NEC has launched a new IP architecture that will link hardware, applications and services over a network and, according to the company, form "the cornerstone of NEC's IT/Network integrated solutions".

The architecture, called Univerge - a combination of universal and convergence - will apply across the globe and is designed to go beyond the wired network to support clients on wireless networks, including wireless IP phones and access point.

Univerge is open and standards-based in an attempt to interoperate with as many networks and applications as possible.

"As the expansion of broadband environment continues, more companies are seeking TCO reduction related to network, improvement in communication efficiency, improvement in productivity and work-style innovation through the integration of data network and voice network," said a statement by the company. "In response to those needs, NEC has globally begun offering the IT/Network Integrated Solution that unifies communication network and various works, industry-specific systems."

The first stage of pushing Univerge, the company said, will be a telephony server (SV7000), wireless LAN series (WL) and high-speed router (IX3010). It is also releasing several pieces of software including: "PC soft-phone" for sharing documents, electronic directories and video-phone data; "unified messaging system" for remote access to voice messages and e-mails; communication software to link IP Telephony, groupware and web conferencing; and a basic software platform to link the SV7000 to other telephony software.

The SV7000 telephony server is for companies that want to go beyond hybrid PBXes (private branch exchanges) that combine circuit-switched and IP telephony capabilities and roll out voice systems based entirely on packets. It supports SIP (Session Initiation Protocol), an emerging IETF spec intended as a universal signalling protocol for all real-time sessions over IP networks, including voice, data and videoconferencing.

IP telephony systems are more scalable and less expensive than standard circuit-switched phone systems and can be integrated with other kinds of communications. With the SV7000 and Univerge applications, employees can get their voice mail and e-mail in the same place, have incoming callers announced via text-to-speech software, and even make calls through a PC-based "soft phone" without using a handset, explained NEC's director of product marketing, Bruce Grant.

For employees at their desks, the system is designed to make it easy to call both old and new contacts. One feature allows users to dial numbers directly from a personal or corporate contact database. Another lets them copy a number from an e-mail message, document or Web site and save it to a clipboard on the screen, then dial it. The SV7000 can also log and display information about the employee's last 20 incoming and outgoing calls, similar to mobile phone technology.

The SV7000 fits on a standard 19-inch rack and can handle 1,536 IP ports for phones, expandable to 4,000 ports. NEC's Fusion Call Control Signaling also enables SV7000s to be linked together across the world, allowing a potential 192,000 ports to be centrally controlled, Grant said. The server will work with other vendors' equipment, including Cisco's proprietary power-over-Ethernet technology and will support the traditional TDM protocol so companies can set up a few analog phones, such as emergency backups, Grant added.

The Univerge products will co-exist with NEC's current NEAX line of hybrid telephony systems, which the company will continue to maintain and extend, Grant added.

The SV7000 will begin shipping on 15 April in the US, Australia and Asia-Pacific, later shipping to Europe, although no dates have been given. The server will be offered in a bundle that includes conferencing server software, unified messaging software, a selection of desktop applications for 25 seats and a basic network assessment service. The bundle will have a suggested retail price of about US$25,000 (£13,400), Grant said.