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BT and Cisco Systems announced Dec. 9 that they will collaborate to put
unified communications in the cloud, letting customers buy UC services on a
per-user utility basis, a service available in the United
Kingdom now and in the United
States and Europe, Middle
East and Africa in 2010.

The companies say the "scalable, business-grade, global hosted IP Telephony
service" is designed for businesses that are looking to reduce their
capital expenditures while still taking advantage of the benefits of unified

"BT Hosted IPT uses the Cisco Unified
Communications system of products that unify voice, video, data and mobile
applications on fixed and mobile networks," Cisco says.

The announcement comes just weeks after BT announced a similar deal with
Cisco’s telepresence rival, Polycom,
to offer cloud-based global video
conferencing and unified communications managed services to end customers.

Polycom executives pointed out that the BT deal was not intended to cut out the
channel, and that solution providers could also create and offer similar
services to their end customers.

But BT’s deals in such quick succession with Polycom and Cisco over unified communications
in the cloud point to a serious move to push those kinds of functions to be hosted
by third parties.

"The current macroeconomic climate favors hosted IP telephony," Chris
Barnard, European telecommunications and networking research director at
analyst company IDC, says in Cisco’s Dec. 9
statement. The BT/Cisco "service is based on an operating expenditure
model and offers the flexibility, low risk and cost control now required by
companies facing an uncertain future."

BT points out that the BT Hosted IPT service
will take care of upgrades, maintenance and infrastructure investments, letting
customers focus on their core business rather than UC implementations.

In addition, BT says it will be "able to blend hosted IP telephony with
existing legacy and IP voice infrastructures," creating a hybrid model
that lets customers take advantage of the cloud benefits while still using
their existing infrastructure investments.

The BT Hosted IPT lets customers manage
their services via a Web portal. "The Web portal also helps IT teams to
reconfigure users’ phones, set up phones for new members of staff, and manage
name and number displays," the Cisco announcement says.