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PBXs: add-ons promise growth and excitement.

PBX technology really hasn't changed much in the past 10 years. But the things you can hook onto a PBX certainly have. In last month's column we talked about issues in the PBX industry. This month, we'll hear from some of the best minds in the industry as they share insights on the PBX market.

Our team is made up of Byron Battles and Vince Rafferty from the Aries Group/MPSG, Warren Williams from the Eastern Management Group, Eric Schmiedeke from InfoTech Consulting and Alan Sulkin from TEQConsult Group.

PBX technology has been stable in recent years with the exception of enhancements such as improved packaging, faster processors, larger memories, use of fiber optics and uniform system architectures. We can see that Northern Telecom's "evergreen" strategy is now the industry norm, even for AT&T. The Definity line represents the merger of AT&T's two digital platforms, System 75 and 85. Now telecomm managers can buy one box that can stay with them virtually forever. The real value in PBXs today is in call centers, PBX-to-host, multimedia technology, videoconferencing, broadband and wireless communications

PBX-to-host (see May 1992 column) is one of the best opportunities for telecomm managers in recent years. Call centers are popular right now, according to Sulkin. "ACD penetration is at least 35% of all PBXs going out today," he observes.

But the ACD alone is not enough, according to Williams. "PBX vendors must make sure their call center components support different network technologies and that they can interoperate with other systems," he says. Williams cautions not to overlook the telcos. "The RBOCs also offer ACD services and have been talking about network-based ACD for the future," he adds.

Yet another important direction is the home-based call center agent, Sulkin says. "AT&T announced their home agent product two years ago," he says. "It interfaces to the PBX through the Conversant voice response unit. AT&T is the only PBX vendor with the home agent option at present."

Although I am personally bullish on PBX-to-host technology, Sulkin offers words of caution. "The concept's been hyped," he says. "The existing customer base can be measured in the hundreds." Sulkin believes the technology will grow as more host-based applications appear that are not dependent on ACDs.

Various configurations are possible. "PCs can function as a host just as well as minicomputers like the IBM AS/400," he says.

Another hot button is "multimedia." These products provide a higher degree of functional integration than previous terminal devices. Typical products, such as Northern Telecom's Visit, integrate voice , data, text and full-motion video in the same terminal.

When it works properly, the effect is startling. Williams notes that since multimedia is hot today, "That means any real systems are about two years away." He adds that multimedia technology needs higher levels of interoperability than are currently available.

"We'll need ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) switching, LAN to LAN internetworking, as well as a whole new generation of terminal devices," he says. Sulkin believes existing PBXs have the pieces in place to support multimedia systems.

Although videoconferencing is a component of multimedia terminals, it is an important technology by itself. Battles believes desktop video may develop down the road. "Right now I'm not an advocate of talking heads," he says. "If we're talking about desktop applications, I'd rather see more file sharing and screen sharing now. The video window in the corner of the screen can always be added later."

Rafferty agrees. "We realize there will be some instances when people want to see each other, particularly on international calls," he says. "However, you always have to buy videoconferencing in pairs. Lots of people have invested in video, but it is not growing as fast as people might suggest."

How well do PBXs currently support broadband, ATM, frame relay, SMDS, bandwidth on demand or ISDN? Rafferty believes that support for these network services will be mandatory. "Without those capabilities, manufacturers will not be able to get to the 'second round' in an RFP," he says.

Sulkin notes that support for broadband-type services already exists. "Intecom already supports FDDI as an option connecting Ethernets and token rings to an FDDI backbone." Several PBX vendors, including Intecom and NT, have indicated their PBXs will eventually have a broadband switching option. But, as Sulkin notes, "Broadband switching won't replace circuit switching in a PBX; rather they will co-exist in the same switch."

Finally, wireless communication is coming, although not much is on the market to date, for PBXs. According to Sulkin, the only wireless products being shipped are standalone units that can work behind PBXs.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Communications Management; private branch exchange
Author:Kirvan, Paul
Publication:Communications News
Article Type:Column
Date:Feb 1, 1993
Words:767
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