Nortel BCM 50 review
Convergence looks like being an even bigger buzzword in 2006 than in previous years, with ever more vendors offering products to merge voice and data services. Nortel Networks has always been a big player in the IP telephony market and its latest BCM (Business Communications Manager) products aim to combine features such as voice and unified messaging, contact centres, call routing, VoIP and Internet access.
The BCM 50 family is aimed directly at SMBs and supports up to 20 stations, with options to upgrade to support more than 40. The base BCM 50 unit on review is for environments that have no requirement for routing or already have it installed. Nortel also offers versions with ADSL or Ethernet WAN ports and routing included. Two expansion units can be added to increase the number of telephony devices as demand rises. A 25-pin Amphenol connector supports up to four PSTN trunks, four analog devices and up to 12 digital telephones. For the latter, you can choose from around ten Nortel products, and the price here includes two 7316E digital handsets. The connector also supports an auxiliary ringer, page output, page relay and an inbound audio source for music on hold. Alternatively, you can use the mini-jack socket to directly connect a music source. The single USB port has a dual function, as it can be used to monitor a UPS or upload startup profiles as Excel spreadsheets to the unit when it’s booted.
Administration is handled by Nortel’s Element Manager utility, which can be downloaded and installed directly from the appliance via a web browser. The interface is easy enough to use. You start by securing access to the appliance through creating user accounts and group memberships. General IP telephony quality of service can be monitored from here, and if it falls below a predefined threshold the appliance can fall back to PSTN. The level of telephony services is quite remarkable and ranges from simple features such as ring and hunt groups through to extensive call-centre services. The latter use Skillsets, so incoming calls are automatically routed to the most appropriate agent and can be based on the call origin, the destination or user information. These are set up from the browser-based CallPilot Manager, which can be fired up directly from the Element Manager. Mailboxes are assigned to each Skillset to store callers’ messages and you can assign multiple greeting messages to each one. Incoming faxes are automatically detected and can also be routed directly to a specific Skillset mailbox.
Users can log on to the appliance and download Nortel’s CallPilot Unified Messaging software, which integrates with email clients such as Outlook, Outlook Express or Lotus Notes. This allows them to access faxes, listen to, reply and create voice messages and attach them to emails. An i2050 Software Phone can be installed to make calls over the LAN and WAN and a Personal Call Manager allows users to manage all calls from their PC.
It’s worth noting that the BCM 50 isn’t a cut-down version of the enterprise BCM products. Instead, Nortel has brought the price down by using lower-cost components and a Linux kernel. The end result is a sophisticated option for SMBs on a tight budget wishing to merge voice and data services.