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Networking

Cisco thinks small with Net phone gear

The company touts less-expensive versions of its Internet phone software and services, as it broadens its push into the small-business market.

Cisco Systems on Thursday introduced less-expensive versions of its Internet phone software and services, as the company broadens its push into the small-business market.

One of the new products, CallManager Express, costs between $750 and $2,800 and is meant for businesses that have fewer than 100 employees. At its most expensive, the software is half the cost of Cisco's CallManager software, which is used by about 100,000 corporations worldwide.


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The Express version is cheaper, because it doesn't offer the "heavy networking" features that large corporations require, according to Cisco Vice President Rick Moran. However, CallManager Express has tools that CallManager doesn't, he added.

Cisco also debuted software called Unity Express, which creates voice mail and an automated attendant. The product costs $3,000. Ten system "blueprints" help companies assemble the pieces, the company said.

The new Cisco equipment and blueprints are an attempt to interest small businesses in (VoIP), a cheaper form of dialing that uses the Internet. Some smaller companies can't afford the initial costs for their own VoIP systems or don't have the human resources to handle the day-to-day management, said Norm Bogen, an analyst at In-Stat/MDR.

"Obviously, there's a good market for the small- to medium-size business, and our CallManager will reach down into the 100 phone line range," Moran said. "However, we found some (reluctant) customers--really standalone businesses or places like retail with big front offices but significantly more autonomous branches."

"I wouldn't go so far to say the price point was delaying" adoption by small businesses, he added. "But this gives a better price point for them."

Moran said Cisco will face competition in the small-business market from "traditional" players such as Nortel Networks, Avaya and Mitel Networks.

Cisco is offering the gear to its carrier partners including BellSouth, SBC Communications, AT&T and Sprint. The carriers can use the Cisco equipment to sell a "hosted" VoIP service that targets smaller businesses, he said.

"Cisco now has both ends of this market," Bogen said.