Microsoft Response Point SP1 fills VoIP major gaps
Upgraded solution enables SMBs to make external calls using SIP
Like their enterprise counterparts, smaller businesses constantly look for ways to operate more efficiently, increasingly so in today's economy.
In the area of telephony technology, SMBs can make a relatively modest investment and see a quick reduction in communications costs -- while improving clients' impression of their operation. Those were some of my findings after testing five VoIP solutions earlier this year.
Put simply, these products replace a small-business phone system with a server that routes calls over a LAN and provides robust switching and voice mail management. VoIP handsets, easily moved to different locations, complete the system.
[ Take a slideshow tour of Response Point SP1. Read the InfoWorld review "VoIP phone systems walk the talk" for comprehensive reviews of appliances from Allworx, Critical Links, Fonality, Microsoft, and Sutus. ]
During the first round of testing, Microsoft Response Point 1.0 fell short in one crucial area: Unlike with the other products, you couldn't place external calls using SIP trunking. This feature can be a major cost saver because VoIP providers typically offer lower rates compared to traditional telephone companies.
Microsoft delivered the free Response Point SP1 update in August 2008; this added external VoIP access, along with several usability improvements, including easier ways to park and transfer calls. And just recently, one of Microsoft's three OEM partners, Aastra Technologies, released new hardware running Response Point. (Quanta, tested for the first review, and D-Link also offer system packages.) This provided an opportunity to revisit Response Point and provide my impression of other Response Point equipment.
Easy to install and use
Many SMB VoIP vendors say their systems are simple to acquire, set up, and use. But with a bewildering number of hardware, software, and reseller options, my first reviews found these claims weren't always true. However, as with the original Response Point, Microsoft and Aastra have teamed to make the whole experience very satisfying.
On the hardware side, I tested the AastraLink RP 500 Base Unit, stackable RP 540 Gateway [which provides four PSTN (analog)] phone connections, and one each of Aastra's three Response Point IP phones: the entry-level 6751i RP single line, the full-featured 6753i RP with six lines, and the executive or receptionist nine-line 6757i CT RP that includes a cordless handset.
From unboxing to having a functioning system took about 30 minutes. First, I quickly plugged each item into my network hub. Of note, the lightweight base unit is totally solid state. Beyond the energy savings (the RP 500 draws about 33 watts), this architecture should give you better reliability over long use. What's more, the phones support PoE; if your switch also supports it, you can forgo the handsets' power adapter.
The second half of setup involves two applications running on a desktop or server. Response Point Administrator helps you configure the base unit and phones, while Response Point Assistant lets each person in your office customize his or her system.
I was very pleased that both applications are now 64-bit; there were no install or operating problems running the software on 64-bit Vista Ultimate or Windows 7 pre-beta.