Cisco Gets Serious About SMB Communications

Cisco Systems, the enterprise networking giant, is making an active play for the small and medium sized business (SMB) market with several products that could soon cement the company’s status as the premier high-tech bellwether in the United States.

With the introduction of truly plug-and-play, WiFi-enabled routers, cordless phones, desksets and a new, multi-port FXO/FXS IP telephony gateway, Cisco is making affordable, full-featured, enterprise-grade telephony solutions available like never before.

spa525g.jpgNot long ago, if a business wanted to leverage Cisco technology in its communications planning, that meant budgeting $500 – $600 per station for desktop telephones and thousands of dollars more for the company’s proprietary CallManager PBX operating system.

Now, any small business can get Cisco-grade deskset hardware for about $300 in the SPA525G, a five-line IP phone that connects to the network via Power over Ethernet or wirelessly over 802.11g.

The revolutionary aspect of this offering from Cisco, though, is its VoIP support for SIP through open source PBX solutions such as Asterisk, through hosted PBX services such as Vocalocity, and even through hybrid call management solutions such as Fonality.

The SPA525G has a hi-res 3.2 inch QVGA color screen with multimedia support for MP3s, digital photos, and RSS feeds, as well as Bluetooth and a high-audio-quality speakerphone. Set-up and configuration are a snap with an easy-to-understand web-based GUI and one-button, secure, WiFi protected network registration. The phone supports all the standard and many advanced business features such as caller ID, call forwarding, call transfer, 3-way conferencing, call history, phonebook, and MP3 ring tones.

Even a year and a half ago such an offering from Cisco would have been unthinkable.

wip310.jpgAnother versatile handset option for the SMB office is Cisco’s WIP310 cordless phone, a WiFi enabled VoIP device that’s easy to configure and capable of push-button WiFi protected registration to the home or small office network.

Configuration with a familiar, browser-based GUI makes the WIP310 easy to set-up via direct connection to any workstation on a company’s network and when it’s ready to deploy, Cisco’s WRP400 wireless router and 4 port ethernet switch automatically recognizes the device and registers it to the network securely.

Leveraging Cisco’s acquisition of small business and consumer-grade companies such as Linksys and Sipura Technologies over the past several years , the WRP400 Wireless-G Broadband Router is a central hub for Wireless-G and Wireless-B connections. It comes with four 10/100 ports for wired connections and two phone jacks for VoIP functionality, offering SMB clients functionality rivaling that provided to Cisco’s enterprise customers — at a fraction of the cost.

wrp400.jpgThe WRP400 has been out for about a year and so is not technically a new product, but a recent firmware update enabled support for IPTV and multimedia streaming services (currently quite popular in EU markets according to Cisco sales reports), as well as fail-safe 3G connectivity using supported 3G adapters from major service providers through a built-in USB port in the face of the router. On-board USB connectivity also raises the possibility of future support for external storage devices, network printers and more.

The soon-to-be released SPA8800 is a 4FXO/4FXS telephony gateway that completes Cisco’s lineup of small form factor devices that bring enterprise-like continuity to SMB communications infrastructure.

The newest iteration of SIP-supported technology pioneered by Sipura’s legendary SPA-series gateways, the SPA8800 will give SMBs the power to interconnect existing landlines to VoIP enabled on-premise PBXs such as Asterisk systems, as well as to high-quality hosted solutions such as Vocalocity and even to cloud-based open-source DIY solutions.

SMB units have long made do with phones made by one or even several manufacturers, deployed on networks managed with hardware made by another, served by systems designed and maintained by still different vendors.

Cisco, on the other hand, built its name and reputation on delivering integrated telecommunications and networking services and hardware to the enterprise market — and it now looks serious about offering similar interoperability to a client base in which it previously seemed uninterested.

Two great things about Cisco’s initial forays into this new market arena are that its SMB products appear to uphold the quality standards set by the company’s enterprise offerings, and that the hardware — unlike Cisco’s enterprise-grade gear — is built to support the open standards service offerings upon which SMB concerns depend for viability.

This article has been updated since its original publication to correct a misstatement regarding the USB port functionality of the WRP400.