference phone is the perfect add-on to Response Point phone systems, giving small business a powerful audio collaboration tool that will make their group communication more effective.”
During the 8x8 presentation, Huang said Microsoft made an informed decision to enter the VoIP market in a way that it would address companies with up to 50 workers.
“They believe that is the segment with the greatest opportunity, and it’s also an under-served segment,” Huang said. “With Packet8 services, and the Response Point modular PBX, we’re helping them make money, save money and improve efficiency. This is really the key. It’s not just another PBX.”
8x8 Inc. is a platinum sponsor of Internet Telephony Conference & EXPO — the biggest and most comprehensive IP communications event of the year. ITEXPO will take place in Los Angeles, California, September 16-18, 2008, featuring three valuable days of exhibits, conferences, and networking opportunities you can’t afford to miss. Don’t wait. Register now!
Michael Dinan is a contributing editor for TMCnet, covering news in the IP communications, call center and customer relationship management industries. To read more of Michael’s articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Michael Dinan