IP Centrex/Multimedia Application Servers
By Joe McGarvey, Current Analysis
Published November 2004, Posted November 2004
Since the VoIP movement began several years ago, the two incentives for shifting voice and multimedia traffic from circuit-based networks to packet-based networks have been CapEx and OpEx reductions and a potential increase in revenue through the introduction of new services. IP Centrex/Multimedia Application Servers are one of the primary vehicles service providers and carriers will use to achieve both those objectives, though considerably more attention has been focused on new services than transport- cost reduction over the past year or so. An IP Centrex/Multimedia Application Server, also known as a hosted PBX, is a software-based system that resides in a service provider’s network and provides call control and line-side applications for the delivery of hosted telephony and multimedia services to enterprise and residential customers. When first proposed several years ago, IP Centrex application servers were eventually designed as a replacement for traditional Centrex services, with the major difference being that services would be delivered over a packet network instead of a TDM network. The number and sophistication of services delivered through IP Centrex/Multimedia Application Servers varies from one product offering to another. All platforms provide basic Class 5 features, such as call forwarding and call waiting, and most provide PBX-like functions that – as the name suggests -- equal or exceed traditional Centrex offerings. In recent months, however, the bar has been raised for IP Centrex Application servers to go beyond traditional voice services and begin to deliver seamlessly what amounts to a new productivity environment incorporating multiple forms of communications, such as instant messaging (IM), voice, video, conferencing, and data collaboration. Though IP Centrex/Multimedia Application Servers support multiple communication protocols, such as XML, MGCP, and H.323, the prominent protocol for the platform is the session initiation protocol (SIP), which defines a Web-like mechanism for signaling between end devices and creating a sessions-oriented environment that enables the blending of various forms of communications. IP Centrex/Multimedia Application Servers typical reside on industry-standard hardware, such as servers from Sun Microsystems, IBM, and Compaq/HP.
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