With more than 50% of the market in its grasp, Cisco Systems Inc. is likely to remain the dominant player in the IP telephony market for some time, but recent research from Gartner Inc. suggests that gaps in the functionality of its CallManager 4.0 software and weak distribution channels will result in greater competition through 2008.
These weaknesses may be compelling enough to cause enterprises to look beyond Cisco to competing vendors like Avaya Inc., Nortel Networks Ltd. and Siemens AG.
In fact, Gartner vice president Steve Blood, who recently authored research on Cisco's market position, said that the software component of Cisco's IP telephony product line isn't as strong as Avaya's Communication Manager software.
"At the end of the day, [Cisco] has not been doing telephony as long" as its competitors, said Blood. "Others have 30 years' experience."
Blood said CallManager lacks the rich features of other vendors' platforms, and key system emulation and operator console functionality can hinder the successful replacement of traditional PBX equipment with Cisco's platform.
According to Blood, Cisco has also risked worsening its competitive positioning by overselling the capabilities of CallManager.
"Overselling is by no means limited to Cisco and its products, but the risk of not meeting user requirements is higher in a product with gaps in traditional capabilities," Blood said. "Companies assume that a certain set of features are already there … a level of trust builds up, and they assume support will be there," Blood said.
In the Gartner report, Blood writes that the same trust Cisco has established with data networking has given companies a false sense of security in relation to its voice businesses.
There has also been some concern regarding Cisco's use of Skinny Client Control Protocol between CallManager and its IP handsets, Blood said. The industry expects interoperability of communication devices, applications and platforms to be based on Session Initiated Protocol (SIP).
According to Blood, SIP is an open standard for establishing and managing multiparty, mixed media communications over converged networks. Some vendors are opting to develop their own extensions to SIP to deliver the full set of telephony functions to the desktop, while others are using more open advances toward media collaboration.
Blood cites Nortel's Multimedia Communication Sever 5100 as one such approach to a mixed media collaboration product using SIP.