Linksys Secretly Developing SOHO IP-PBX?

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Tom Keating
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Linksys Secretly Developing SOHO IP-PBX?

I'm going to go out on a limb and make a prediction that Linksys will sell a turnkey, "plug and play" SOHO IP-PBX in 2006. LinkSys will announce this as early as December of this year. How do I know this? Shhh... A little "birdie" told me. Don't tell anyone, but my "source" works out of Linksys' Irvine, Calfornia headquarters in their newly formed SOHO Telecom division. You heard it here first. The photo to the left is an early production model.

Actually, I just made that up - I don't have any "inside" information as to a potential Linksys IP-PBX - it really is just an observation/educated guess of mine. Think about this. Linksys is "known" for providing easy-to-use, practically "plug and play" networking equipment for the home and small office with little to no IT staff needed. So they've done it for data, so why not offer the same easy "plug and play" experience for "voice"? With more than 1 million new businesses each year in the U.S. alone nearly every one of these new businesses needs a phone system. Imagine as a small entrepreneur you could simply go to a local Walmart, Circuit City, Costco, or some other retail store and pick up a turnkey VoIP phone system. You simply plug one cable to your highspeed broadband connection and the other cables to analog phones, IP phones, or even go with softphones which require no wiring. Small businesses would save tremendously by avoiding professional installation and professional services.

Not only small businesses use SOHO phone systems. There are plenty of hobbyists and lots of "tinkerers" who have installed key systems in their home to give each family member their own extension, voicemail. etc. especially homes with teenagers. Although nowadays with cell phones the need for multiple landlines in the home is somewhat negated. Still, having multiple phone numbers into the home has its benefits.

The next question you are probably thinking is "Yes, but wouldn't an inexpensive Linksys IP-PBX solution compete with a more expensive Cisco Call Manager IP-PBX solution?" After all, Cisco owns Linksys, so would Cisco allow Linksys to develop such a product that competes with Cisco Call Manager? So the question is will Cisco keep their hands off of Linksys and let them do their thing. My sources (real sources this time) tell me that Cisco is pretty hands off when it comes to their Linksys division, so it is certainly possible, and in my opinion quite plausible that Linksys is working on a SOHO IP-PBX solution right now.

My guess is that this Linksys IP-PBX solution won't truly compete with Cisco's Call Manager since it will be limited to 20 seats or less. Cisco Call Manager does not target businesses this small and according to the 2001 U.S. Census there are over 4.3 million businesses with less than 20 employees, which is plenty of market for Linksys to go after.

The next questions I have are what sort of operating system will this "future" Linksys IP-PBX run on and will it run on solid state memory/firmware (more bulletproof) or will it contain a hard disk drive (more flexible)? Currently, Linksys solutions use firmware for their networking products and a web interface for management. I hope that it does have a hard drive since that allows for more flexibibility and much greater voicemail storage, but it certainly adds more cost. The other advantage of including a hard drive is to give developers and "tinkerers" the ability to install customized software applications. The open source Asterisk PBX is very popular because it is open-source and can easily be customized.

Speaking of Asterisk which runs on Linux, I should point out that Cisco Call Manager runs on Windows, so it makes me wonder if Linksys will depart from Cisco's operating system choice and go with Linux since that will reduce the overall pricetag and add more flexibility for third-party applications. My guess is that this hypothetical Linksys IP-PBX will be some sort of Linux variant.

Perhaps Linksys will even partner with Asterisk to embed their source code or the SIP Foundary's open source code created by Pingtel? A turnkey, SOHO, plug-and-play Asterisk PBX sold by Linksys. Now that would be interesting! It could be a customized version of Asterisk to run both the Asterisk proprietary protocol as well as SIP and the Cisco SKINNY protocol which would allow for a wide variety of IP phones, including Cisco IP phones.

My prediction is early 2006 that Linksys will launch this product. Now that I have made this prediction watch competitors D-Link or SMC Networks scramble to beat Linksys to the punch. If this happens, and my blog gave D-Link or SMC Networks the idea for a SOHO IP-PBX, you can send me my $5000 flat-rate consulting fee or 1% of all future SOHO IP-PBX revenue.

p.s. Any engineers at Linksys working on this SOHO IP-PBX are welcome to anonymously email me and share the details. Or if you like, just put an X on my bedroom window to signal you want to meet up in a secret place. You can be Voice over IP's "Deep Throat". Actually, I just thought of a better nickname. Usually when there is a Voice over IP codec issues you get a "robotic throat" sounding voice. I can call you "Robo Throat" if you like. Ok, that was a terrible joke, I know, I know...

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