Ericsson's Way Forward

Pushing forward its effort to go from a leading telecom-equipment gear vendor to a soup-to-nuts communications provider, Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) says its new, unified communications solution -- a server-based platform that will enable an array of advanced mobile enterprise applications -- will give enterprise customers a seamless upgrade to IP-based voice and data networks.

Speaking at an Ericsson customer event in Baltimore today, held in conjunction with the Volvo Round the World sailing race, Ericsson's director of product management Edward Lambert said that the new platform, known as MX-ONE, answers a common criticism of the vendor in ONE area while adding to its technology lead in another.

"First, it's common knowledge that we've been perceived as lagging in IP," said Lambert, "and MX-ONE will definitely change that. Second, we are definitely ahead of our competition on the mobility side, and MX-ONE will give our customers a clear advantage there."

MX-ONE is an all-in-one communications platform for medium and large enterprises to which existing customers can upgrade via a software or hardware implementation, avoiding a comprehensive replacement. Ericsson currently has 20 million installed lines on its flagship MD110 PBX platform, and the advent of MX-ONE -- which was officially launched last August, at VoiceCon in San Diego, and is being tested in pilot programs at Cal State-Long Beach and New Mexico State universities -- gives Ericsson customers "a clear migration path to the future," according to Lambert.

Enterprises will have a choice of moving directly to the server-based version of the platform or making a more gradual evolution course with a telephony switch-based, IP-enabled version.

For big enterprise customers, says Donna Warner, senior vice-president of BlackBox, a Minnetonka, Minn.-based distributor of Ericsson gear, the MX-ONE platform provides a significant step forward in rolling out new mobile applications.

"It's absolutely a leap forward in terms of mobility," Warner says. "Ericsson has always been at the leading edge of mobility, but they really haven't tied it together well for huge scale enterprises. This new product will allow them to do that -- it's not just about cell phones anymore, it's about making mobility a reality whether you're a hospital or a government user or other large-scale enterprise."

The MX-ONE rollout comes at a critical time for Ericsson, as enterprises look to move from legacy PBX systems to new IP-based architectures that support a variety of mobile applications.

"We're looking at a variety of options," says Randy Sailer, director of information services at the University of Massachusetts, which has run an Ericsson communications system since 1990. "It's a chance for us to look around at other vendors. I wouldn't say [Ericsson] should be worried, but they should probably be uneasy.

"But if they can provide a seamless, cost-effective migration path, I'd say it would be hard for us to switch."

The new platform includes applications such as a communications organizer, which allows users to define which mode of communication (voice, mobile phone, email, instant messaging, and so on) they wish to be contacted on at any given time. It also provides full VOIP capability to smartphones as well as unified messaging so that users can access voice and text messages from any device in any location.

"We've really added intelligence into these applications to enhance the preference element," says Kurt Krueger, Ericsson's director of enterprise sales for North America. "We've put the control of the method of communication in the hands of the people who are being contacted -- the communicatee, as it were."

MX-ONE, says Lambert, will remove barriers to IT managers who have been looking for simple, inexpensive ways to incorporate mobility into their existing telecom platforms.

"It allows enterprises to go to mobility solutions with the assurance that they're not going to have to replace their entire system," Lambert claims. "It alleviates the fear -- 'Will I have to jump platforms to get this functionality?'"

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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