Cool Stuff at ITEXPO

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Tom Keating
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Cool Stuff at ITEXPO

Last week TMC held our very successful ITEXPO tradeshow covering various IP communications and contact center technologies. One thing we all need to keep in mind when it comes to voice over IP is that voice over IP is simply a dumb transport. What really gets customers excited and coming to various VoIP tradeshows is to learn about how they can leverage VoIP within their business processes, whether that's screenpop of customer data, remote agents using soft or hard phones, mobile phone capabilities, etc. Customers are looking to integrate all of their various communications - email, voice, CRM, etc. VoIP is definitely becoming less about saving on toll charges and more about the applications.

What's nice about this last ITEXPO was that it had a nice mix of IP communications companies and call center companies. Call centers are often at the forefront of communications technologies since they need to optimize their communications and make their agents as productive as possible. TMC's Customer Interaction Solutions Magazine is the premiere magazine discussing call center technologies and how VoIP is changing the game in the call center arena. So it certainly didn't hurt that CIS Magazine (through active promotion) helped bring call center companies and call center-related attendees to ITEXPO.

In any event, let me tell you what I found interesting at the show. One Intuitive Voice Technology interesting company, and whom I know quite well, is Intuitive Voice Technology. I stopped by their booth at ITEXPO to check out their Asterisk-based Evolution PBX 3.0 platform. I like the Evolution PBX system a lot. It has some unique features that you won't find in any other Asterisk solution. At ITEXPO they were demoing the integration of Evolution PBX with a Citel Portico TVA gateway, which enables you to connect legacy digital phone handsets. Useful for instance if the receptionist has a legacy phone with lots of programmed extensions for quick transfers. Why buy a new expensive VoIP attendant console when the old one works just fine? You do pay about $139/port on the Citel gateways, but $139 is still cheaper than most VoIP phones, so there is some cost savings there.

Another cool feature in the Evolution PBX is that it supports call screening. Callers can be prompted for their name and then you can accept the call, send to voicemail, and I think they mentioned you can redirect to another number. I use call screening all the time since I get public relations pitches all day long. I wouldn't get anything done if I actually took every phone call. I inquired about the ability to screen a voice message being left and then 'pull' the caller out of voicemail if you deem it necessary. Similar to what you can do with most home answering machines. Evolution PBX doesn't currently have that capability. We discussed how the voicemail system in Asterisk v1.2 wasn't really designed for this level of customizing to add additional functionality. However, with Asterisk v1.4 the voicemail system has been revamped it is much easier to "hook" into the voicemail and develop powerful applications such as voicemail screening and pulling callers out of voicemail.

XORCOMXORCOM is another interesting Asterisk-based solution called Astribank. I've nicknamed them the Analog Asterisk due to their main "claim to fame" of supporting the most analog trunks in a single Asterisk appliance. They support FXO & FXS ports, but they also support BRI (ISDN) and PRI as well. They actually leverage the USB channel to daisy-chain multiple appliances to add additional scalability. Neat idea! Astribank comes in two flavors - a compact chassis and a standard 1U 19" rackmount or wall mount chassis.

MobileMax Now let me get off my Asterisk kick for a moment and tell you about MobileMax, one of the coolest mobile applications you've never heard of. I kept trying to stop by their booth, but every time I did their was several people talking to just a single guy manning the booth. It wasn't until the very final hour of the show that I was able to stop and check out MobileMax. First, let me point out that one of the main challenges when using Jajah, Rebtel, Talkster, and all the other mobile apps that aim to reduce costs is "usability". In some cases, you have to install an application, while in others you have to go to a web browser. In either case, you are forcing users to use another interface to initiate dialing. Why can't you simply dial a phone number and let the phone figure out the best way to dial and route the number?

Well, with MobileMax, you can do just that. Using MobileMax’s technology, mobile subscribers can dial international calls directly from their mobile handset — with no additional keystrokes and automatically enjoy reduced-rate services. Their solution allows end users to dial with their cell phones as they are used to through their address book or call log. Their application will then route the call to a specific access number on a PBX or IVR. The MobileMax client resides on the cell phone and will intercept your dial string based on pre-defined criteria such as destination number, caller location (in/out home country/home area code), connectivity (WiFi or 3G availability & quality), VoIP provider plan (QoS, termination cost), and more.

Perry Nalevka, Director of Business Development gave me a demo of the application in action. From his personal cell phone he initiated an outbound phone call like he would normally do. After pressing the Talk button, the phone call is initiated (said 'calling'), but a second later, the phone call was stopped in its tracks by the MobileMax application and then the call was placed through the MobileMax application. Service providers, pre-paid carriers, etc. using MobileMax can divert the call to their platform's access number, send the PIN tones and the required destination number. All of this is seamless to the mobile phone user. Currently, MobileMax supports over 300 mobile phone models.

iKNOWWARE Another interesting company I saw at ITEXPO was iKNOWWARE, a web-based on demand process management/CRM solution that can be accesses from PCs, PDAs, mobile, and VoIP telephony products. Just like your typical SaaS hosted CRM platform, iKNOWWARE includes contact management and case management, but they also integrate inventory control, order entry, and project management. They showed me how well their application works even on small mobile phone screens.

GVSC USA was demoing some cool VoIP/videophones in their booth, including the Leadtek BVP8882 videophone and the Leadtek NetWork Care Phone NCP3680 surveillance camera. They demonstrated how the BVP8882 could not only be used as a videophone, but it can be used to watch TV channels over the Internet and even remotely change the channel. Benny Shea, the President showed me how he was able to change the channel on a TV tuner located in South Korea. The quality was pretty good and it supports H.261 and H.262. The Leadtek NetWork Care Phone NCP3680 is a very thin camerphone designed to stick outside your door. It has a built-in speakerphone and two way audio plus one-way video, along with a one-touch button to initiate audio/video communication with a PC-based softphone application.

Here are the phones if curious.
LeadTEK BVP8882 Videophone
Leadtek BVP8882 videophone
LeadTEK Network CarePhone NCP3680
Leadtek NetWork Care Phone NCP3680

All in all, it was a great show and everyone was ecstatic with the attendance. I saw some other cool stuff like the new Adtran 706 and the Adtran 712, which marks Adtran's entry into the VoIP phone biz. The phones are SIP-based, feature PoE (Power over Ethernet), dual RJ45 network ports, and more. SmithOnVoIP took a photo (below) of the phones at ITEXPO and has some insights on these new phones worth checking out.
Adtran 706 and Adtran 712

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