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Refocused Siemens sets sights on integration

The German networking vendor has realigned its business units to offer enterprise networking equipment that makes person-to-person communication easier than ever before.

LOS ANGELES -- At the Internet Telephony Conference & Expo today, a top Siemens executive announced the merging of the company's wireless and wired business units, and laid out a vision for a converged enterprise communications network.

The new unit of Siemens AG, a Munich, Germany-based electronics and telecommunications company, will be called Siemens Communications Inc. This unit will combine Siemens' mobile unit, which produces cell phones and carrier equipment, with the network unit that produces networking gear for both enterprises and carriers.

During a keynote address, Bernd Kuhlin, president of enterprise networks for Siemens, told attendees that employee mobility needs is part of what is driving the vendor's strategic change. By 2006, Kuhlin said more than 50% of enterprise employees will be mobile. In that environment, it is important to be able to reach co-workers and business contacts via all possible communications channels, including e-mail, cell phone, home phone, instant messaging or video conferencing.

The lines between what is mobile and what is not are blurring, he said, and Siemens is trying to adapt. He also said the distinction between enterprise- and carrier-class products is also disappearing, and those business units will increase their communications.

Kuhlin touted what he called second-generation IP, a move to a much more integrated and feature-rich vision for converged data. This next step is important, he said, because vendors need to offer businesses more than just the ability to make an IP phone call.

"For an enterprise, it is not that thrilling for a user to punch in a number and make a phone call," Kuhlin said. "All you have done is consolidate the media in between," because, for the user, it is still a phone call.

Kuhlin demonstrated a Siemens application called HiPath OpenScape. It combines multiple communications technologies with presence-based features, enabling employees to be productive no matter where they are.

For instance, users can specify how they prefer to be contacted wherever they are, whether home, office or mobile. They can also screen calls and filter them like e-mail so the most important messages get through and others are routed away to be handled later.

For such systems to work, private enterprise networks will need to interface with cellular and Wi-Fi networks, Kuhlin said. Presence need to be linked to everything. "The idea is that the network becomes invisible to the user," he said.

To that end, Siemens has embraced four standards: Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), which links voice, video and instant messaging; Simple Object Access Protocol, which enables applications to communicate across multiple operating systems; SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging (SIMPLE), which enables SIP to work with presence-based applications; and Speech Application Language Tags, a standard for voice.

OpenScape, for example, is designed to work on other standards-based VoIP systems as a standalone application.

Joseph Haro, a corporate trainer with St. Louis-based Charter Communications Inc., said Kuhlin's vision is something that appeals to many of the businesses that he works with. He said boosting worker productivity is a growing concern.

However, enterprises must ensure that employees actually use all the features available to them. "The technology out there is powerful," he said.

As long as a business takes the time to educate employees about its communications benefits, they will want to use them, Haro said.

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