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Cisco rings in phone sales

Cisco says it will soon begin marketing telephones to spur adoption of its back-end voice/data convergence equipment.

Cisco Systems revealed today it will soon begin marketing telephones to spur adoption of its back-end voice/data convergence equipment intended to lower long distance voice costs for corporations.

The networking giant, typically known as a provider of high-end equipment for the Net, is set to roll out a telephone--likely in the $100 to $250 range, according to a spokeswoman--that can plug into a typical Ethernet-based connection, the technology that many corporations use to connect PCs and server systems together.

The marketing of a Cisco-branded phone is an outgrowth of the company's recent acquisition of Selsius Systems, a maker of equipment that acts like a typical PBX, or phone switch, but supports IP, the transmissions protocol for the Net and many corporate layouts. Selsius currently sells a phone with its own back-end equipment and Cisco executives said they would continue to market the phone in order to drive adoption of IP-based telephony.

"We will be providing phones in the early stages [of the market]," said Tom Downey, director of product marketing for Cisco's wide area business unit. "Integration is key at this point."

Cisco has continued to lay a strategic foundation for IP-based telephony targeted at corporations who may be able to reap sizable savings from routing long distance calls across their internal network rather than the public phone system.

This initiative is distinct from the company's long-espoused desire to provide high-end equipment to facilitate a new generation of carriers who are also relying on internally built networks based on IP to drive long distance costs down. Even though the two emerging market opportunities are based on a similar premise, the corporate focus is largely driven by lower-cost equipment and may create less of a traffic glut on a network, depending on a particular corporation's network philosophy.

In some cases, it may also rely on technology that allows an IP-based call to hop onto the public phone network near its destination point.

The company's carrier and service provider-oriented initiative was buttressed last week by new developments in the company's ongoing partnership with Hewlett-Packard.

Cisco's phone thrust is only the latest evidence that previous assumptions about markets and company focuses are quickly falling by the wayside. Software giant Microsoft recently announced its intentions to market a phone.

As part of Cisco's strategy to provide IP telephony capabilities, the company rolled out what it dubbed "phase four" of a multipronged strategy to augment its technology for this emerging market. Among the additions to the company's portfolio are new quality-of-service management enhancements for the company's Internetworking Operating System (IOS) 12.0 and multiservice capabilities for two new members of the company's 7200 line of routing devices, a key revenue driver at the firm.