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During the short history of IP-PBX systems, three different configurations have come onto the market under this title. The first of these is best described as an “IP-enabled” PBX, which is a legacy system based wholly on TDM technology, but equipped with IP cards, or gateways, to support some IP trunks and/or IP phones. Traditional PBX manufacturers, such as Avaya, Nortel Networks, and Siemens, at first favored this approach, because it enabled their customers to take advantage of VoIP in their long haul networks and to use some LAN-connected phones.

The second wave of IP telephony combined packet and circuit switching technologies into the one box, with the intent of obtaining the advantages of both systems while continuing to use existing digital phones and interface cards. Alcatel was the first major telecom manufacturer to adopt this approach; Mitel and NEC have also now made their hybrid architectures into a major selling point.

The third direction is to have a “pure” IP-PBX, with a common control/call processing server and all the stations connected through a standard Ethernet LAN, while supplying gateways to support existing digital and analog endpoints. This development was started by a few companies that were not previously in the PBX business, such as Shoreline, 3COM, and Selsius (which was acquired by Cisco). As these pioneering vendors, now led by Cisco, have shown that IP-PBXs can be successfully sold and implemented, the large suppliers of circuit-switched systems have fallen into line and announced their own pure IP-PBXs, with client-server architectures. By the end of 2002 not one PBX manufacturer was devoting significant funds to new circuit-switched developments, and all eight major companies in the enterprise communications systems market are committed to IP telephony.

These developments took place in a voice-switch marketplace that, following a growth spurt in the late 1990s, was dismal financially. Sales of PBX lines fell cumulatively by at least 10% in each of the 3 years from 2000 to 2002. The shares for the North American business phone system market in 2001 are shown in Figure 4.1. This chart includes all types of PBXs, key telephone systems, and lines added to Centrex services, for a grand total of about 11 million stations.

Current IP-PBX Systems

The IP-PBXs that are on the world’s enterprise marketplace come from a variety of backgrounds and include at least one model in each of the three classes that are defined here. We include reviews of IP-PBXs from eight suppliers, which sell their systems in many countries. Since it is too early in the development of these products to decide which are winners or losers, we have focused on the different approaches taken by the manufacturers, while not attempting to describe each system in great detail. These reviews are listed by alphabetical order of the manufacturer’s name.