Interactive Intelligence sent me their new Interaction SIP Station to check out and review. It's an interesting little product that aims to replace big bulky desktop SIP phones with a simple little SIP-based Power over Ethernet (PoE) box that has a headset jack for connecting any standard headset. The obvious market is call centers where agents often take calls using a headset and a softphone application and have no need for a desktop phone with a full touch-tone keypad, speakerphone, handset, etc. In fact, often the handset stays cradled and the agent simply answers the call with the headset, which essentially means the desktop phone is a glorified PBX-to-headset converter. Why waste valuable desk space and money on a phone when all you really need is a headset that can connect to your IP-PBX over the LAN?
Enter Interactive Intelligence's SIP Station. It's very small - only 4.5"x4.5" and 1.5" high, it's as simple and as basic as you can get, sporting only 5 buttons, including answer/hang-up, emergency speed dial button, volume up, volume down, and mute/unmute. For ports it has a headset jack, PoE LAN port, and PC port. Lastly, it has a LED on top for various status indicators used for troubleshooting, i.e. blinking, orange, blue, or red. The SIP Station comes with a desk-mounting plate and a headset hanger for docking your headset.
Installing the SIP Station was a snap. Because the SIP Station only works with Interactive Intelligence's IP-PBXs (CIC and EIC), I had two methods of testing this. I could have Interactive Intelligence send me a CIC or EIC IP-PBX and register the SIP Station locally or I could simply VPN to their corporate demo IP-PBX. Since I wasn't testing the IP-PBX itself, it made the most sense to simply VPN into their IP-PBX using a Cisco ASA 5505 router.
Interactive Intelligence sent me two SIP Stations pre-configured with the SIP credentials to register to their demo IP-PBX. I connected each to the ASA 5505, which supports Power over Ethernet so it could power the SIP Stations directly. The units went through their bootup process, flashing orange periodically, until they registered and the LED stayed solid blue. Like many IP phones, the SIP Stations leverage a TFTP server to acquire their settings and firmware. For the headsets I simply used the VXI 10V, a relatively inexpensive headset that supports a quick disconnect cord.
Next, I installed the Interaction Client software on two PCs to perform some of the call control functionality, such as entering a phone number to dial. Once installed, I dialed from 8001 (SIP Station 1) to 8002 (SIP Station 2). SIP Station 2 rang and I saw a Toast popup window from the Interaction Client in the lower-right corner. I had the choice to answer the call via the Interaction Client or simply pressing the handset icon on the SIP Station to answer the call. After answering the call I has one of my co-workers take one of the headsets and we had a one minute conversation to check out the audio quality. Both of us felt the audio was excellent
I should point out that since their is no dialpad on the SIP Station, to ensure safety (i.e. PC crashes so no dialing software) there is an emergency button on the SIP Station which will speed dial a pre-configured emergency number set by the administrator, i.e. 911.
Overall, the SIP Stations performed quite well in my tests. I contacted Interactive Intelligence to discuss why they developed this product.
Here's my interview:
Q: Why did Interactive Intelligence feel the need to develop this product? Cost savings by eliminating the desktop phone since many agents/users use a headset + Interaction Client any way? Any other reasons? Because it's small / portable / pocketable?
A: Our customers were expressing a need for a more cost-effective and reliable alternative to the IP desk phone. The IP desk phones, while typically offering sufficient functionality, were getting increasingly pricey. When our customers tried to use USB headsets in conjunction with a softphone, many experienced reliability and voice quality issues. Finally, many of our contact center customers - especially those who would staff up and down frequently - expressed the need for a more compact device to make better use of limited desktop and storage space. The Interaction SIP Station also gives us an opportunity to put our name and logo on the agent's desk.
Q: What is the price of the Interaction SIP Station?
The Interaction SIP Station™ list price is $49. This is compared to IP phones today that commonly run between $110 and $350 apiece.
Q: How long has this been in development
The Interaction SIP Station™ became generally available March 2010. The company began working on developing the product in August of 2008 and the idea with graphics started a year prior to that.
Q: Why not allow other IP-PBXs to use the SIP Station? I guess one difficulty is you would need a softphone similar to the Interaction Client to integrate with it since there is no dialpad to make outbound calls. Still, many call centers only RECEIVE phone calls and aren't allowed to make outbound calls, so in theory this product could have a market niche for 3rd party IP-PBXs not made by Interactive Intelligence.
We wanted an affordable, reliable, and simple device that would highlight and promote our software - in particular, the Interaction Client. However, the main reason we are not supporting or selling the Interaction SIP Station for use with other IP-PBXs is because our PBX is specifically designed to simplify the setup and configuration through our provisioning interface.
I think it's fine that Interactive Intelligence wants to target the SIP Station strictly for users of their IP-PBX products. However, it got me thinking. They're leveraging all industry standard stuff - TFTP and DHCP options for provisioning and the SIP protocol. I don't see why this wouldn't work with other IP-PBX manufacturers so they can take advantage of this very inexpensive ($49) PoE phone device. Curious, I decided to logon to the SIP Station's web interface to see if I could get it to work on trixbox Pro, an Asterisk-based IP-PBX.
From the web interface I went to the Quick Setup, entered the SIP Registrar settings, the port number (5060) and the line settings (SIP credentials - username / password) as seen here:
Next I changed the SIP transport protocol from TCP to UDP, which is used by most Asterisk distros, including trixbox Pro:
Lastly, I rebooted the SIP Station and it went blue (registered). With no dialpad and no softphone integration between trixbox Pro and the SIP Station all I could do is make inbound calls to the SIP Station. I dialed from my Aastra 67i to the SIP Station by dialing extension 143 and the SIP Station rang. I answered the call using the button on the SIP Station and was able to transmit audio both ways. Success! I now had a $49 inbound calling station. Well, they may not support 3rd party IP-PBXs, but it works.
- G.711, G.723.1, G.749A/B, G.722
- Acoustic echo cancellation: G.148-2004 compliant, 64ms tail length
- Adaptive jitter bugger: 300ms
- Voice Activity Detection
- Comfort Noise Generation
- Packet Loss Concealment
- DTMF Relay (RFC 2833)
- Web-based management
- Autoprovisioning for firmware and configuration file upgrade
- RJ-9 headset port
- Wall / desk mounting (optional)
- Keys: Mute, volume up/down, Emergency Speed dial, Pickup/Disconnect
- Multifunction LED: Idle, On mute, Connected
- DHCP Client
- NTP Client
All in all, this is an impressive little box featuring Power Over Ethernet, virtually plug and play operation, full SIP support, and excellent audio quality. The fact that it works with any standard RJ9 headset is a plus. I think Interactive Intelligence, who has a large community of call center customers will do quite well with this product. Now that I let the cat out of the bag that it works with any SIP-based IP-PBX for inbound calls, they may even get some interest from other users.