Microsoft and Nortel Networks are extending their unified communications partnership to carrier networks, laying the groundwork for hosted services.
The companies teamed up last year as the Innovative Communications Alliance to develop technology for enterprises to combine voice calls, instant messaging, e-mail, videoconferencing and other forms of communication.
That work was aimed at providing a multimedia version of a corporate phone switch, and also including presence information to show how each employee could be reached at any particular time.
Today, 28 March, they are set to announce that the initiative has been expanded toward service providers, allowing the carriers to provide a richer equivalent of the Centrex services that small and medium-size businesses often use instead of buying their own phone switch.
The companies will pair up Nortel's Communication Server 2000 (CS2000) softswitch -- a VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) version of a carrier phone switch -- with Microsoft's Solution for Hosted Messaging and Collaboration (HMC) software.
The combination will allow service providers to host Exchange, Sharepoint and Office Live Communications Server for their customers, according to Nortel. The primary customers will be businesses with between 50 and 200 phone lines.
In addition to supplying the softswitch, Nortel will offer integration services to the carriers to get the system up and running.
While the hosted services would appeal primarily to smaller businesses, the technology behind it is aimed at large Tier 1 carriers. Nortel and Microsoft will start trials with one European and one U.S. carrier in the second half of the year, and the offering is expected to be available by the end of the year.