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Cisco's aim to meld voice, multimedia continues

Cisco Systems releases more components in its strategy to meld voice and multimedia capabilities into existing data network intfrastructures.

    Get used to it.

    Cisco Systems (CSCO) today released more components in its strategy to meld voice and multimedia capabilities into existing data network infrastructures.

    The move is the latest in what is expected to be a slew of voice-related strategy announcements over the next several months from networking powerhouses like Bay Networks (See related story) and Ascend Communications, among others.

    Companies are scurrying to provide voice, multimedia, data, and fax services over typical enterprise corporate and service provider network layouts based on technologies like ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) and Frame Relay. The reason is simple: customers want to get as much "bang for the buck" out of their network as possible, given the high-cost of implementing a high-performance infrastructure.

    Cisco's new intentions build on the announcement of an all-in-one box reported by CNET's NEWS.COM in April.

    But analysts say these moves from the likes of Cisco are largely targeted at a time ? maybe two years down the road ? when the right mix of protocols and mechanisms turn concepts like voice-over IP into a high-quality, reliable use of data network bandwidth. Also, the strategy presumes a reliance on ATM or Frame Relay, which relegates it to a certain market niche.

    "I don't see people beating down doors to do voice-over IP, and that's due to quality of service," said Maribel Lopez, analyst with Forrester Research, a firm focused on technology consulting with Fortune 500 corporations.

    Lopez said these moves are largely "future direction statements" so that when administrators finally feel comfortable with the levels of quality for multimedia applications they'll turn to the vendor that has made an impression on them.

    In order to expand its strategy, Cisco announced a new voice module, due by the end of the year for less than $700 per port, that fits into the chassis of the company's 3600 line of routing hardware. The new module interfaces with the public network, allowing users to make voice calls without knowing that they are being re-routed across the corporate network.

    Voice-over IP, in particular, will largely be used to shave costs from a company's telephone bill. If two employees working on a project are located at two different sites, using the corporate network for voice calls could reap large savings.

    Cisco also announced circuit emulation support for its Catalyst 5500 line of switches that allows traffic based on older protocols to be transported over an ATM or Frame Relay networking infrastructure. That will allow older systems to connect to a high-speed voice, video, and data layout.

    Cisco said it plans to round out its multimedia strategy over the next three quarters, much of it based on the company's concept of Tag Switching, which purports to add intelligence to the switching of IP packets. Work on a standard for Tag Switching is ongoing within the Internet Engineering Task Force.