ShoreTel Lands 1st 'Skype for SIP' interoperability

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ShoreTel Lands 1st 'Skype for SIP' interoperability

ShoreTel is the first company to land SIP interoperability with Skype for SIP - before Avaya, Cisco, Mitel, Nortel, or any Asterisk-based PBX. I can't help but find the irony in this news since ShoreTel did not support third-party SIP phones/endpoints until ShoreTel 8 was released in 2008. Thus, ShoreTel was pretty late to embrace the SIP standard for endpoints, which forced users to use ShoreTel's proprietary phones. Though to be fair, Cisco was pretty late to the game as well, finally embracing third-party SIP phones back in 2006.

Although Cisco was two years ahead of ShoreTel in embracing SIP Cisco plays some serious licensing shenanigans that make it very cost prohibitive to use 3rd party SIP phones with Cisco CallManager. If you look at Cisco's CallManager licensing guidelines, a third-party SIP Device (Basic) that supports one line consumes three license units and a third-party SIP Device (Advanced) that support up to eight lines and video consumes six license units. As an example, for just a basic IP phone you must purchase (three) license units at $50/each for $150 total on top of the cost of the phone itself. However, an inexpensive  Grandstream GXP-2000 (a $85 phone) is classified as 'Advanced' since it supports multiple lines, thus requiring six license units for an additional $300, bringing the grand total of the handset to $385!

ShoreTel on the other hand charges a 'reasonable' $30 licensing fee per SIP device, according to this May 2008 press release - the most recent licensing info I could find.
Kudos to ShoreTel for not overcharging their customers that want to use 3rd party SIP devices. Score one for ShoreTel over Cisco!

Back to the news at hand, I spoke with Skype and ShoreTel on Tuesday about Skype certifying ShoreTel as the first IP-PBX to work on Skype for SIP. According to Skype, currently 10,000 individuals have signed up and are part of the Skype for SIP beta. With this announcement,  SMBs with ShoreTel's phone system, which numbers around 11,000, can immediately register and join this 'relatively' closed beta. Anyone with any IP-PBX system can of course apply for the Skype for SIP program, but you might have to wait to be accepted. Skype mentioned to me that as part of this controlled beta they want to make sure everything runs smoothly, especially when dealing with enterprise voice as opposed to their traditional consumer voice. They want to be sure the Business Control Panel works perfectly, there are no exploits, no voice quality issues, 100% interoperability, etc. No doubt since ShoreTel is "certified" you'll be able to move to the front of the line and be approved quickly.

So what advantages does Skype for SIP give you? Well, besides the cheap outbound SkypeOut minutes, Skype users can contact ShoreTel-based businesses for free using a simple click-to-call button on the corporate web site. "By certifying ShoreTel's UC system as interoperable with Skype for SIP, we have made it possible for ShoreTel's business customers to reduce their costs even further, while also enhancing their own business experience through communications," said Stefan Oberg, VP and General Manager of Skype for Business. "Skype for SIP is easy for businesses to configure and manage using Skype's Web-based Business Control Panel (BCP), making it complementary to ShoreTel's UC system, which is renowned for its simplicity."

Skype for SIP allows ShoreTel's business customers and their employees to receive inbound calls through their ShoreTel SIP-enabled UC system from more than 480 million registered Skype users around the world at no cost to the Skype user. By my calculations, Skype should pass 1/2 billion users around October 2nd - an impressive landmark achievement when it occurs! Enterprises that use ShoreTel with Skype for SIP may also purchase and associate online Skype DID numbers, currently available in more than 25 countries, with their ShoreTel UC system to receive inbound calls from landline and mobile phones.

"As part of our ongoing commitment to a standards-based open ecosystem that offers flexibility and choice, we are delivering a significant competitive advantage to ShoreTel customers with the ability to leverage Skype's low-cost calling rates and to create an online presence with a click-to-call button that enables Skype users to call them for free," said John W. Combs, president and CEO at ShoreTel. "The simple-to-configure capabilities of Skype for SIP will further improve the flexibility and efficiency of our customers' operations, while lowering the total cost of ownership even further, and providing the boost in productivity they are used to seeing from ShoreTel's UC systems."

On a related note, I do have Skype for SIP working on a trixbox IP-PBX for a few months. I've been meaning to review my experience so far with it, but hope to soon. Stay tuned...

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