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Compaq targets telephone gear

The world's largest PC maker will aim products at the emerging market for Windows NT-based telephone equipment.

Following Microsoft's lead, Compaq Computer said today that it will aim products at the emerging and potentially lucrative market for Windows NT-based telephony equipment.

Compaq said it will demonstrate new computer telephony products for markets such as Internet-based phones, voice-activated electronic assistance, and customer call centers at a telephony trade show in Los Angeles.

As a part of its plan to target customers buying equipment for call centers and large businesses, Compaq has partnered with Dialogic to deploy and market computer telephony products based on Compaq's ProLiant and ProSignia servers. Compaq says the partnership will enable software developers to offer new features such as speech recognition and text-to-speech conversion for their customers.

Compaq has already partnered with Lucent, Genesys Telecommunications, and Wildfire Communications in an effort to target the computer telephony market.

Compaq's move follows Microsoft's announcement that the next version of its Windows NT operating system will be enhanced to make deployment of telephony applications on NT easier. (See related story)

In order for the market for Internet telephony and applications to take off, though, Compaq's servers have to understand a special telecommunications protocol, notes Daniel Briere, president of communications industry research firm Telechoice. In essence, the protocol, called SS7, acts as "the traffic cop for the world's telephone system," by shuttling information from phones to the massive databases in the nerve centers of major phone companies.

To make it easier to move its servers into phone networks, Compaq's servers can now run SS7-based applications, the company said. The news demonstrates evidence that a "massive transformation" is going on at Compaq, part of an effort to address a market that could potentially total billions of dollars, Briere said.

"This means Compaq, Microsoft, Ascend, Cisco--all those guys are really making a [bid] to 'plug and play' with the world's telephone equipment," according to Briere.

Currently, corporations and telephone companies rely on proprietary hardware and software as the basis for the networks that rout calls to their destination. As a result, the number of developers who can create telecom software is extremely limited. Moving to the Windows platform could open the market up to scores of potential developers.

Another factor aiding the growth of Windows-based telephony products is a customer's need to save money and make telecommunications system management easier by combining once-separate voice and data networks into one large network that can handle both information types.

Lucent is another high-profile partnership: Compaq is bundling its servers with software from Lucent that allows users to make phone calls over the Internet. Businesses are interested in deploying servers with Internet telephony features because they can reduce the cost of long distance calls by an estimated 80 percent or more for each minute of transmission.