Cisco has an all-new line of branch-office routers that integrate basic routing with IP voice support and security tools. They will be officially launched tomorrow, just a day after 3Com's launch of its own branch-office routers.

Features such as data caching and IP telephony have been available as add-ons to Cisco's existing branch routers for some time. But they severely limit the router's basic processing, said Jeff Wilson, an analyst at Infonetics. Cisco has designed the new routers with increased memory and CPU capacity to overcome that problem.

The Integrated Services Router line includes seven models ranging from $1,395 to $13,500, said Dave Frampton, a senior marketing director at Cisco. Two are aimed at corporate branch offices, while four are designed for smaller branches and one is intended for use by small businesses. All are due early next month.

Brokerage RBC Dain Rauscher plans to deploy Cisco's new 2821 router in the next few months at five branches, serving a total of 150 workers. If the pilot rollouts are successful, it will install the routers at up to 180 locations and convert the offices to IP telephony, said Rich Blasing, managing director of infrastructure services. "This router product is architected with IP telephony in mind, while the previous attempts were add-on modules," Blasing said. "Collapsing functions on one box is a big feature because it makes things simpler and, from a support standpoint, a lot cleaner."

Because the 2821 will enable branch-office workers to move, add and change IP phones on their own, network operating costs should go down over time, Blasing noted. And with the routers supporting IP telephony in the branches, RBC Dain Rauscher's annual telecommunications budget is expected to drop 20 percent, he said, although he wouldn't divulge cost details.

In addition, the new router will support centralised voice mail, so the brokerage will be able to expand and shift its sales force with more flexibility, Blasing said. He added that the full deployment and the addition of IP telephony could be completed within 18 to 24 months.

Wilson said Cisco developed the Integrated Services Router line because of competitive threats from vendors such as Juniper, which acquired NetScreen in April so it could integrate its security capabilities into its routers. But, he said, "the fruits of that acquisition are yet to be seen."

David Willis, an analyst at Meta, agreed that competition pushed Cisco to release the new routers. But he added that "the idea of using a single modular platform just makes sense".