How many times will Microsoft try its hand at Voice over IP before it finds a winner? While waiting for its enterprise VoIP strategy to build steam, Redmond this week took a stab at the low end of the business market with a plug-and-play phone system that bundles a PBX-like server with dedicated IP phones.
The phones-in-a-box kit is just the latest attempt to simplify telecom installation for small businesses who may not have the necessary IT expertise to take on the challenge of say, Fonality’s or Digium’s lower-end offerings. But there are several red flags waving around this one, making you wonder once again why Microsoft’s approach to VoIP seems so scattered.
Called Microsoft Response Point, the core software for the system will be bundled with phone hardware from three different manufacturers (Quanta, D-Link and Uniden) sometime later this year, at a price and ship date yet to be disclosed.
In a quick demo at Spring 2007 VON in San Jose, Microsoft Response Point exec Xuedong Huang showed Quanta’s PBX-like server box (in photo), a hardened, no-fan router/server combo with eight RJ-14 jacks as well as an Ethernet connection (the system will work with either VoIP or PSTN service). The setup included proprietary desktop phones whose design all but screamed SIMPLE, with one big button used for activating voice commands.
Could it prove attractive? Sure, what mom-n-pop wouldn’t like more simplicity in phone systems, and a PC-based management app for adds, moves and extension changes?
But in an era where new telecom applications seem to emerge daily, you have to wonder how smart it is to buy into a system designed from the start for limited functionality, with no clear path to upgrade. And no demonstrated IM, Web or other application (besides Outlook) integration. (At the very least, it does open up another front in the Microsoft-Cisco war, against Cisco’s Linksys phones and gear.)
While there’s no shortage of opportunity in the VoIP SMB market, you have to wonder if Microsoft’s heart is truly behind this purposely limited offering, which will be marketed in fine brand-confusing fashion by the hardware partners. Microsoft claims it has satisfied beta customers and even got Bill Gates to chip in with a product promo, but as with other Microsoft unfulfilled VoIP promises, we’ll wait and see.