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It's Time to Drop the "IP"

At a time when virtually every PBX system being shipped and installed is either designed for IP telephony (most systems) or is IP-capable (a declining percent of systems), I say that the terms IP-PBX or IP telephony system are redundant. More than 30 years ago, during the early years of the digital PBX era the term PABX (Private Automatic Branch Exchange) was used to distinguish the new Stored Program Control (SPC) systems from the older electro-mechanical offerings. After a few years PABX fell out of favor and we returned to the older PBX appellation, because all telephony systems being sold and implemented were SPC-based. The "digital" adjective fell out of use by the end of the 1980s when all PBXs utilized digital switching technology, as did many smaller, lesser-performance Key/Hybrid systems. Just like we dumped the "A" in PABX, I say now is the time to drop the "IP" descriptor when discussing or writing about PBX systems.There were several popular terms used to describe the current generation of telephony systems during the early years, including LAN-PBX, VoIP PBX, and IP-PBX. Only the latter survives to this day as a commonly used product identifier; the others are only still used by industry outsiders, if used at all. It is still valid to distinguish between analog, digital, and IP telephone instruments, because the former two continue to constitute a large percent of the installed base despite the current shipment dominance of the latter.

One of the reasons industry research houses originally segmented premises telephony systems was to create more shipment data and market leaders for the respective categories, similar to the ongoing practice of line size segmentation. How often do you see a press release from a system supplier touting their market leadership position in a tightly defined market segment, although they may be an insignificant player in the overall market? When Cisco Systems entered the market its competitive share was in the low single digits for the first few years based on total CPE market shipments, but they were a significant presence in the IP telephony market segment when they had the field virtually to themselves. It was important seven or eight years ago for a traditional system supplier to show the world that they were a competitor in the emerging market for IP telephony systems, but in the current market dominated by IP technology it is a given that any enterprise market leader must be shipping IP telephony offerings or they wouldn't be a market leader.

There are many telephony terms from the past that remain part of the current vernacular, such as dialing, even though it has been many years since you had a telephone instrument with a dial. Another ancient term is switchboard, but it is still in use when the only physical switchboards you can see today are in an old movie playing on the TMC cable channel. A very recent article on used "switchboard operator" in its article on Nortel outbound call center capabilities. Maybe some people consider PBX to be a word of the past, but I would still like more people to use it and drop the fancier telephony system descriptors. I especially would like everyone to avoid using the term Unified Communications System in describing a telephony system. In fact, it would not bother me at all if the term Unified Communications went the way of the Dodo bird, because it means everything, but nothing specific. Like the Dodo it usually doesn't fly.