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Cisco sets its sights on software

The network equipment leader launches a new software group that will sell Internet-based communications software to service providers and e-commerce Web sites.

Network equipment leader Cisco Systems continues to set its sights on software.

The company today packaged together three recent company acquisitions and launched a new software group that will sell Internet-based communications software to service providers and e-commerce Web sites.

Cisco will sell Web-based customer service software acquired last year from GeoTel Communications and WebLine Communications. The technology will route phone calls to customer service agents and allow online buyers to click on a button on a Web site to get advice from a customer service representative, either with a call over the Internet, email or text messaging.

The networking giant will also sell "unified messaging" software from its purchase of Amteva Technologies. The software will allow service providers to offer its customers the ability to check voice mail, email and faxes from a single device, such as a PC or phone.

In hopes of augmenting network equipment sales, Cisco and networking rivals Nortel Networks, Lucent Technologies, 3Com and others have spent billions during the past year, acquiring or building software that can run across networks. The integration of voice, video and data across a single network is playing a big role in the networking firms' newfound fascination with software.

"This market is really big, and it's the future," said Cahners In-Stat Group analyst Brian Strachman, who expects Cisco will become a major player in the market. "It's the merging of call centers, messaging, e-commerce and interactive voice response, where you can get data like your credit card balance using a telephone."

The merging of data and voice onto a single network will allow service providers to give businesses and consumers new Internet-based communications services.

Eugene Lee, marketing vice president for Cisco's new Internet Communications Software Group, said future services it will offer include e-commerce transactions and all Web content on handheld devices, such as cell phones. The company will also build software development tools to allow service providers and Web sites to build or customize their own software and services.

Lee said Cisco makes more than $100 million on software sales a year and expects to grow the revenue to more than $1 billion within the next few years.

Cisco today announced new partners supporting the company's software initiative, including Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, Sun-Netscape Alliance and PeopleSoft.