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Cisco adopts IP telephony standard

Support of key IP standard paves way for more features, easier integration with other vendors' products.

Cisco Systems plans to finally adopt a key Internet Protocol telephony standard, allowing the addition of new network-service features and enabling companies such as Microsoft to integrate their communications products with Cisco gear.

On Monday, at the VoiceCon 2006 conference in Orlando, Fla., Cisco said it will add support for session initiation protocol, or SIP, to its IP PBX software. The new version of the product, CallManager 5.0, will include SIP capabilities for Cisco IP phones, presence-awareness software and multimedia communications software.

SIP is used to establish contact between IP phones and to add special features--such as presence awareness, video or mobility capabilities--onto a voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) network. The standard also makes it possible for companies deploying VoIP to mix and match the products they use, significantly lowering the cost of deploying a VoIP network.

Cisco had been the only major supplier in the market not to support SIP in its IP PBX software. Cisco sees the addition of SIP as an important step in being able to provide customers more features.

"IP telephony isn't just about toll bypass anymore," said Barry O'Sullivan, vice president of IP communications for Cisco. "It's about improving productivity and allowing people to do their jobs more effectively. And people need to be able to communicate and collaborate through the means that suits them best."

CallManager 5.0 should work with any SIP-based phone, but Cisco said specifically it plans to support a "softphone" (or PC-based phone) client for Research In Motion's BlackBerry handheld as well as Nokia's new dual-mode phones.

In addition to the upgraded CallManager, Cisco announced other new products including the Unified Presence Server, which collects status and availability data from users' devices and feeds it to Cisco applications, and the Unified Personal Communicator, which allows users to see on their PCs or IP phones who is online.

As part of the announcement this week, Cisco said it is working with Microsoft to integrate its Office Communicator 2005 and Office Live Communications with Cisco's Unified Communications System. The integration means that users can launch a VoIP conversation directly from their Microsoft Outlook client. The interoperable package should be available in August 2006, the companies said.