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Monday April 30 10:00 PM EDT

Cisco talks up Net phone technology By Wylie Wong CNET

Cisco Systems on Monday jazzed up its Internet-based phone technology with new Web surfing and speech recognition features, the latest effort by the networking giant to make old phone systems obsolete.

  More resources from CNET:  €  More Tech News  €  Download Free Software  €  Find Product Reviews  €  Check Latest PricesCisco competes against 3Com, Nortel Networks, Lucent Technologies, and others in the emerging market for Net-based phone systems, which are a cheaper alternative and offer more features to businesses than traditional phone systems.

The market for Net-based phones and related equipment has begun to take off, and is one of several high-growth areas on which Cisco is focusing. A recent study found that the nascent market is expected to grow from $192.8 million in revenue in 2000 to $548 million this year, according to analyst firm Synergy Research Group. While still just a tiny piece of the $20 billion traditional phone system market, the market for Net-based phone products should reach $3.9 billion by 2005, Synergy said.

Cisco, the early leader in Net-based phone products with 62 percent market share, is releasing a half-dozen new products that it promised but had yet to deliver. Most of the products are available now or within the next month, Cisco executives said Monday.

“What we had before were the basics. We had the (Internet) phones and the infrastructure pieces,” said Marthin DeBeer, a Cisco vice president and general manager. “We always talked about the new applications and the new capabilities. We are actually giving them the real products.”

One piece of software, called Cisco Personal Assistant, can act like a secretary by routing phone calls based on instructions you give it, DeBeer said. For example, if you are away from your desk, you can program the software to transfer all your calls from important clients to your cell phone, he said.

The software also features speech recognition software, so people with cell phones can check their voice mail by speaking to their cell phones, rather than pressing numbers to skip, fast-forward and delete their messages, DeBeer said.

Cisco also announced a package of small pieces of software called “Cisco IP Phone Productivity Services,” which allows workers to access e-mail, calendar information, stock quotes, weather, and other Web information through a Cisco Internet phone. The company is offering a software developers’ kit that will allow programmers to build new software that businesses may want for their Net phones.

Other new products include software that makes corporate headquarters and branch offices appear as if they’re one phone system, allowing people from the main office to easily transfer calls to a branch office. Previous technology wouldn’t allow people to do that, DeBeer said.

Cisco is also offering a Net-based phone system for small branch offices and a new version of its unified messaging software, which offers the ability to check voice mail, e-mail and faxes from a PC, phone or other device.