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December 10, 2006

Siemens intros “next-gen” deskphone

The Enterprise Communications division of Siemens AG will today announce its new range of desk phones, with design features lifted from the mobile world for intuitiveness, ease of use and personalization.

By CBR Staff Writer

The OpenStage family of products will replace the OptiPoint range of desk phones over the next few months said Martin Northend, head of portfolio business management in the UK for Siemens Enterprise Comms, with the first two models being SIP-compliant devices.

Versions offering traditional TDM (i.e. circuit-switched) and Siemens’ proprietary VoIP protocol, CorNet, will be launched in mid-2007, before which the SIP range will be extended at the low end in March, with two further models, said Northend.

The OpenStage 80 and 60 both sport color VGA screens, the 80’s being full VGA, the 60’s quarter-VGA. A differentiating factor is the fact that the screens can tilt on their own in a laptop-like way, rather than being set into the phone at a fixed angle.

In terms of connectivity, in addition to a fixed IP connection via an Ethernet jack, the devices also have the Bluetooth wireless personal area networking protocol built in. This is not unique, with US competitor Avaya Inc already offering Bluetooth-enabled deskphones.

However, as Northend explained, we are launching the only deskphone supporting the Bluetooth Object Push Profile as well as the Headset Profile that Avaya also supports. Object Push means, for instance, that you can send a vCard [i.e. a .VCF file] from a mobile phone to the OpenStage.

While the Bluetooth silicon is embedded in the new deskphones, WiFi support is via a USB toggle. Northend justified the option not to integrate WLAN silicon into the phones by virtue of the ongoing development of the 802.11 standards, such that when .11n is finally ratified, which will probably be the end of next year at the earliest, upgrading to support it won’t be an issue: enterprises will just get a new USB toggle.

Though it has extensive experience with cordless phones thanks to its DECT device portfolio [Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications is a digital wireless technology that is being used for local cordless coverage in both home and corporate phone systems], Siemens opted not to make its new deskphones cordless to avoid the issue of receivers being carried away and mislaid, or multiple receivers being taken into a conference room and users having to work out whose is whose.

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We are offering equivalent functionality by supporting the Bluetooth Headset Profile, which gives a range of up to 10 meters of unwired connectivity, he argued.

Below the screen, Siemens has put six fixed-function buttons and six contactive sensors, which is where most of the functional innovation has been introduced.

Buttons

The first button is Drop Call, which obviates the need to physically hang up to end a call, or else to hit the lever in the recess where the listening part of the receiver sits.

Next is a Redirect button, which users can program to send a call to voicemail or to another person’s extension or mobile number whenever they hit it. Third is a Voice Dialling button, a feature that reflects the influence of mobile telephony. This button responds to instructions such as Phone home or Phone the bank.

Fourth is Speaker Phone, which Northend said represents something of an innovation too, in that on most phones you have to manually put that function onto one of the Free Programmable Keys yourself. Fifth is a Headset button, which switches incoming traffic to a conventional, plugged-in headset. To switch to a Bluetooth headset requires invoking an app on the screen.

Finally there is a Mute button, in recognition of the fact that conference calling is an increasing feature in business telephony.

Sensors

The sensors are embedded beneath slightly recessed mini-sockets and, in several cases, link to functions where the user will touch them several times to change pages within a larger application.

The first is a simple Home function that returns the user to the standard Home screen from wherever they are after drilling down into one of the apps. Second is the Phone Book, with different pages for the Outlook contacts database and an LDAP directory, for instance. Third is Call Register, again revealing the influence of mobile telephony, where users can see missed and received calls as well as dialled numbers.

Fourth is Voicemail and fifth Applications, where a company’s own information systems department can create apps such as logging onto a time recording system for lawyers and consultants or booking a meeting room or setting up a Web conference on the fly. They can also grant access to enterprise apps like SAP or the CRM database.

Northend added that, in the future, this button will also enable users to view CCTV footage on the phone’s screen, but that will require a more powerful processor. He noted that the device’s Free Programmable Keys are located to the right alongside the tilting screen, and there is enough space above them to fit in a web camera for when video is supported in the OpenStage range.

The sixth sensor gives access to a Helplet, whereby the user can get information on how to use the phone and thus reduce dependence on an internal helpdesk.

iPod-like navigation

Another significant innovation in the OpenStage range is the inclusion, below the sensors and between the receiver and the regular alphanumeric keypad, of what Siemens is calling the TouchGuide.

This is a touch-sensitive ring, reminiscent of the Click Wheel on an iPod, that is used to navigate through the various menus activated by the sensor. Like the Click Wheel it has an outer ring with arrows at the four main compass points and an inner button with which to select menu items to which the user has moved using the outer ring.

We evaluated a touchpad like you have on laptops, but found the TouchGuide format commonly found on things like MP3 players to be the most intuitive form of navigation, said Northend.

Roadmap

In addition to support for video, also on the Munich-based company’s roadmap are Gigabit Ethernet versions of the phones within the next few months, complementing the current Fast Ethernet devices. This is recognition of the fact the GbE is coming to the desktop, Northend went on.

The phones already give the user the capability of locking the keyboard, function buttons, sensors and keys when he or she walks away from the desk, making it impossible to access phone books or the call register, for instance, and Northend said support for encryption would be delivered as a further security feature, again within a matter of months.

The OpenStage 80 and 60 go on general availability in Siemens Enterprise Communications’ three main markets (the US, Germany and the UK) on January 2, with other countries to follow shortly thereafter. US list pricing for the 80, which is the top of the range and targeted at the corporate executive, starts at $910, while the 60, which is the real workhorse for office staff, starts at $480 US list.

The two devices in the SIP range due out in March are the OpenStage 40 and 20, the main differences there being that the 40’s screen will be black-and-white only while the 20 will have only a two-line display, and neither of these phones will have Bluetooth support. Final details of their list prices have yet to be defined, but the 20 is expected to start at around $295.

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