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Review: Cisco’s Unified IP Phone 9951 Brings Video and Apps to Life

This phone features a full-color display that matches its great sound quality.

Cisco’s Unified IP Phone 9951 is a solid workhorse that has everything you’d expect of a desktop phone and more. With full-color video and Bluetooth connectivity, it’s an ideal candidate for an organization’s standard phone.

End-User Advantages

The first thing to catch the user’s eye is the 9951’s full-color display: a 5-inch, 640x480-pixel, 24-bit color display for video and applications, as well as standard phone feature control. Because IP phones are essentially computers, this screen is actually a mini-monitor, with full H.264 video at 30 frames per second. Getting an eyeful of the boss has never been more motivating.

As Cisco users have come to expect, the 9951’s voice quality is outstanding, and the speakerphone is full duplex — meaning a user can hear when the boss is interrupting. The Bluetooth support is perfect for a wireless handset, so the user can roam as far as 30 feet from the phone while chatting. Two USB ports are available for users who need a wired connection for enhanced call control or to attach a video camera.

Many phones have separate corporate and personal directories, which require the user to remember which directory contains the contact he or she is looking for. The Cisco 9951 controls both directories from the same button, with the same screen, making it as easy to call your mother as it is to buzz a coworker.

Why It Works for IT

Cisco’s name is synonymous with outstanding quality on voice and data networks. The phone features two RJ-45 Ethernet ports with 10/100/1000 megabit per second capability for throughput to the desktop, with IEEE Power over Ethernet 802.af and 802.at support using the Cisco Discovery Protocol or Link Layer Discovery Protocol over Ethernet. Session Initiated Protocol is used for signaling. SIP could be used to connect to just about any back-end telephone system, but users will find a richer feature set by connecting to a Cisco back-end system, such as Cisco Unified Communications Manager, Communications Manager Express or Survivable Remote Site Telephony.

For security, voice traffic can be encrypted using the Cisco 9951 as an endpoint (a feature Cisco says was developed in conjunction with the federal government). Furthermore, it supports virtual private network connections, so a user could take the phone home and securely connect back to the office. Full device, user, image, file or certificate-type authentication is supported in conjunction with hardware such as the Cisco Adaptive Security Appliance.

The phone offers a number of accessories, sold separately, including a standard-definition USB camera, Jawbone ICON for Cisco Bluetooth headset, and color Key Expansion Module plus support for Bluetooth. For IT shops that want to program the IP phone, the firmware supports both XML and Java MIDlet applications.

Disadvantages

The Cisco 9951 has a seemingly endless number of options from which to choose, which is both a benefit and a source of confusion. The maze of SKU numbers and options can be overwhelming. I suggest that purchasers who find this to be the case get some help from a vendor to make the right investment.

Video calls sound cool, but they can take up a lot of bandwidth. The 9951 does support quality of service reporting and configuration, but IT shops will want to ensure that their network is ready for video before implementing it. This is especially important for users with slower connections (such as T1/1.5Mbps), as a simple video conference call could cripple data flow and lead to choppy video. To help with this, video between two individuals is peer to peer (so the data won’t have to flow all the way back to the controlling appliance or server). But anything with three or more callers is going to require some back-end infrastructure (with additional cost and configuration).

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Jan 15 2013 Spice IT

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