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Avaya offers SIP to corporate messaging

The company is trumpeting gear using Session Initiation Protocol, a standard supporting popular Internet telephone, video phone and instant messaging services.

Avaya is the latest maker of Internet phone equipment that believes it can succeed where Yahoo and Microsoft have struggled: selling instant messaging that's good enough for the business world.

The maker of corporate telephone equipment recently began selling gear using Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), a standard supporting many popular Internet telephone, videophone and instant messaging services. As a result, Avaya's latest line of equipment provides IM features like "presence," which indicates whether a user is on the phone, what his or her future availability is, and the best way to contact the user, Avaya convergence strategist Lawrence Byrd said in a recent interview.

This is not your standard IM, by any means. The Avaya gear, for instance, lets someone make calls to landline phones from any Internet-enabled laptop or personal digital assistant or dial a phone number listed on a Web site simply by clicking on it. "Someone can be using IM to reach someone, then turning that text chat into a phone conversation, then conferencing-in an associate tracked down using a presence feature to join in on the conference call," Byrd said.

Avaya joins fellow gear makers Cisco Systems,

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Nortel Networks and Siemens in targeting businesses with, as Byrd puts it, "what our children make use of each day on the Internet." The companies say they have renewed momentum because corporations are replacing telephone networks with equipment using the Internet Protocol, which makes SIP features possible. That's fueling an expected double-digit annual growth rate in corporate use of SIP features, according to market analysts Gartner.

Siemens Senior Marketing Manager Tim Perez expects portions of the SIP equipment market to grow 40 percent in four years. "We see nothing but upside in this," he said.

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But the high price tag for corporate SIP-based services is a problem, analysts say. Avaya, for example, is charging corporations a one-time $25 per user fee for its Converged Communications Server software, $6,100 for a necessary server and $130 per user for a "softphone" for laptops or personal digital assistants. A 3,500 person company, then, would pay about $500,000 to give everyone SIP's capabilities, which could be too much for some companies to make the leap.

Before infrastructure makers began adopting SIP, it was mainly media-oriented software companies that sold . But they've all had lackluster results, reflecting the hard time media companies have had in general when it comes to dealing with corporate clientele.

But unlike would-be corporate IM purveyors Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft, telephone equipment makers have very deep roots in the corporate market after years of selling phone hardware. For hundreds of their customers, adding the SIP features is easy, Byrd and Perez said.

A Microsoft representative had no comment. Also without comment was AOL, which recently backpedaled from its plans to sell its AOL Instant Messenger for enterprise users, and Yahoo, which last October closed its enterprise software division.