Microsoft tackles lucrative VoIP market

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At the Spring 2003 Voice on the Net (VON) Trade Show & Expo in San Jose yesterday, a Microsoft executive announced during the keynote address that the company will supply a comprehensive Voice over IP (VoIP) solution in the next version of Windows CE .NET, code-named McKendrick. (Windows CE .NET is Microsoft's embedded OS for smart mobile and small footprint devices.) The VoIP features will let Windows CE .NET 4.2, due later this year, power a coming generation of communications hardware, services, and other products. Microsoft has also assembled a dizzying array of third-party support for the technology.

"VoIP is creating new opportunities for the communications industry to offer greater convenience and productivity to its customers," said Todd Warren, general manager of the Embedded and Appliance Platforms Group. "Windows CE .NET 4.2 will provide the industry's most integrated and extensible standards-based VoIP device platform, enabling OEMs and network equipment providers to more quickly, easily, and richly innovate and deliver on the promise of VoIP."

VoIP functionality in Windows CE .NET 4.2 will encompass three primary areas: a fully integrated, graphical telephony UI that third parties can extend, customize, or use as-is; a VoIP application interface layer that developers can leverage when creating applications and services that integrate with Microsoft Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) Real-Time Communications (RTC) technologies; and a set of enterprise-ready integration services that support the Windows .NET Compact Framework and other related technologies such as IP Security (IPSec), 802.11a wireless, Active Directory (AD), and Kerberos, all of which corporations require to integrate new Windows CE .NET-based devices into their infrastructures. Microsoft will also integrate Windows CE 4.2's VoIP functionality with Greenwich, the RTC Server product that Microsoft will ship later this summer.

Microsoft's Scott Horn told me that VoIP opens up a range of possibilities, many of which sound quite interesting. "We have a companywide belief that VoIP is exciting and great for our corporate customers," he said. "And it provides new service opportunities for operators and out-of-the-box solutions for OEMs that can easily be extended and customized in various ways." One potential scenario addresses the needs of corporations that "hotel" office space (i.e., where workers come in for time slices at different desktops). In such cases, corporations will be able to download workers' scheduling and contact information to a smart phone device so that users have pertinent information at hand no matter where they are. Other scenarios include hotels that provide similar services to business travelers; VPN over PBX for long-distance phone call cost aggregation; and Wi-Fi (the 802.11a wireless standard)-based presence functionality so that, for example, a device in a grocery store could alert customers about relevant sales information. "We see VoIP as an enabling technology," Horn told me. "With this version, there's a big focus on enterprise customers because there's a big need for it there, and IT departments know how to roll out this kind of technology."

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