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Automated Alternate Routing

A couple interesting items I learned about Cisco Unified Communications Manager’s (UCM) Automated Alternate Routing (AAR) feature today.

  1. In UCM 8.6, even with 1kb of bandwidth allocated for audio it still lets one call through. The second gets stopped or uses AAR. This one might be a bug… more research on that.
  2. If a DN has a Remote Destination or Dual Mode phone associated to it, AAR will not kick in. The call will be placed to the RD only and the AAR path will not be used. I’m still trying to decide if this is desirable and I’m leaning towards no and a TAC case.
  3. When exceeding Video Bandwidth for a location a call between two video phones will still traverse the WAN as usual if there is audio bandwidth available, but just set itself up as an audio-only call. Then if video bandwidth opens up and the call is held/resumed video will be added back into the call (unfortunately, looks like a hold/resume is required to get UCM to renegotiate the media. It’d be cool if UCM would keep track of the call and add video when the bandwidth opened up.).

Cisco 894x

Update on July 9th, 2012: This post was originally published in June 2011. A year later a lot has changed.

First, Cisco quickly came out with a matching SIP load so they are not limited to just SCCP. From what I’ve seen there is feature parity between the two and if I had a choice I’d pick SIP. Hopefully Cisco continues to invest more heavily in the SIP loads as they’ve done with their other high-end models.

Second, a number of initial gripes are fixed in recent firmware.

  • Custom backgrounds & ringers
  • Max/call busy trigger is now configurable
  • Mobility & DND are now available as softkeys
  • Many other little fixes here and there

This thing has been my primary desk phone for quite a few months now and I’m growing to like it. There are still a few things I’d like to see fixed (e.g. Phone VPN), but if I were faced with a purchasing decision today I would favor this over a 7942/45 and in most cases the 7962/65. I’d accept the fact that I’ll be doing regular firmware upgrades over the next year or so and balance it with the fact that I “future-proofed” my environment by offering video & Bluetooth to a large population of workers.

*When wouldn’t I use these to replace a 796x phone? When I need sidecars. And in that case, I’d move up to an 8961/9951/9971 and use the KEMs. They have some really nice high call volume features. The phone + KEM costs a bit more, but for the few people who need them it’s worth it.

Cisco recently released their new 8941/45 phones with built-in video cameras. A few interesting observations, but first the differences between the two.

The 8941 lacks gigabit network connectivity and Bluetooth, but comes in as a Class 1 PoE device (3.84w or less). The 8945 adds gig & Bluetooth, but still comes in much lower on the power scale than any of Cisco’s other phones with a color screen or video running between 6-7w when the screen is active.

Perhaps the most interesting design decision is the fact that the default firmware (and only fw at the moment) is SCCP, an interesting departure from their other recent high-end phones that run SIP (the 8961/9951/9971). I really expected SIP to be the go-to fw for all new phones. Especially considering the camera, why not re-purpose existing 9900 code rather than write all new fw from scratch?

A couple comments on the physical design of the phone. First, new finish & new handset. Take the finish from the bodies of the 7900 & 9900 phones, mix and serve for the 894x. Handset looks to be the same as the one that will come with the Cius dock. I miss the meaty 7900 handsets, but this is much better than 9900 handsets. Screen looks great, in some ways more crisp & clean the 9971. Disappointing that it appears there is no way to add a sidecar/KEM and no USB ports.

I had very high hopes for this phone and thought it would be the replacement for the 794x/6x phones that brought video to the masses. Unfortunately, while the hardware is all there the firmware is beyond disappointing. The good news? Firmware can be fixed. A few things that Cisco should consider non-negotiable when they release an information worker phone:

  1. No Phone VPN support.
  2. No custom background or ringtone support.
  3. UI is slow, e.g. phone can’t keep up with me when I’m dialing, much less moving through the setting or service menus.
  4. Hardcoded max call/busy trigger (3/2) just like the 6900s. Poor shared line support due to this. Ridiculous that Cisco thinks this is acceptable for a phone of this caliber.
  5. Pre-config’d softkeys like the 9900s (not the 7900s). Another frustrating aspect. Mobility & DND can’t be put on softkeys, so those 4 line buttons get cut down to 2 very quickly and you’re back to a 794x.
  6. Other miscellaneous things like not supporting Visual Voicemail give you the feeling that Cisco pushed this one out the door a little early.
Final thought… price point for this phone is incredible when you consider Bluetooth & video. If Cisco releases firmware that does this hardware justice it will make the 7900s obsolete.