Kevin Fitchard

Byline: Kevin Fitchard

The first VoIP technology emerged from Bell Canada’s partnership with Nortel Networks, signaling the beginning of what Bell Canada has promised to be a substantial investment into next-generation networks.

Bell Canada announced last week it will launch across Canada in July a full stack of VoIP enhanced services geared at enterprises, making it the first North American incumbent to cross the boundaries from limited trials to full commercial deployment of a managed IP platform.

“We knew the industry was going there, and we knew IP was a platform that would offer lots of benefits for our customers,” said Paul Rowe, vice president of enterprise marketing for Bell Canada. “At the end of the day, we couldn’t just ignore it because we have an incumbent base or wait to see what other carriers would do.”

What makes Bell Canada’s launch particularly interesting, though, is its approach to VoIP itself. While most of the initial worldwide packet voice deployments have focused on voice/data convergence and the associated cost savings, Bell Canada is placing equal emphasis on the enhanced feature set. In fact, a large part of its strategy is selling the enhanced features over legacy networks, allowing customers to use VoIP applications such as video chat, presence and collaboration features over legacy PBX and Centrex systems.

Bell Canada is deploying Nortel’s Succession Communication Server 2000 softswitch, handling traffic and features from both legacy and IP Centrex systems, and Nortel’s Multimedia Communication Server 5600, a product that Bell Canada and Nortel have spent the last year developing in their Innovation Center in Montreal. The softswitch and media server link Centrex, managed PBX – and, to a limited extent, customer premises PBX – systems directly to an IP platform, bypassing all primary rate interface gateways. The multimedia server can use the legacy system as a circuit-switched extension of the IP network, routing conference calls or the voice elements of video calls to the TDM extensions on each user’s desk.

“It’s the perfect way for Bell Canada to transition its users to VoIP,” said David Sliter, the Nortel vice president heading the Bell Canada launch. “There’s no flash cut, nothing to forklift, nothing to throw out.”

By giving customers access to the enhanced feature set without ripping legacy systems, Bell Canada expects more customers to jump on the VoIP bandwagon. Rowe said he expects many companies to deploy the technology initially by installing a soft client on all of their employees’ desktops. That soft client will control the enhanced feature set of the IP network, and allow them to initiate conference calls, video calls and all of the presence and collaboration features of the service using their traditional desk phones. Then companies will start distributing IP phones either to select or all employees. Those phones – hooked directly into the corporate LAN – will act as mirror extensions to their TDM phones, ringing simultaneously when a call comes in no matter where the IP phone happens to be. Eventually those employees will get so accustomed to using their IP phones, the legacy extension will go unused. At that point Bell Canada can decommission the Centrex or PBX system and move the customer over to a full IP environment, Rowe said.

“In the long run, we want all of our customers on an IP network,” Rowe said. “What we’re doing is mitigating the risk.”


JANUARY 2002: Bell Canada becomes the first North American Carrier to trial Nortel’s Multimedia Server. Bell Canada launches VoIP, video and desktop collaboration services with select corporate Centrex customers.

SEPTEMBER 2003: Bell Canada and Nortel announce the formation of a joint innovation center where the two companies will develop new IP multimedia and optical networking technologies specifically for Bell enterprise customers.

MARCH 2004: Using new technology from the innovation center, Bell Canada launches a major VoIP and advanced multimedia service trial with Lakehead University in Thunderhead, Ontario, Canada.

JUNE 2004: Bell Canada and Nortel deploy their new jointly developed technology, called the Multimedia Communications Server 5600 to offer enhanced features over both IP and legacy voice networks. Bell Canada applies for regulatory approval in its incumbent territories of Quebec and Ontario and announces a mass-scale deployment of the enterprise service across Canada.

Source: Company information

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