Telephony for NT

AltiGen Communications is one of a handful of companies changing the landscape of traditional business telephony solutions. But unlike other unified messaging products that combine PBX-based communications with voicemail, email, and fax capabilities, AltiGen's AltiWare Open Edition (OE) 2.0 runs entirely on an NT server to provide most of that functionality without the proprietary PBX. AltiGen describes its technology as a move from computer telephone integration (CTI) to computer telephony (CT). Traditionally, a unified messaging solution integrates a voicemail server, email server, and fax server with a PBX system. With AltiWare OE, voicemail, email, and PBX processing take place in one unit (you need to obtain fax capabilities through a third-party provider). You can create the AltiWare platform on a 166MHz Pentium processor with 128MB of RAM for NT Server.

Quantum Board
At AltiWare OE's heart is the product's 12-port Quantum board. This full-sized ISA card (a PCI version is due for release in early 1999) handles phone trunks, extensions, and voice processing through twin digital signal processors (DSPs) incorporated on the board. You can install as many as 10 Quantum boards in one server, provided you have 10 ISA slots available. Currently, Quantum boards work with analog trunks; however, support for T1 and ISDN is due in early 1999 through a Multi-Vendor Integration Protocol (MVIP). Quantum boards are available in a variety of configurations, including 4 trunks and 8 extensions, 8 trunks and 4 extensions, 12 extensions, or 4 Direct Inward Dialing (DID) trunks and 8 extensions.

AltiWare OE uses standard analog telephone handsets. The handsets receive power directly from a power supply on the Quantum board. In the event of a power outage or other system failure, one phone line remains active for emergencies. The ability to combine the use of standard analog phone sets with the full functionality of sophisticated PBX systems helps make AltiWare an attractive small business solution.

AltiWare OE includes a simple backup utility, AltiBackup. AltiBackup copies message and configuration files to a second hard disk on your network at intervals you define. If your main server goes down, you place the Quantum boards in your backup server and run a restore operation.

Easy Integration
Users can choose to have AltiWare OE place email and voicemail messages into one inbox. AltiWare OE also synchronizes with Exchange Server. To review voicemail, users can listen to the compressed message over their PC speakers or through their telephone handset. Users can configure ACT!, GoldMine, Outlook, and other TAPI 2.1-compliant personal information manager (PIM) software to dial out, or to pop up with data based on caller ID information.

Users who prefer a browser interface will appreciate AltiWare OE's full-featured web-based AltiReach application. By using any Java-compatible Web browser; typing in the appropriate URL; and entering their first and last names, extension, and password, users can connect to another URL specific to their mailbox configuration. The cross-platform-compatible AltiReach gives AltiWare OE subscribers five function selections: call management, station speed, call view, one-number access, and message notification.

One of the most powerful end-user applications in AltiReach is the Call View window, which Screen 1 shows. Call View displays a list of the extensions and trunks associated with the AltiWare OE service. It lists the current status of extensions; displays the caller ID for incoming calls to a user's extension; and lets users pick up calls, transfer calls, place calls on hold, conference, or direct a call to voicemail through its straightforward graphical interface. Although users can view their extension's status from any browser and retrieve voicemail messages from any touch-tone telephone in the world, they can answer their calls only from a telephone connected directly to the AltiWare server. AltiWare OE gives workgroup members a detailed view of all workgroup statistics in the Workgroup Call View window.

Messaging Management
AltiWare OE's Call Management applet lets users manage incoming calls. Users can redirect calls to a different telephone number or extension and enable Do Not Disturb, Busy Call Handling, and No Answer Handling modes.

The Station Speed selection on the AltiReach interface gives users as many as 20 preset one-button speed-dialing options. Users can add, delete, and rearrange speed-dial numbers remotely. The AltiReach Message Notification screen lets you disable message notification or instruct AltiWare OE to send all your messages or only your urgent messages to you. You can have AltiWare OE send your messages to your extension, outside line, or pager.

AltiWare OE's One Number Access lets you set up to four outside numbers or extensions to which the software can forward calls. One Number Access lets you attend a breakfast meeting in Dallas and a late lunch in Orlando, then settle into your Miami hotel room that evening without having to readjust your forwarding numbers every 4 hours. After you program One Number Access with the telephone numbers for each location on your schedule, the scheduler feature forwards your calls to the appropriate number.

AltiWare OE's Boomerang feature uses standard caller ID functionality to leverage voicemail capabilities and is particularly advantageous for employees who spend a lot of time on the road. Boomerang lets out-of-office users return voicemail calls simply by pressing a button. At the end of the call, the system boomerangs you back to voicemail, where you can continue checking your messages. For road warriors, this ability means that only one long-distance connect charge is billed to their hotel room; successive long-distance calls users place as they are checking voicemail are billed to their employer at the employer's office telephone rate.

AltiWare Administrator
You configure the AltiWare telephony solution through the AltiWare Administrator interface. This screen includes a row of icons for logging on and off the system; configuring the system and its extension and trunks; viewing the system log, system summary, or call detail summary; and accessing online help. The Administrator screen displays four win- dows: Extension View, Call Log View, Trunk View, and (Quantum) Boards. To configure your AltiWare server, you can preset as many as 59 speed-dial numbers; automate area-code or prefix dialing; create custom-call-accounting formulas for local, long distance, and international calls; enable SMTP/Post Office Protocol 3 (POP3) and MAPI services; and enable email forwarding and synchronization with Exchange Server. (Although AltiWare OE integrates with Exchange Server, you do not have to use Exchange; AltiWare includes an email server.)

The AltiConsole telephone operator application, which Screen 2 shows, is for operator use. AltiConsole lists available extensions, names of extension subscribers, and the extensions' status in a panel on the right. A panel on the left provides extension-specific information. A keypad with hang-up, dial, answer, and flash options lets the operator perform blind and supervised transfers, call parking and holding, conference-call enabling, or caller transfer to voicemail or to the auto attendant.

AltiWare OE offers 16 auto attendants you can use as a primary automated answering service, as secondary to a live operator, or for after-hours answering and call directing. You configure the auto attendants from the AltiWare Administrator interface. You can configure each auto attendant to transfer calls, offer directory service, record messages, repeat menus, and provide system call-back.

Easy to Use, Cost Effective
Perhaps the best thing about AltiWare OE is the ease with which you can configure it. The software doesn't pop itself in and send you off and running in no time, but the average systems administrator, with a little effort and know-how, won't have any trouble making it go. AltiWare OE isn't perfect. If it were perfect, the software would incorporate voice-over IP-technology. This technology is likely to become mandatory in future telephony solutions as Internet bandwidth continues to shrink the planet. (The vendor claims this add-on feature will be available in late 1998.) I would also like to see the product include fax capabilities. To be a true one-stop communications shop, AltiWare OE needs to provide text-to-speech conversion capabilities, so that users can listen to their email messages over their telephone handset. AltiWare OE's biggest handicap is its 100-physical-extension system limit. However, at the product's price--less than half that of its competitors--you'll find it difficult to be disappointed with AltiWare OE.

AltiWare Open Edition 2.0
Contact: AltiGen Communications * 510-252-9712
Price: Call for pricing
System Requirements: IBM PC AT-compatible system, 166MHz Pentium processor or better, Windows NT Server 4.0 with Service Pack 3 installed, or Microsoft Small Business Server, 1GB hard disk, 3.5" drive, CD-ROM drive, SVGA video card, 1024 * 768 high-resolution monitor with 256 color display