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Technology Showcase: Conference-room Telephone Systems

Apr 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Bennett Liles

Plain old telephone service gets a boost in conferencing functionality.

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Cisco Unified IP Conference Station 7937G

Cisco Unified IP Conference Station 7937G

Even with the wide variety of conference- microphone systems and videoconferencing equipment, the most familiar piece of hardware to be seen in conference rooms large and small sits front and center, right in the middle of the conference table — the telephone conferencing system. Across manufacturers, the triangular shape is typical, and the range of options and accessories available has lately flowered into an array of new widgets offering vastly expanded functionality deserving of the “system” designation. USB connectivity to PCs extends functionality for VoIP, and ISDN ports allow direct digital functionality. External microphones can increase coverage area, and some units can be daisy-chained in a virtually unlimited number. The prices of these systems can range from less than $200 to more than $1,000.


The Voice conferencing telephone system from Aethra offers analog and digital PBX compatibility, and the main unit comes in eight attractive colors. The main unit has three integral microphones, and it can accommodate two additional cable-connected microphones for larger groups or rooms with L-shaped or T-shaped conference tables. The Voice provides hands-free, full-duplex operation for natural-sounding conversation over a wide range of volume settings from +12dB to -12dB. The dial pad features a menu, a mute button, secondary functions, and a built-in phonebook for storing up to 100 numbers. Also featured are adaptive acoustic and line-echo cancellation, automatic gain control, and noise reduction, along with a line-level auxiliary output connector to record conferences. The unit is available in three versions: The standard configuration runs on PSTN connections; the Voice Plus includes the display and an infrared remote control; and the Voice ISDN works on an ISDN phone line and includes an RS-232 data port. The Voice can be used as an IP phone using the PC Audio Adapter that connects to a computer in the same way a headset would connect. The Voice also has a ringer-tone switch and pulse- or tone-dialing-mode selector. It features software-controlled room-noise and telephone-line-noise monitors. The Voice is available for less than $500.

The Avaya 4690 IP conference telephone provides the standard features of the Avaya line — including 360-degree room coverage, two optional extension microphones to cover rooms measuring up to 20'×30', full-duplex operation, and a digitally tuned loudspeaker with Acoustic Clarity Technology to reduce reiteration requests. It adds simplified LAN wiring on a 10/100 Ethernet port and downloadable software upgrades for the Communication Manager IP telephony application. The unit has a five-line, 248×68-pixel LCD with variable-width fonts, three soft keys for access to common functions such as call transfer, red and green call-status LEDs, menu-navigation keys, mute and volume-control keys, and a hook switch for answering and terminating calls. Among the personalization features are five customizable ring patterns and 15 display-contrast settings. System information can also be displayed on the LCD. Ringer tones signify call forwarding, busy, call-waiting ringback, and other operations. Ethernet-connectivity features include auto-negotiation, 802.3 flow control, support for SNMP version 2, DHCP, and static IP addressing, along with G.711 and G.729A voice coders.

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