Service provider iHub is offering a hosted IP voice service to replace the PBX in medium-sized businesses.

4SureConnections gives customers access to a SIP-based virtual PBX running on iHub's servers located in London, and can connect IP phones anywhere in the world to act as extensions. The service competes with customers running their own IP PBX, and also with other services that use mobile phones to connect to hosted PBXs.

"Business communications is about to go through a revolution, as it moves away from analogue to IP," said Mike Webb, chief executive of iHub. "That, combined with convergence, is creating significant opportunities."

As with all hosted services, iHub's offering is being sold on its ability to cut capital expenditure and smooth out technology changes. It is based on the unified communications platform Nortel launched this week, and will be sold by WestCon, a major distributor of Nortel's IP communications equipment.

Users are already used to hosted communications in their individual mobile phones, said Webb, but this hosted IP service can be managed by the customer.

"Users can manage their communications from the desktop, and take their office phones with them when they move office," he said. In putting the service together, the company considered the open-source Asterisk PBX, but found it difficult to upgrade and manage: "With Asterisk you have to test everything yourself, and we wanted an end-to-end solution designed by someone that understands the network."

iHub has its own carrier-grade switch at a centre in London's Goswell Road, and runs its own provisioning, billing and management software. The service will be sold, through WestCon, as a "white label" product, so another layer of intermediaries in particular markets: "There's an opportunity for channel players," said Webb. "They can move from up-front box-shifting revenues to long term contracting revenues."

"We've tried to make this really simple," said Webb. "The phones come in a box, you plug them in and away you go. The system also links to desktop productivity software such as Microsoft Outlook linked to OCS, and can use clients on laptops.

The converged part of the story, with IP clients on mobile devices is waiting till later in the year, he said: "A converged mobile service needs to be business class and robust, and mobile networks don't bend over backwards to help you in this endeavour."

In iHub's version of the future, the mobile dealer will find his products are marginalised by hosted office communications that can take over the mobile part of the equation - this is in contrast to mobile operators' hopes the their phones, with some centralising business services, will simply substitute for the office deskphone.

"These things are a long way off, and even companies like Vodafone are embracing the integration of mobile phones into PBXs," said Webb.