Microsoft Response Point SP2 launches + review

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Microsoft Response Point SP2 launches + review

At ITEXPO in Miami, Florida, Microsoft has just launched Response Point SP2, the latest version of their IP-PBX. Microsoft sent me a sneak peek of the SP2 beta code in January to check out. I've reviewed the Microsoft Response Point system in the past and have been impressed with how easy it is to setup and install and I like the speech-recognition functionality that is built-in. With SP1 Microsoft added some sorely needed features. SP2 further enhances the feature-set by adding after hours receptionist schedules, one-way paging, two-way intercom, and it now supports out-of-band DTMF (the more accurate method) whenever appropriate in addition to its existing in-band DTMF support (more false positives).


Also new in SP2 is that you can now escape from the voicemail greeting before the recording starts. In SP1, a caller would have to hang up and call back in order to attempt to talk to someone else instead of leaving a message.  In SP2, an external caller can press '0' while listening to a voicemail greeting, to be routed back into the system or operator (if enabled). However, once the 'beep' plays, indicating that recording has started, pressing '0' has no effect.

My favorite new feature is the one-way intercom paging and two-way intercom, which you initiate by pressing the blue Response Point button and then saying "page <person or group>" or "intercom <person>". Instead of ringing a fellow co-workers phone, you can intercom them which automatically puts their phone into speakerphone mode with 2-way audio. Similarly, you can page (1-way audio) an individual extension. Even better, you can page an entire group (sales, marketing, entire company) for an important announcement.

You could in theory do a 2-way audio intercom page to the entire company, but having 20-50 IP phones go into speakerphone mode with "open mics" (microphones) will obviously lead to screeching audio feedback and some not-to-happy co-workers. I tested this and it appears that Microsoft was keen to the audio feedback issue since they seem to disable any intercom command to more than one phone.

For instance, when I said "intercom entire company" it swapped the command to "page entire company" instead and paged all the phones I added to the "entire company group". The big difference of paging vs. intercom is that there is only one open mic versus several so you don't get the audio feedback. Although I commend Microsoft for disabling corporate-wide two-way intercom calls, I think they should permit up to 3-4 phones to be intercom'ed together. This would allow for quick, impromptu conferences with a small group without having to call each extension individually and conference them together. Of course, these phones would have to be fairly far apart from each other to prevent audio feedback.

Alternatively, a user can perform intercom and page dial without using the RP button.  Intercom is done by dialing "4*nnn", and page dial by "5*nnn", where nnn is the recipient's extension.

The Assistant is also improved allowing you to double-click a contact to initiate a call. You can also right-click and click Call. Conveniently, it will automatically place your phone into hands-free speakerphone mode and ring the other phone so you don't have to touch your phone. One suggestion I have for the Assistant application is the ability to Page a person or a group or intercom an extension. You can however call a "group" which will simultaneously ring a group of phones.

In many cases existing features from SP1 have been updated to fix bugs or improve performance.  SP2 adds a new After Hours Receptionist feature. When using the "Receptionist Plan" to answer incoming calls, a customer can schedule times when incoming calls should be routed to the human receptionist.  Outside of these scheduled times, calls will be routed to the Automated Receptionist.

Analog phones can be connected to Response Point via FXS gateway devices that support the Response Point discovery and provisioning protocol.  One such product is made by Quintum. These analog devices also work with SP1.

One minor usability improvement is that the Call Forwarding prompt is now optional. In some cases, users do not want call forwarding to be announced to the callers.  Each user can specify whether or not they want their callers to hear an announcement when forwarding calls.

Another addition in SP2 is the ability to launch a custom URL from an incoming call. This lets developers integrate RP into another application, especially a CRM application for instant customer information lookup.  Information appended to the URL will include the extension being called, the user at the extension being called, the time, the Caller ID of the incoming caller, and the name associated with that Caller ID. 

Another nice improvement in SP2 is Parked Call Return which will automatically return a call to the extension that parked it after 3 minutes. If there is no answer, the call is directed to the auto-attendant or receptionist. SP1 supports both analog lines, and VoIP service through a broadband connection (i.e. SIP trunk). 
SP2 adds two other common phone trunk technologies: Digital trunks (T1, etc); and VoIP trunks delivered via an on-premises gateway device. The addition of digital trunks means Direct Inward Dial (DID) support as well.

VPN & multi-subnet support is perhaps one of the more exciting new features in SP2. In SP1, all Response Point end points need to be on the same subnet.  In SP2, phones can be on a different subnet from the Base Unit, allowing a user to specify the IP address of the base unit. This will enable remote agents, telecommuters, etc. to use Response Point phones on their home broadband network. All that you need to do is first provision the phone in the office, then take it home, establish a VPN connection to the office, and plug the phone in. Remote phone capabilities was a sorely missing feature in Response Point that SP2 finally addresses.

Microsoft Response Point SP2 fills in quite a bit of feature-gap that existed before. Response Point continues to be one of the easiest phone systems to setup and maintain and it doesn't skimp on features. The only noticeable feature missing might be call queues, but Microsoft insists most SMBs don't require call queues. All-in-all RP SP2 rounds out the feature-set and I look forward to what Microsoft adds in future releases.

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