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Lucent pushes Net teamwork

Lucent announces a new venture, Persystant Technologies, and new Internet-based collaboration software.

Lucent today announced a new venture, Persystant Technologies, and new Internet-based collaboration software that lets groups of corporate users communicate via public and private networks.

The new BitRoom Collaboration System, a software server based on technology from Lucent's research arm, Bell Labs, allow users to communicate whether on a wired or wireless phone, laptop, or multimedia PC over the public Internet or corporate intranets, the communications-equipment maker said in a statement.

Lucent chose to release this new technology externally because of Persystant's efficient marketing strategy for the product, Tom Uhlman, president of the Lucent New Ventures Group, said in a conference call held earlier today with reporters.

"It's a smart strategy," said David Dines, a networking telecom analyst at the Aberdeen Group. Dines added that it's a "smart" move to look outside your company for ideas, referring to Lucent competitor Cisco Systems, who has frequently followed this same strategy using ventures and partnerships.

Lucent didn't have the software expertise in-house, and it's a way for Lucent to get to the market faster--to partner with somebody who's got the expertise, said Dataquest analyst Kathey Hale. Lucent said that the BitRoom system, which supports up to 50 simultaneous users in any number of "virtual sessions," will be offered through Eatontown, New Jersey-based Persystant, jointly owned by Lucent and software developer UnixPros. The BitRoom Collaboration System will also be sold through Lucent Global Learning, which is part of the Lucent Business Communications Systems unit.

A spokesman for Lucent called the new technology a "virtual room," for sharing video, recording or playing back sessions, and being able to index voice or text sessions.

The user doesn't have to be on an "advanced system" with BitRoom, Thompson said in the call. He added that whether users are simply on a cell phone, the Internet, or a phone in a hotel room, they have the ability to participate in a meeting, trade show, presentation, or classroom.

Using the example of an interactive presentation, Thompson said that once the participants log into the system, they can be "walked through" the presentation "real-time." The users see what the presenter sees and hears what they say, and they have the option of taping the presentation, he said. For instance, if the presenter were to forget a slide and it's located on a Web site, the presenter can lock participants into his or her browser and take them to the site.

This new paradigm for interacting in a distant learning environment, really makes it become "real-time," a virtual classroom, added Uhlman.

Through the new product, Lucent is providing a networking infrastructure, which differentiates itself from what Lotus has already done, added Dines.

As previously reported, Lotus released something similar in its LearningSpace line of products last year.

"Still, Lucent comes to it from a networking end," said Hale. "Lotus is a software vendor who tends to look for computer centric software solutions. Lucent is coming from within a networking expertise with this heavy duty, sophisticated, premium, interactive conferencing from a telecom perspective."

Persystant will be bringing employees over from Lucent, UnixPros and other outside sources, but declined to disclose the number of employees and the locations where they may be transferred to, according to Thompson.

"With the BitRoom system, the exchange of information is actively managed so that collaboration is more efficient, stable, and of a higher quality than previously available," Persystant CEO Jay Thompson said in a statement. "BitRoom takes advantage of a 'connectionless' environment in which interactive communications can be held."

Several big corporations and carriers, which will be announced in the next two months, are conducting trials of the BitRoom System, Lucent said. In addition, a suite of applications, including interactive classroom, auditorium, and help desk, will become available during the summer, and in the fourth quarter of this year, a software development kit will be released for users to customize their own environments.

Thompson said that the first application of the suite will be BitRoom Class, which will initially run on Windows NT.

Pricing varies due to specific applications and features, but a configuration for 50 simultaneous users, for instance, will cost about $35,000, which doesn't include PBX integration, according to executives.