Okay, here at Unleashed we’ve been absolutely desperate to talk to you all about the Cisco UC320W for some time; we have been working with Cisco on the market trials for this neat little phone system for the last number of months and are really pleased with what it can do. Good things do come in small packages.

First of all before I go any further I know some of my blog readers are non-techy and I’ll try to explain Unified Communications (UC) in a nutshell: it is the bringing together all of your networks and modes of communication into a single, unified system. Blue sky huh?! Okay for the non-techy types it’s your computer system, integrated with your office phone, integrated with your mobile phone, your fax machine, your email, your instant messaging, and your web cam – UC what I mean?

Bad puns aside; the great thing about UC is that it’s an opportunity for a business to ask the question of their IT company, we love questions (means you’re awake). The best ones usually ask us, can I or what if? What if I could have a phone that I could plug into a broadband line and hook up to my office system and provide me with network access to my office servers? Can I link my telephone system to my CRM system so that when someone calls I see their details, order history and other data straight away?

These things are no stranger to the large corporates, hospitals, governments, councils – all of which have been in place for years. Cisco as a brand has been largely associated with that, I even noticed President Obama the other day sat next to a top of the range Cisco phone and I think he was on Air Force One! Cisco as well has been associated with expensive, yet incredibly robust systems to fulfil this market.

We like many Cisco Small Business Partners, have specialised in the sub 250 user market and in our case mainly the sub 100 user market and Cisco have consistently been developing new products to fulfil this market over the last couple of years and supporting partners like ourselves to raise awareness of them.

We have been working with the UC500 platform over the last few years that sits between 24 and 100 users. However, we found on many occasions that this was simply too expensive to compete with telephone systems like the Nortel BCM 50 and BT Versatility.

Those in the know may think, so what, these are hybrid systems that are semi-digital and IP. Cisco is pure IP and knows nothing else, it is technically superior. You’d be right too. However, in general what we found was that most small business people think about their immediate need… I need a new phone system for the office, I need an auto attendant or I need voicemail. They don’t really have the time to consider the virtues of IP vs digital and how all this lovely UC stuff is achieved.

Therefore we were in competitive situations where we just couldn’t win. Whilst the whole Cisco UC range is competitively priced, the Cisco UC500 platform could not economically do sites of less than 24 users and still win against a competitor armed with a digital phone system and no desire to integrate computer and phone networks and look after both a client’s IT and phone system. We were giving more for only a slight premium but the clients didn’t understand what this “more” was – I’m not really knocking that it’s taken me a long time to understand UC too! – I hope though, I can now explain it to clients!

I was talking to one of the Small Business guys at Cisco and saying a few of these things and he mentioned what you need is a UC300 series, and I thought it was a bit of a dry joke. But what did I know, he wasn’t – I offered our services to test the unit and following some legal agreements that meant we had to keep quiet, we worked on the beta testing with the new units.

So, the UC320 is the baby brother of the UC540/UC560 it’s a very small phone system that runs IP phones in your office – can handle four analogue phones out of the box as well as SIP trunks. It works well in offices with a Microsoft Small Business Server and provides all those nice feature’s that once upon a time would have been only in a system ten times the cost – such as voicemail, auto-attendants and the like.

Oh and it’s UC – so it becomes your WiFi node in your office, manages your broadband connection and you can manage the system through a very easy-to-use web interface.

What I like is a lot of what we said has been taken on-board and having seen the roadmap for the unit, there is going to be a lot of additions to the software over the next 12 months and beyond.

We’re currently building systems to allow people to use their phones from home with these devices as well as looking into other integrations with the device.

If you’ve got a small office looking for a phone system, I really hope UC what the benefits are of Cisco UC320w can give you.