Simplifying the On-premises Payment Model

July 2017

 

We have all seen the growing appeal for cloud-based business communications and the associated recurring, operational expenditure (OPEX) payment model. The budgetary advantages are clear. With an OPEX model, a business avoids the up-front expense of purchasing and installing on-site equipment, and instead, pays a predictable monthly fee to access the communications solution as-a-service. Additionally, with unified communications “as-a-service” (UCaaS), fewer technical personnel are needed as there is no on-site communications system to manage and maintain. There are strategic benefits too, particularly for multi-site and larger organizations. These include scale, disaster recovery, consistency across a network of locations and the ease of adding innovations and technologies that emerge in the future (more on these here).

 

Paying a monthly fee is the norm for a hosted/cloud service, but it is not common when it comes to purchasing an on-site telephony system. And, though cloud-based communications is steadily gaining adoption, many businesses today still maintain or require on-site IP-PBX, contact center, messaging, meeting and UC solutions (more here on several new IP-PBXs introduced already this year).  With these businesses in mind, traditional telephony equipment vendors are looking at ways to simplify the buying process for customers that opt for an on-site installation. They recognize the appeal of subscription-based pricing and are introducing new payment models that apply to both cloud and premises deployments.

 

Moreover, most traditional equipment vendors are simultaneously building out a cloud UC portfolio, and thus, are uniquely positioned to offer hybrid arrangements with a mix on-site equipment and cloud-based services - a growing preference, according to recent surveys, and a good migratory step to an all-cloud solution in the future. A consistent cloud and premises payment model will make this inevitable migration to the cloud a smoother process.

 

Below, we highlight several telephony equipment vendors on our radar that are already offering subscription-based pricing for their premises-based telephony systems similar to the recurring, OPEX payment models of their cloud-based UC alternatives. We can expect to see more of this as 2017 unfolds.

 

Accent Communication Services

Early in 2017, national telecommunications provider Accent expanded its portfolio with a new premises-based IP-PBX called Accent VoiceONE Onsite. Accent, in a sense, is bucking the trend by introducing new on-site equipment when most providers and vendors are racing to build out their cloud unified communications (UC) offers.  Yet, the company, which has been a cloud-only provider of business communications services for years, has found that not every business is ready for the cloud. And so, Accent has designed and developed an on-premises system with the same features and functionality as its cloud counterpart. VoiceONE, whether a cloud or premises implementation, utilizes Zultys call control as the underlying technology, but the solution is completely manufactured, monitored and supported by Accent.

 

Key to the new on-premises solution is the simple, subscription-based payment model. With VoiceONE Onsite, the customer does not buy, rent or lease the installed IP-PBX equipment, but simply pays a predictable per-user monthly fee – the same monthly fee as the cloud-based alternative. The fee does not fluctuate from month to month, and Accent provides the on-site UC appliance and any gateways required to interface with the customer’s existing PSTN service (typically PRI, POTS lines, or SIP interfaces). The consistent subscription-based pricing is appealing for budgetary reasons, but also makes it easier for a business to move to an all-cloud solution in the future, if desired.

 

Cisco

In November 2016, Cisco introduced the new Cisco Spark Flex Plan, a single subscription plan that offers the same pricing for both cloud and on-site Cisco deployments. With the plan, customers that opt to install a telephony system on-site will have no up-front software licensing expenses, and instead will spread this out as a pay-as-you-go monthly subscription fee (customers will still need to purchase the server equipment that will run the software). The consistent cloud and premises pricing also makes it easier to move to an all-cloud solution in the future, if and when this makes sense for their particular business operation.

 

The new Cisco Spark Flex Plan essentially extends the Spark pricing packages to include premises-based equipment (the initial Spark packages included cloud-only solutions). Now, the Cisco Spark Message and Advanced Meetings package lets customers select either WebEx cloud services or Cisco’s on-site Meeting Server. The Spark Call packages include options for cloud-based or on-premises call control, either Spark Call or Cisco’s Hosted Collaboration Solution cloud-based solutions or Cisco’s on-premises Unified Communications Manager, Business Edition, Unity Connection, Emergency Responder or Expressway products.

 

NEC

In February 2017, NEC introduced UNIVERGE SV9100 BLUE, a complete out-of-the-box, on-premises business phone solution that evolved from the company’s SV9100 Communications Server for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs), but which offers monthly subscription-based billing (an operating expense payment model). Customers will avoid the upfront equipment costs and pay only for capacity needed (determined by the number of subscribers) through a single monthly bill that covers all system hardware, phones and SIP trunk services. The UNIVERGE BLUE Cloud Portal assigns system licensing and trunking for up to 32 desktop phone users, 28 mobile device users and 16 SIP trunks. Customers also select a 3- or 5-year contract which becomes a month-to-month agreement at the end of the contract term.

 

UNIVERGE SV9100 BLUE enables a subset of the full SV9100 capabilities, including 50 or so essential telephony features along with NEC’s Multi-Line Client (MLC) for iOS and Android devices and NEC’s UC Suite for PC-based or web browser-based call management. The next release due out later this year will enable SV9100 “Premium” license capabilities for all users which adds support for a UC Attendant, CRM integration and ACD. Hybrid networking is also forthcoming and will allow multi-site businesses to configure a unified network across all locations regardless of the deployment type (the cloud-based SV9100 BLUE or the on-premises SV9100 Communications Server).  Note: NEC’s UNIVERGE SV9100 was launched in 2014 to replace the earlier SV8100 SMB platform with a simpler, all-in-one solution and embedded applications for unified messaging, mobility and unified communications.

 

NetFortris (Fonality)

The former Fonality (recently acquired by NetFortris in February 2017) was one of the first to introduce a single pay-as-you-go pricing model that applies to both cloud and on-premises phone solution deployments. Back in 2013, Fonality recognized the appeal of subscription-based pricing to any business, regardless of the deployment model (cloud or premises). For customers that opt for an on-site deployment, the NetFortris/Fonality subscription includes a high-capacity server with the company’s hybrid-hosted technology for administration. The system’s control panel and configuration settings are stored with NetFortris/Fonality (a managed server) and accessed via a web browser; configuration settings are proactively backed up off-site. Customers that opt to have the entire solution hosted in the cloud also receive these proactive services, plus the benefit of having NetFortris/Fonality manage the hardware and network connections in a data center.

 

The company offers three tiered Editions: Essentials, Professional and Ultimate, with the Professional and Ultimate Editions deployed in the cloud or with a NetFortris/Fonality-provided appliance server on-site (the more basic Essentials Edition is a cloud-only deployment).  Pricing varies by the add-ons selected, and there is a built-in discount based on the number of users. (Note that customers still have the option of a one-time payment model for on-site equipment and/or software if desired.)

 

 

 

 

Tide is Turning

April 2017

 

The 2017 Enterprise Connect (EC17) Conference and Expo was buzzing as always with opportunities to meet with industry peers and learn about the latest trends and innovations related to enterprise communications. During the recent event in Orlando, FL, more than 180 vendors showcased their software, services and equipment around the cloud, team and social collaboration, contact center, analytics, business application integration (APIs) and the digital forms of communication that are facilitating real-time customer interactions, and ultimately, a higher level of customer service – the end goal for businesses in any vertical market.  

 

The tide is turning away from traditional, on-premises telephony (the PBX or IP-PBX) and toward cloud-based communications and collaboration as evidenced by the keynote speeches this year from some new players in the enterprise market, including Amazon and Google that highlighted their new cloud-based collaboration and communications solutions for team meetings, virtual room experiences and contact centers.

 

Several communications providers stood out due to the sheer number of announcements they made before and during EC17 (e.g. 8x8, Cisco and RingCentral). Read more here about some of the latest releases related to trends in team collaboration, contact center and business application integration.

 

Shifting Industry, Shifting Players

 

The number of traditional business telephony vendors continues to shrink as companies merge or disappear altogether in a market that is shifting toward cloud communications and away from on-premises telephony equipment. Below are some of the major happenings with long-time industry telephony equipment providers.

 

Avaya Inc. filed voluntarily for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on January 19, 2017, obtaining $725 million in debtor-in-possession (“DIP”) financing which, along with cash from its operations, is expected to allow business operations to continue as usual with minimal disruption. Avaya stresses that this is a decision to restructure the company’s finances and does not reflect upon the strength of their operations or business model. At the time of the filing, Avaya pointed to some positive metrics in its fiscal year 2016 financials, such as a positive cash flow for two consecutive years, an increase of 13% in total Q4 booking from Q3 and a Net Promoter Score of 58 which indicates “solid” customer satisfaction. Since then, Avaya entered into an asset purchase agreement to sell its Networking business to Extreme Networks (transaction to close by June 30, 2017). Stay tuned for more about the future of Avaya as it moves through the Chapter 11 process.

 

Fonality and its portfolio of business telephony, unified communications and collaboration solutions was recently acquired by NetFortris. The combination of Fonality UC products and services for SMBs augments the NetFortris IT and security products and specialized applications for enterprises, positioning the company as a single IT and UC provider for businesses of all sizes. Fonality was an early leader in offering a hybrid-hosted IP-PBX architecture and among the first to see the benefits in offering a single pay-as-you-go pricing model (subscription-based pricing) for both hosted/cloud UC services and premises-based UC deployments. The combined company will have over 11,000 customers and 300,000 end users in 41 countries, served by operating centers in three countries.

 

In March 2017, Toshiba Corporation of Japan announced abruptly it would "wind-down" its Telecommunications Systems Division (TSD) starting immediately, including all telecom sales in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The news came just as TSD was rolling out new software features for its IPedge communications platform and a new compact server for the small business, IPedge ES. The telecom group was also poised to announce some significant developments, including investments in geo-redundancy and survivability for its VIPedge cloud telephony service, additional hybrid cloud options and new pricing models. Per a letter to its dealer network, Vice President and General Manager Brian Metherell emphasized that TSD would “continue to support dealers in all warranty and maintenance obligations to customers” and would “waive early termination charges” for customers of its subscription-based cloud service.

 

Note: Since the writing of this blog, events have changed. In May, Mitel stepped forward, announcing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Toshiba to transfer assets and support obligations, including existing inventory. This asset transfer was completed on July 5, 2017. Shortly thereafter (also in July), Mitel announced a definitive agreement to acquire competitor ShoreTel; this transaction is expected to complete at end of September 2017.

 

 

 

 

Despite the Cloud, Part III

February 2017

 

The year 2017 started with a bang with respect to new premises-based telephony solutions hitting the market. Four vendors on our radar have introduced new on-site hardware in recent weeks – Accent (VoiceONE Onsite), Cisco (Business Edition 4000), Toshiba (IPedge ES) and Zultys (MX-E). Each has a different target or niche market to address with their new hardware, and each recognizes the value of offering a full spectrum of deployments – cloud, premises and hybrid arrangements that involve a combination of on-site equipment and hosted services. This flexibility protects existing telephony equipment investments, while allowing a business to take advantage of pay-as-you-go hosted services for new locations or for advanced applications. Hybrid cloud-premises deployments also ease the migration to an all-cloud solution in the future.

 

Looking back over 2016, the focus was still on a transition to the cloud as expected, with the majority of providers and vendors enhancing and building out their cloud-delivered unified communications (UC) portfolios. New cloud UC offers emerged from Microsoft, Avaya, Cisco, Mitel and others, and there were only a few on-site IP-PBXs introduced in 2016 by the vendors we track. This included new systems from three vendors (Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, Panasonic and Grandstream), down from five vendors in 2015 (read more here) and 11 vendors in 2014 (read more here).

 

So far, just a month or so into 2017, several new premises-based IP-PBXs have already entered the market. Here’s a brief run-down:

  • Accent, a national provider of telecommunications services and solutions, recently expanded its portfolio with a new premises-based IP-PBX called Accent VoiceONE Onsite. Accent, in a sense, is bucking the trend by introducing new on-site equipment when most providers and vendors are racing to build out their cloud unified communications (UC) offers.  Yet, the company, which has been a cloud-only provider of business communications services for years, has found that not every business is ready for the cloud, and so, Accent has designed and developed an on-premises system with the same features and functionality as its cloud counterpart. The new VoiceONE Onsite solution, suitable for businesses in the small and mid-size business (SMB) or enterprise space, is shipping now.
  • Cisco is expanding its Business Edition portfolio with the new Cisco Business Edition 4000 for SMBs with fewer than 200 users. The new platform will be deployed on-premises, but managed in the cloud. Business Edition 4000 replaces the earlier Business Edition 6000”S” introduced in 2015 to target the low-end of mid-market or branch offices with 25-150 users. More to come on the new BE 4000 model which becomes generally available in February or March of 2017 in the U.S., with other countries to follow.
  • Toshiba America Information Systems Inc., Telecommunication Systems Division extends its IPedge business communications portfolio with a new model for the smaller business. The new Toshiba IPedge ES offers much of the same built-in functionality of the company’s established IPedge IP-based communications solution – unified messaging, unified communications, mobility, IP networking and SIP trunking - but in a compact and less expensive hardware platform suitable for very small offices (to 24 users). This includes Toshiba’s UCedge Essentials client software that enables the convenience of using a smartphone as an office extension. Note: Since the writing of this, Toshiba Corporation announced abruptly it would "wind-down" its Telecommunications Systems Division (TSD) starting immediately, including all telecom sales in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Even more recently (May 11, 2017), Mitel signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Toshiba to acquire "certain" assets and support obligations, including existing inventory; this transaction completed in July.
  • Unified Communications (UC) solution provider Zultys announces the general availability of a new IP-PBX model, the Zultys MX-E. The new solution is designed to support larger enterprises with up to 2,000 users on a single appliance and offers a level of redundancy and reliability over and above earlier MX systems in order to meet the requirements of larger corporations. Major hardware components are duplicated to help ensure continued communications; this includes redundant, hot-swappable power supplies and storage drives and multiple cooling fans.

We’ll have to wait and see how the rest of 2017 pans out in terms of new premises-based system introductions. Will adoption of UCaaS be somewhat slower than anticipated? Will businesses demand more flexible options and increasingly turn to vendors that can offer all deployment types – on-site, in the cloud or a mix of the two? Hybrid deployments are a growing preference, according to recent surveys, and are a good migratory step to an all-cloud solution in the future. Will the prediction of hybrid models as “the norm” be further confirmed? We’ll be watching.

 

 

 

 

On Our Radar for 2017

January 2017

 

The challenges and requirements of the modern workplace are bringing about the need for new business communications solutions. Today, knowledge workers are likely to be spread among different locations, with many working remotely from a home office or frequently on the road and not necessarily even working within the same organization. New team collaboration tools are emerging as an effective way for dispersed business colleagues to communicate, collaborate and manage projects.

 

Additionally, businesses are increasingly incorporating video and other bandwidth-intensive cloud-based applications into their operations. More and more cloud unified communications (UC) providers are looking to Software-defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) to ensure Quality of Service (QoS) over public Internet connections and as a good approach to handling these high-bandwidth requirements.

 

And, there’s mobility. The convenience, intuitiveness and ease-of-use of mobile smartphones and tablets have made these our preferred devices for quick and easy management of enterprise communications, yet voice quality still lags behind that of a traditional hard-wired telephone. Next-generation office phones entering the market combine a mobile smartphone experience with the high quality audio of a desktop telephone.

 

Read more below on three of the trends that will be on our radar in 2017 – team collaboration apps, SD-WAN as it relates to the cloud UC experience and next-gen office desk phones – as business communications vendors race to keep pace with the changing ways we work.

 

Getting On Board with Team Collaboration

 

New team collaboration applications are emerging that aim to ease communications among virtual or distributed work groups. These new apps make multiple technologies such as messaging, audio, video, multi-party meetings and content sharing accessible from a single user interface from a desktop or a mobile device. Team members simply log into a virtual “room” or space where they can easily share together in real-time with others on the team. This concept of centralizing a particular project’s related conversations, interactions and documentation can really make a difference in the successful management and completion of a project.

 

Market research firms are beginning to track market impact and adoption. Here is what some are saying. Synergy Research is watching teamwork applications as “an emerging and super-high growth area that features Cisco’s Spark and vendors like Slack, Cotap and Redbooth.” IDC speaks to the intersection of workplace and mobile messaging. “The exposure of users to applications that are simple, easy to use, and that connect a disparate group often across geographic boundaries, has become a standard expectation.” IHS Infonetics acknowledges these are “the early days of team collaboration solutions,” but momentum and adoption are growing.

 

A range of team collaboration apps are now available, including many on the market for years from cloud providers (e.g. Slack, Redbooth, HipChat and others). Traditional telecom manufacturers (nearly all of which have now added cloud services to their portfolios) are quickly getting on board too with new team collaboration applications that are easily accessed as subscription-based cloud services. Read more here about several team apps now being offered by some of the established telecom vendors.

 

SD-WAN Meets Cloud UC

 

Software-defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) has been making big headlines lately as the next frontier for enterprise networking and a better approach to handling the high-bandwidth requirements of the modern workplace, including the increasing adoption of cloud-based applications for information technologies (IT) and unified communications and collaboration (UC&C).

 

SD-WAN technology promises not only to simplify branch office networking and the delivery of WAN services, but also touts application performance improvements and lower costs compared to traditional and less flexible network techniques such as Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) and Internet Virtual Private Networking (VPN).

 

Research firm IDC is watching this market develop and estimates that SD-WAN revenues worldwide will surpass $6 billion in 2020, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate or CAGR of 90% over 2015-2020. IDC cites a recent U.S. survey that shows as many as half of enterprises will consider a migration to SD-WAN over the next two years. Gartner also weighs in, predicting that 30% of enterprises will actually deploy SD-WAN technology in their branch offices by the end of 2019.

 

Click here for a Q&A on the SD-WAN approach and its benefits, particularly as these relate to cloud-delivered telephony and unified communications.

 

The New Office Desk Phone

 

The office desk phone is not obsolete – not yet. Though market statistics continue to show the steady decline in TDM (analog and digital) desk telephone shipments, IP desktop phones seem to be holding their own for now. According to the Q2 2016 statistics from market research firm MZA Telecom & IT Analysts, IP extensions/licenses grew a modest 4% year-over-year, while TDM extensions fell by 8%.

 

Business communications vendors are closely monitoring the market and the growing preference for softphones and mobile devices; and thus, directing more of their research and development dollars into software and applications. But, at the same time, there is general agreement that hard-wired endpoints still have the advantage over a mobile device when it comes to high quality audio, recording and speakerphone capabilities and remain an important requirement in today’s conference rooms and during critical business conversations.

 

The dilemma – or downside – for users is that while the office desk phone excels at audio quality, it typically lacks the convenience, intuitiveness and ease-of-use of a mobile smartphone which has become our preferred device for quick and easy management of communications. The solution? Combine the best of the mobile smartphone experience with the high quality audio of an office telephone, creating a more contemporary desktop device. A number of business communications manufacturers are doing just that – developing and rolling out “next-generation” IP-based and SIP-based phones that better meet today’s expectations. Read more here about some of the latest market entries.

 

 

 

 

SD-WAN Meets Cloud UC

September 2016

 

Software-defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) has been making big headlines lately as the next frontier for enterprise networking and a better approach to handling the high-bandwidth requirements of the modern workplace, including the increasing adoption of cloud-based applications for information technologies (IT) and unified communications and collaboration (UC&C).

 

SD-WAN technology promises not only to simplify branch office networking and the delivery of WAN services, but also touts application performance improvements and lower costs compared to traditional and less flexible network techniques such as Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) and Internet Virtual Private Networking (VPN).

 

Research firm IDC is watching this market develop and estimates that SD-WAN revenues worldwide will surpass $6 billion in 2020, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate or CAGR of 90% over 2015-2020. IDC cites a recent U.S. survey that shows as many as half of enterprises will consider a migration to SD-WAN over the next two years. Gartner also weighs in, predicting that 30% of enterprises will actually deploy SD-WAN technology in their branch offices by the end of 2019.

 

The SD-WAN Approach

 

Chris Cameron, President of Accent, shares his expertise on the SD-WAN approach and its benefits, particularly as these relate to cloud-delivered telephony and unified communications. Ohio-based Accent is a national provider of telecommunications services and solutions, including cloud telephony services based primarily on either Zultys or ShoreTel technologies depending on customer needs. About a year ago, the company began beta testing cloud-based SD-WAN technology powered by VeloCloud, and in early 2016, rolled this out to customers as an alternative to using more expensive MPLS for delivery of its VoiceOne business communications cloud offering.  Click here for the full Q&A.

 

 

 

 

Getting On Board with Team Collaboration

July 2016

 

Team collaboration applications are emerging in the business environment as an effective way to communicate, collaborate and manage projects. With today’s knowledge workers spread among different locations, working remotely from a home office or frequently on the road and not necessarily working within the same organization, collaboration requires a new and different way of working.

 

New team-based tools help with this challenge, allowing users to access multiple technologies such as messaging, audio, video, multi-party meetings and content sharing within a single user interface from a desktop or a mobile device. Team members simply log into a virtual “room” or space where they can easily share together in real-time with others on the team. This concept of centralizing a particular project’s related conversations, interactions and documentation can really make a difference in the successful management and completion of a project.

 

When it comes to any kind of teamwork, one can see why these new applications are being cited as potential “email killers” or at least good alternatives to email as a primary means of communication. Sifting through multiple strings of email messages among multiple people is certainly not an ideal way to manage a project and keep track of assignments and related materials. Consider the time savings involved when the entire project history is easily accessed in a single, centralized place and how easy it is for new team members to join in and to get up to speed. Support for touch-of-a-button video conferencing adds another important dimension – the human element of face-to-face interaction. Some surveys indicate that these newer team-based tools can cut down on the use of email by as much as 40% or more. Though, it is important to note, that team-based applications are only useful when the entire team is on board; email will be an important form of direct communications for a long time to come.

 

Analysts have been following this trend closely, with some coining the category as "workstream communications and collaboration” and more recently as "workstream messaging" considered to be a more succinct and less redundant way to describe “team collaboration.” Market research firms are beginning to track market impact and adoption. Here is what some are saying:

  • Synergy Research is watching teamwork applications as “an emerging and super-high growth area that features Cisco's Spark and vendors like Slack, Cotap and Redbooth.”
  • IHS Infonetics notes that “the use of collaboration tools continues to rise, including the arrival of team collaboration, which has gained momentum from upstarts such as Slack and established vendors like Cisco with Spark.”
  • IDC speaks to the intersection of workplace and mobile messaging. "The exposure of users to applications that are simple, easy to use, and that connect a disparate group often across geographic boundaries, has become a standard expectation."

Who is On Board?

 

A range of team collaboration apps are now available, including many on the market for years from cloud providers (e.g. Slack, Redbooth, HipChat and others). Just recently, BroadSoft acquired Intellinote, adding this team collaboration tool to its portfolio of cloud-based Unified Communications and Collaboration services. In June 2015, cloud UC provider RingCentral acquired Glip and its team messaging and collaboration application. Glip by RingCentral is included at no additional cost for all RingCentral Office customers, and RingCentral reports “significant traction” of Glip, citing three times the usage since the acquisition.

 

Traditional telecom manufacturers (nearly all of which have now added cloud services to their portfolios) are quickly getting on board too with new team collaboration applications that are easily accessed as subscription-based cloud services. Click here for highlights of several applications now available, or coming soon, from these established vendors (in order of their rollout), including Unify Circuit, Cisco Spark, Interactive Intelligence PureCloud Collaborate, Fonality’s partnership with Intellinote, Mitel MiTeam and Avaya Zang Spaces.

 

In the coming months, more of the established telecom vendors (and the cloud UC providers) will announce support for a team collaboration application, whether internally developed or obtained through partnerships or acquisitions. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

3 Cloud Trends to Watch in 2016

January 2016

 

Acceptance and adoption of hosted/cloud solutions for business telephony and unified communications is well underway as businesses, small to large, recognize the benefits in subscribing to unified communications “as-a-service” (UCaaS) versus purchasing and installing hardware and software on-site. There are obvious budgetary advantages to selecting a cloud solution such as reduced capital expenses, fewer IT personnel and predictable per-user monthly fees, to name a few. But, there are also strategic advantages in terms of scale, consistency across a network and the ease of adding future innovations that are appealing particularly to organizations with multiple, geographically-dispersed offices.

 

Below is our two cents on three trends to watch as the business communications market continues its transition toward the cloud in 2016.

 

Contact Center in the Cloud

 

Data from a number of market research firms confirms that cloud-based contact center solutions are increasingly becoming the preferred deployment model. A 2015 Call Center IQ research study concludes that cloud technology is the “new normal” for contact centers with some 52% of surveyed organizations already actively investing in cloud contact centers, and 76% expected to be investing by the end of 2016. CCIQ adds that organizational discussions about cloud contact center have shifted from “if” cloud is the right strategy to “how” best to integrate cloud solutions and which parts of the business will benefit the most from a transition to the cloud.

 

A large number of cloud UC providers, including those that sell a portfolio of cloud and premises-based solutions as well as cloud-only providers, are already onboard and offering business customers a cloud contact center alternative. Read more about some of the new services in the market.

 

Hybrid Cloud Implementations

 

Recent market studies validate the shift toward hosted/cloud UC in general, but also highlight a growing preference for “hybrid cloud-premises” implementations.  A 2015 IDG Enterprise survey finds the number of small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) and enterprises planning to implement a hybrid UC model is rising, citing that 54% of enterprises and 42% of SMBs in their survey are preparing to do so in the next two years (compared to 30% and 27% using a hybrid approach today).

 

Traditional business telephony vendors that have added hosted/cloud UC services to their portfolios of IP-PBX, contact center, messaging and other on-site telephony-related solutions are uniquely able to offer these flexible hybrid arrangements – an approach that pure cloud communications providers cannot provide. Customers can select the combination of on-premises equipment and cloud services that best fits their particular business challenges.

 

Look for hybrid cloud-premises implementations to remain a key strategy in 2016 and beyond. Read more about some of the hybrid cloud solutions from leading business communications vendors.

 

UCaaS for the Enterprise

 

While evidence shows that small businesses often find a fixed-rate (pay-as-you-go), quickly deployable UCaaS solution appealing, there is an increasing interest by mid-market and enterprise organizations with more sophisticated requirements and/or multiple, geographically-dispersed offices. The ease of adding new locations, consistency across a network and built-in disaster recovery are among the strategic benefits a hosted/cloud alternative can provide to larger, distributed enterprises.

 

Market research firm Infonetics confirms this trend “up-market,” highlighting an escalating interest in hosted VoIP services by large enterprises that continue to actively evaluate cloud UC. Analysts at Frost & Sullivan agree that hosted communications solutions are gaining traction with larger organizations, especially those with remote and mobile employees.

 

Many cloud UC providers are turning their attention toward the mid-market and enterprise space, so we can expect to see more enterprise-related cloud services in the near future. Read more here about some of the services already addressing the needs and requirements of larger businesses.

 

 

 

Revisiting the Hybrid Cloud

November 2015

 

About a year ago, we wrote about the hybrid cloud opportunity for traditional business telephony vendors that have added hosted unified communications (UC) services to their portfolios of IP-PBX, contact center, messaging and other on-site telephony-related solutions. These vendors see the value in offering flexible deployment options such that their customers can select on-premises equipment or hosted/cloud services according to their particular business communications needs and requirements.

 

Moreover, these vendors are in the perfect position to offer a hybrid solution that offers business customers (1) the flexibility in subscribing to hosted/cloud services for some applications and using on-site solutions for others and/or (2) the ability to network the two solution types (cloud and on-premises) with extension dialing and feature parity across all locations regardless of the deployment. Most of the vendors on our radar are offering some cloud-based applications, but not all have yet addressed a full hybrid networking scenario.

 

Recent market studies validate the shift toward hosted/cloud UC in general, but also highlight a growing preference for “hybrid cloud-premises” implementations.  A 2015 IDG Enterprise survey finds the number of small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) and enterprises planning to implement a hybrid UC&C model is rising, citing that 54% of enterprises and 42% of SMBs in their survey are preparing to do so in the next two years (compared to 30% and 27% using a hybrid approach today).

 

A hybrid cloud-premises telephony and UC solution can ease a variety of business challenges. For example, a business with an existing phone system on-site may find that subscribing to a call recording service or a hosted contact center capability is far more convenient than actually installing additional hardware and/or software for these applications. Or, perhaps a company wants to continue running a critical business application locally while taking advantage of a pay-as-you-go hosted service for telephony call control. Or, consider a larger, distributed enterprise that has significant investments in telephony equipment. Here, a staggered transition with deployments of hosted/cloud services for remote sites while continuing to use existing premises-based telephony systems at main locations will likely make the most sense.

 

New Hybrid Cloud Solutions in 2015

 

In our research last fall, we highlighted new hybrid cloud-premises solutions from Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, NEC, Tadiran Telecom, ShoreTel, Toshiba and Zultys (you can read about these here). Since then, many more hybrid cloud solutions have entered the market from the vendors we track, including from 3CX, Avaya, Cisco, Digium, Microsoft, Mitel, NEC, ShoreTel, Tadiran Telecom, Toshiba, Unify and Vertical. Click here to read about some of the 2015 entries.

 

 

 

Watching the Shift toward Cloud Contact Center

September 2015

 

Acceptance and adoption of hosted/cloud solutions for business telephony and unified communications is well underway. This includes a shift toward cloud contact center services as businesses recognize the benefits in subscribing to a contact center solution “as-a-service” rather than purchasing and installing hardware and software on-site. There are obvious budgetary advantages to selecting a cloud solution - reduced capital expenses, fewer IT personnel and predictable per-user monthly fees, to name a few. But, there are also strategic advantages in terms of scale, consistency across a network and the ease of adding future innovations that are particularly appealing to organizations with multiple, geographically-dispersed offices and remotely-located employees such as contact center agents and supervisors.

 

Data from a number of market research firms confirms that cloud-based contact center solutions are increasingly becoming the preferred deployment model. A 2015 Call Center IQ research study concludes that cloud technology is the “new normal” for contact centers with some 52% of surveyed organizations already actively investing in cloud contact centers, and 76% expected to be investing by the end of 2016. CCIQ adds that organizational discussions about cloud contact center have shifted from “if” cloud is the right strategy to “how” best to integrate cloud solutions and which parts of the business will benefit the most from a transition to the cloud.

 

These statistics line up with numerous analyst forecasts tracking trends in the cloud contact center market. IDC forecasts U.S. spending on hosted contact center services to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 17.7% to reach $2.0 billion in 2019. Research and Markets estimates the worldwide cloud-based contact center market will grow from $4.15 billion in 2014 to $10.9 billion by 2019, a compound annual growth rate of 21.3%.

 

New in 2015

 

A large number of cloud UC providers - including those that sell a portfolio of cloud and premises-based solutions as well as cloud-only providers - are already onboard and offering business customers a cloud contact center alternative. Click here to read about some of the new services that entered the market in 2015 from 8x8, Avaya, Interactive Intelligence, NEC, RingCentral and ShoreTel.

 

Desk Phones in 2015: A Contrast

July 2015

 

Around this time last year, we took a look at the desktop telephone market. In 2014, market analysts were reporting that desk phone sales were relatively flat or in decline due to a growing preference for softphones and mobile devices. Nevertheless, a significant number of new low-end, mid-range and advanced business telephones entered the market in first half 2014, including some 25 or so new phone models from eight of the business communications vendors on our radar. Read more here about new desk phones in 2014 from Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, Digium, Mitel, Panasonic and ShoreTel, Grandstream, snom and Yealink.

 

A year later, the market statistics are similar. A March 2015 report from research firm MZA reveals a continued decline in the global PBX/Call Control extensions and licenses market which was down a modest 0.5% in 2014 compared to 2013, but down a more significant 5.3% since 2012. The company’s first quarter (Q1) 2015 analysis shows a decline of 4% year-over-year versus Q1 2014.

 

Additionally, a look at new desk phones in 2015 reveals a significant contrast to the same period the year before. Since January 2015, there have been far fewer new desk phones entering the market - only 10 new models so far from the vendors we track. Recent entries include new “smart” desk phones from Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise and NEC (one model each), a new IP phone family from Vertical Communications (three models) and a handful of new SIP-based phones from Grandstream (four models) and Yealink (one model). Read more on the new 2015 models here.

 

Perhaps a few more desk phones will enter the market in the second half of 2015, but in general, it seems that business communications vendors are slowing down on the manufacturer of new hardware-based devices as they closely monitor the growing preference for softphones and mobile devices and direct more of their research and development dollars into software and applications.

 

As generations go by, the desktop phone will likely become obsolete. For now, it is holding its own as an important communications device that can ensure high quality audio, recording and speakerphone capabilities – a necessity in conference rooms and during critical business conversations. Voice quality on mobile devices will continue to improve. As it begins to equal or surpass that of hard-wired devices, we will be able to comfortably make the switch to all-mobile communications.

 

Despite the Cloud

February 2015

 

Premises-based IP-PBX Systems Enter the Market

 

Despite the undeniable migration toward cloud-based unified communications (UC), a significant number of new premises-based IP-PBX systems entered the market in 2014 (and early 2015). Business communications manufacturers are working hard to build out their cloud UC offers, but they also continue to enhance hardware and software for on-site deployments, and over the past year, many of these vendors introduced new IP-PBX systems that extend their reach into additional market segments.

 

Below is a run-down on new IP-PBX systems in 2014 (and early 2015), grouped generally by target market though each can cover a range of capacities.

 

Smaller Offices

 

Cisco has introduced the new Business Edition 6000S, an all-in-one business collaboration platform built into a Cisco 2921 Integrated Services Router (ISR) with a Cisco UCS-E server blade on which five pre-configured and “essential” virtualized applications are running. BE6000S targets the low-end of the mid-market or branch offices with 25-150 users and introduces a smaller scale, more cost-effective version of the full Business Edition 6000 virtualized telephony platform designed for mid-market organizations with up to 1,000 users. The new BE6000S fills a gap in Cisco’s product line, following the January 2014 end-of-sale of the company’s line of on-premises business telephony platforms for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs). The product has been orderable since December 2014, with generally availability as of January 30, 2015.

 

Epygi Technologies, a U.S.-based designer and manufacturer of business telephony solutions, unveiled a new line of “QX” telephony solutions in October 2014, including the new QX200 IP-PBX designed for offices with up to 200 employees and the QX50 IP-PBX designed for smaller offices with up to 50 users. Epygi’s IP phone systems have long been designed as affordable, easy-to-administer all-in-one IP-PBXs with voicemail, unified messaging and interactive voice response among the standard features. The new QX IP-PBXs add a number of built-in productivity applications which are easily activated by software license key (no additional hardware required) for call center, unified communications, mobility and video.

 

NEC began shipping the UNIVERGE SV9100 Communications Server in October 2014. The system is not entirely a new offer, but represents the next version of the company’s premises-based SV8100 telephony platform for SMBs, introducing a simpler design and new licensing concept with embedded, license-activated capabilities. The SV9100 comes in two server models. The SV9100”S” (Small) is designed as a cost effective, TDM-focused option for smaller businesses with up to 48 users. The SV9100”E” (Expanded) is an IP/TDM appliance that typically serves the under 100-user business, but can scale to handle as many as 896 users across up to 50 sites.

 

Panasonic recently announced the new KX-NS700 communications server for SMBs with a need for up to 288 extensions, including up to 160 analog or digital extensions and up to 128 IP extensions. The system offers scale and functionality over and above the company’s earlier KX-NCP500/1000 and KX-TDE100/200 converged digital/IP systems. Notable features include built-in voicemail with email notification (expandable via licensing), an embedded call center capability and license-activated One-Look Networking software that connects multiple KX-NS700 servers and the earlier, higher-capacity KX-NS1000 server as a single system with centralized administration and reporting. A new mobility application called Communications Assistant (CA) RCS joins the CA suite to support unified communications, including video calling and chat, on an iOS or Android smartphone or tablet; CA software is pre-installed on the system’s main processor. The KX-NS700 is generally available in the U.S. as of February 9, 2015 from authorized Panasonic resellers.

 

Unify (formerly Siemens Enterprise Communications) introduced a new OpenScape Business appliance in June 2014 that is designed specifically for small businesses, branch offices and home offices that have fewer than 30 users. The new X1 platform is an all-in-one solution with voice, unified communications and mobility capabilities built-in, giving the small business valuable functionality at an affordable price. The entry OpenScape Business X1 joins three higher capacity hardware options (the X3, X5 and X8 appliances), as well an IP-only software version.

 

Vertical Communications released Summit in July 2014 as a new communications appliance designed for smaller businesses looking for a cost effective phone system with popular telephony functionality built-in and some more advanced applications, such as an Android and iOS SIP client application and IP softphone, which are embedded and easily license-activated. Summit is positioned as a medium IP key system suitable for businesses with 5-50 users (the “sweet spot” in terms of optimal cost-effectiveness), but can scale to 140 extensions using one of four basic system units and one expansion unit. Summit can be part of an IP network (up to 250 sites) with Vertical’s small SBX IP and larger MBX IP key systems.

 

Zultys introduced the all-in-one MX-SE premises-based IP phone system in October 2014 for small offices with up to 50 users. The MX-SE replaces the company’s earlier MX30 (30 users) as a new hardware platform with higher scale, full T1/PRI/E1 support, increased memory and more processing power. The Zultys MX solution is known for “all-in-one” functionality that embeds capabilities like voicemail and call center as standard features, with other collaborative functions built-in and easily license-activated as needed, including unified messaging, meet-me conferencing and the company’s MXIE UC client application for desktops and mobile devices. Additional applications can be added optionally.

 

Mid-size Businesses

 

Avaya continues to evolve the IP Office communications platform for small and mid-size organizations and enterprise branch offices. The latest release (December 22, 2014) further expands the addressable market, introducing a new offer called IP Office Select which raises the capacity, improves resiliency and enhances the functionality to serve larger mid-market customers with up to 2,500 IP users across up to 150 sites. A virtualized version can be deployed on-site or in the cloud. IP Office R9.1 also integrates Web collaboration and adds other unified communications improvements.

 

Epygi Technologies, a U.S.-based designer and manufacturer of business telephony solutions, unveiled a new line of “QX” telephony solutions in October 2014, including the new QX2000 IP-PBX designed for mid-range and larger enterprises with up to 2,000 users. QX2000 replaces the now discontinued QX1000 IP-PBX, the company’s original entry into the enterprise market in 2011. Epygi’s IP phone systems have long been designed as affordable, easy-to-administer all-in-one IP-PBXs with voicemail, unified messaging and interactive voice response among the standard features. The new QX IP-PBXs add a number of built-in productivity applications which are easily activated by software license key (no additional hardware required) for call center, unified communications, mobility and video.

 

Grandstream introduced the UCM6510 IP-PBX in October 2014 as a new communications appliance aimed at mid-size enterprises with up to 2,000 users. UCM6510 is a compact unit that is easy to install and manage and enables some more advanced voice, video, mobility and data capabilities, without the licensing fees or recurring fees often required by competing solutions. Grandstream is also providing free firmware updates for the life of the product. The new UCM6510 represents the second IP-PBX appliance in Grandstream’s Asterisk-based UCM line-up after the company re-entered the IP-PBX market in 2013 with a smaller appliance, the UCM6100 with scalability to 500 users.

 

NEC began shipping the UNIVERGE SV9300 Communications Server in November 2014. The system is not entirely a new offer, but represents the next version of the company’s premises-based SV8300 platform. Both are IP/TDM appliances with the same user capacity of 1,536 users, but the new SV9300 supports a higher SIP trunk capacity, now 512 SIP trunks (up from 96) and networking of 50 sites as a single system image. The SV9300 also introduces a new licensing concept with embedded, license-activated capabilities. The system is a good fit for mid-size businesses due to its scalability and support for more sophisticated applications, including NEC’s UC for Enterprise collaboration suite, as well as vertical-specific solutions from NEC for the hospitality, healthcare and education industries.

 

Panasonic expanded its business phone system portfolio with a new IP- and SIP-based communications platform called KX-NS1000 designed for small to mid-size businesses. The new system, which began shipping in the U.S. in January 2014, scales from 10 to 1,000 networked users across up to 16 locations. As an all-in-one communications platform, the KX-NS1000 combines telephony, collaborative applications and built-in, centralized management tools in a single 19-inch rack-mount unit. The solution targets growing businesses looking to unify dispersed offices and remote employees into a cohesive system that is flexible to deploy, easily expanded and which ensures business continuity across locations.

 

Toshiba America Information Systems Inc., Telecommunication Systems Division released the IPedge Virtual Server in early January 2015. The new solution is a virtualized software-only version of the company’s IPedge business communications system that allows IPedge to co-reside with Toshiba’s contact center and reporting software on a single server running VMware vSphere technology. The IPedge Virtual Server is currently focused on the mid-market, but is available in different configurations to meet varying capacity and redundancy requirements. The largest Virtual EM Server scales to 1,000 users, including up to 360 contact center agents.

 

Larger Enterprises

 

Cisco began shipping a new Business Edition platform called Business Edition 7000 in first quarter 2014 that is packaged and price-optimized for enterprises with 1,000 to 5,000 users (though there is no enforced capacity limit). BE7000 comes preloaded with a number of Cisco unified communications and collaborative applications and is ready-to-run without the complex installation, setup and management typically associated with Cisco’s Unified Communications Manager and add-on collaborative solutions. In addition, scaling up to add more users, devices and applications is more easily accomplished due to the system’s modular, stackable design.

 

NEC released the UNIVERGE SV9500 Communications Server in October 2014. The system is not entirely a new offer, but represents the next version of the company’s premises-based SV8500 platform and is the first virtualized SV9000 offer. SV9500 is designed for larger enterprises running a VMware virtualized environment and will handle 4,000 users per system or 192,000 networked users at maximum capacity (the software can also be preinstalled on an NEC server or comes as a telephony appliance). The system is a good fit for vertical markets such hospitality, healthcare and education, as it can combine with NEC’s UC Attendant for Hospitality, a TeleCare solution that integrates GoogleGlass, and a cloud-based content management and collaboration solution for schools.

 

Samsung Telecommunications America, LLC (STA), a Dallas-based subsidiary of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., expanded its North American portfolio in early 2014 with new solutions for the enterprise, including a new server-based telephony system called the Samsung Communication Manager. SCM is a SIP-based all-in-one communications solution with enterprise-grade call control and embedded, license-activated applications for unified communications, conferencing and mobility – all on a single Linux-based server that is designed for easy installation and management. Samsung sees multi-location companies with 500-2,000 registered users as a good target market initially, but SCM can actually handle up to 3,000 users per server (SIP phones), or up to 6,000 users in an Active-Active redundancy mode.

 

Verticals and the Cloud

January 2015

 

Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) continues to gain in popularity, and analyst findings indicate that adoption within a variety of verticals is accelerating, including in the contact center, healthcare and education market segments which are on track to have very large growth within the next five years.

 

Research and Markets estimates the cloud-based contact center market will grow from $4.15 billion in 2014 to $10.9 billion by 2019 (a compound annual growth rate of 21.3%). Market analyst firm BCC Research projects the global telehospital/clinic and telehome market will grow to $43.4 billion in 2019, up from $16.3 billion in 2013 and $19.2 billion in 2014; this includes home-based telehealth technology that will rise to $24 billion by 2019 (up from $6.5 billion in 2013). Research by Docebo on e-Learning market trends finds this to be the fastest growing market segment in the Human Resource macro segment, and says adoption of the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model is playing a significant role; the worldwide market for self-paced e-Learning is projected to reach $51.5 billion in revenues by 2016.

 

Cloud UC provider TeleSpeak and contact center provider Voice4Net are two vendors collaborating to develop cloud-based services that specifically address these key, high growth industries. The targeted solutions will leverage Web-based real-time communications or WebRTC, an emerging open standard that allows the creation of browser-based applications for interactive real-time communications with voice, video and data.

 

Voice4Net has offered multimedia customer interaction, IVR, screen pop, outbound dialing, speech recognition, voice recording and other contact center solutions since 1996, and now, is redesigning its solutions using WebRTC technology, as well as leveraging this framework to develop new solutions for other vertical markets such as healthcare.

 

TeleSpeak entered the market in 2010 with a cloud PBX service based on Asterisk software, and subsequently developed a contact center offer (also based on Asterisk).  The solutions are sold primarily through channel partners to small, mid-size and larger enterprises in North America and Europe. The next versions of TeleSpeak’s ‘PBX Anywhere’ and ‘Contact Center Anywhere’ are being built upon the WebRTC solutions from Voice4Net, as are several new vertical-specific ‘Anywhere’ services that the company views as differentiators from many competing cloud providers that position a hosted PBX as their central offering. These include ‘Office Anywhere’ for group collaboration, ‘Contact Center Anywhere’, ‘HealthCare Anywhere’ and ‘Classroom Anywhere’.

 

Read more here about the WebRTC-driven  TeleSpeak ‘Anywhere’ cloud services due out in first quarter 2015.

 

Cloud UC: Moving Up-market

October 2014

 

More and more Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) providers are beginning to report a growing interest in hosted/cloud UC from mid-size and larger organizations. Adoption of hosted/cloud solutions is rising for all size businesses, and there are numerous benefits, including budgetary considerations particularly important to the small business owner - reduced capital expenses, fewer IT personnel and predictable per-user monthly fees, to name a few. But there are also strategic advantages that mid- and larger-size organizations with multiple, geographically-dispersed offices will want to consider:

  • Scalability: Unlike premises-based telephony systems that have fixed capacity limits, hosted/cloud UC services scale flexibly to meet changing requirements.
  • Ease of Adding New Locations: Add new users on-demand and quickly get new locations up and running. Or, stagger rollouts using hosted/cloud services for remote sites while continuing to use a premises-based telephony system at main locations.
  • Consistency Across a Network: Eliminate the need to manage multiple vendors by having just one provider that offers a consistent suite of cloud services across all locations.
  • Built-in Disaster Recovery: Communications can continue during outages with automatic failover to redundant servers located at the provider’s data centers.
  • Availability of Advanced Applications: Subscribe to call recording, contact center, Web and video conferencing or future innovations as-a-service, without having to install equipment on-site.

Analyst firms studying the UCaaS market confirm a trend “up-market.” Infonetics, in its latest report, sees broad adoption of hosted VoIP services from all size businesses, with escalating interest from large enterprises over the next five years. Frost & Sullivan agrees that larger, geographically distributed organizations are moving toward hosted services as the best way to “consolidate infrastructure and streamline vendor relationships.”

 

See below how three UCaaS providers are eyeing opportunities in the mid-market and larger enterprise space.

 

8x8: Mid-market Focus

 

8x8, a Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) provider based in San Jose, California, is moving forward on several fronts, with a focus on the needs and requirements of a growing base of mid-market business customers. This “mid-market focus” is driving the introduction of new capabilities that solve particular pain points for distributed businesses such as the new 8x8 Branch Office feature and more sophisticated contact center services (more on these here). It is also the impetus behind the company’s expansion into other world regions as more and more 8x8 customers, most of which are currently based in the U.S. and Canada, have multi-national operations that they need to tie into the corporate communications network, particularly customers with global call center operations. To date, 8x8 offers services to more than 39,000 small, midsize and distributed enterprise organizations that operate in over 40 countries.

 

Recently, 8x8 reported increased revenues driven it says by sales to mid-market and distributed enterprise customers. In the first quarter of the company’s fiscal year 2015, 8x8 reported a total revenue increase of 30% year-over-year, with 41% of service revenues coming from the mid-market.

 

NEC: Pipeline is growing

 

NEC has been busy reviewing its hosted/cloud Unified Communications (UC) service called NEC UNIVERGE Cloud Services. Based on feedback from sales partners in the field, NEC has “unbundled” and “repackaged” the Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) offer and altered the pricing to be more in line with competing cloud offers. This included re-aligning the telephony and unified communications features within each of the three package levels, as well as making new recommendations about the customer options for network transport, enhancing the management portal, improving the partner quoting tools and adding new requirements for technical support and service levels that will ensure a quality experience. Read more on this here.

 

Of late, NEC indicates that the “pipeline” for its UCaaS sales is growing in number of generated quotes and also in the size of businesses evaluating the hosted/cloud alternative. NEC cites recent sales wins on the order of thousands of endpoints, including a large state university in PA that will utilize NEC’s cloud service to replace an on-premises PBX solution across 86 buildings and 3,400 endpoints and a national retail furniture chain that has some 12,000 phones in locations around the country.

 

RingCentral: Investing in the Enterprise

 

RingCentral, a cloud business communications provider based in San Mateo, California, is moving forward in 2014 with a focus on the enterprise market, developing new features and applications that are important to larger businesses. In years past, RingCentral targeted smaller businesses with fewer than 100 employees, but today, the RingCentral Office business communication service can handle larger organizations with 1,000 users or more due in part to a new enterprise-grade packaged offering called RingCentral Office Enterprise Edition. As part of this move “up market,” RingCentral is also increasing internal staff to support a growing number of large enterprise customers and adding new internal programs designed to ensure quality of service. In 2014, RingCentral introduced a new Web and video conferencing service (RingCentral Meetings) and updated its mobile client application and expects to continue rolling out new features and capabilities every few months with an eye on the needs and requirements of enterprise customers. Read more on this here.

 

Recent financials indicate that RingCentral’s enterprise focus is paying off. In addition to posting a revenue increase of 40% year-over-year in the second quarter of 2014, the company announced its first customer deployment of over 1,000 users.

 

 

 

The Hybrid Cloud Opportunity

September 2014

 

It’s a transitional time in the business telephony market. In years past, businesses have largely installed telephony equipment on-site to handle voice and unified communications (UC) needs, including traditional premises-based IP-PBX, contact center, messaging and other on-site UC solutions. Now, there is a viable alternative — one which is growing in popularity as more and more businesses consider  subscription-based hosted/cloud services for telephony and UC to replace aging telecom equipment or as the best solution for a start-up company that doesn’t want the expense of purchasing and installing equipment or the ongoing administration and maintenance that follows.


Nearly all of the traditional business telephony vendors are on board with the hosted/cloud UC trend and are quickly adding hosted UC services to their portfolios of premises-based solutions. Whether a business decides to subscribe to a hosted service or prefers to purchase and install phone system equipment, a vendor that offers both hosted and on-premises options will have a solution to meet any requirement.


Moreover, traditional business telephony vendors are in the perfect position to offer a hybrid solution that makes use of both hosted services and on-site solutions. A “hybrid cloud-prem” telephony and UC solution can ease a variety of business challenges. For example, a business with an existing phone system already located on-site may find that subscribing to a call recording service or a hosted contact center capability is far more convenient than actually installing additional hardware and/or software for these applications. Or, perhaps a company wants to continue running a critical business application locally while taking advantage of a pay-as-you-go hosted service for telephony call control. Or, consider a larger enterprise that has significant investments in equipment. Here, a staggered transition with deployments of hosted/cloud services for remote sites while continuing to use existing premises-based telephony systems at main locations will likely make the most sense.


These, and other scenarios, make a hybrid cloud-prem solution a perfect fit. See below how a number of traditional business telephony vendors are already offering business customers a “hybrid cloud-prem” alternative.


Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise has launched OpenTouch Personal Cloud to deliver applications-as-a-service for any size enterprise and any vendors’ infrastructure (an overlay approach for an on-premises or cloud-based solution). The first three cloud-based applications include audio/Web conferencing, Video Store (video storing/sharing) and the Team Share file sharing tool and are available through business partners in Australia, France, Germany, Spain, UK and the United States.


NEC uses the same software stream (UNIVERGE 3C) for both a premises and UCaaS Cloud Services offer which lends itself well to hybrid environments in which a business can flexibly deploy on-site equipment and subscribe to hosted/cloud services as needed - the same familiar features are available in either deployment model. The cloud service can act as a disaster recovery solution for a premises-based UNIVERGE 3C system, or vice versa. Or, businesses that have installed the UNIVERGE 3C at a main office can take advantage of the cloud service at its branch locations. NEC is also introducing some cloud-based applications that will be available as a monthly subscription to customers that have an NEC telephony system (or non-NEC system in some cases) installed on-site.


Tadiran Telecom is offering a hybrid cloud approach by which customers with a distributed network can utilize the company’s Aeonix UC&C platform, hosted on Amazon Web Services, as a disaster recovery option for locally-deployed Aeonix servers (an Aeonix image is implemented from the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud Web service). The combination of AWS as a private cloud option and Aeonix servers installed on-site creates a hybrid cloud solution that eliminates points of failure and facilitates business continuity. Tadiran Telecom is currently using the Aeonix hybrid cloud deployment internally between its own international offices and cites cost savings and improved reliability due to the Amazon connection.


ShoreTel is releasing two cloud-based applications that are available as-a-service to customers with a premises-based ShoreTel IP-PBX: ShoreTel Connect for ShoreTel Sky Fax (an email-to-fax service) and ShoreTel Connect for ShoreTel Sky Scribe (a voicemail transcription service). Customers can take advantage of these capabilities simply by paying a monthly subscription fee rather than deploying and maintaining any additional hardware and/or software on-site. The new cloud applications are in controlled release as of August 2014, with general availability this fall. A third cloud-based ShoreTel Connect service, ShoreTel Mobility, is in beta testing.


Toshiba America Information Systems Inc., Telecommunication Systems Division has introduced Hybrid Cloud Networking among the company’s hosted/cloud telephony UC service (Toshiba VIPedge) and its on-premises business phone systems (Toshiba IPedge and Strata CIX). Toshiba customers with multiple offices can flexibly mix the two solution types and take advantage of telephone feature transparency, including 3- or 4-digit dialing, across all locations regardless of the deployment. Toshiba is also offering standalone cloud-based applications for customers with a Toshiba telephone system deployed on-site. With the new VIPedge Application Service, the company’s Unified Messaging and Unified Communications (UCedge) applications are now available “as-a-service” for a monthly subscription fee, eliminating the need to install additional hardware and/or software for these applications on-site.


Zultys is offering its hosted MXvirtual system as a business continuity option to back up on-premises MX phone systems or the MXvirtual virtualized software-only version of the phone system. The back-up solution is hosted by Zultys in its data centers, and customers pay a monthly fee depending on number of users; larger organizations can opt to rent a backup system.


It’s an exciting time in the business telephony and UC market as we witness the shift toward subscription-based hosted/cloud services for telephony and UC. In this transitional period, subscribing to hosted/cloud services for some applications and using on-site solutions for others is a win-win for businesses and for the vendors that serve them.

 

 

Cloud Partner Programs Emerge

June 2014

 

Hosted/cloud-based telephony and unified communications (UC) services continue to gain in popularity as an alternative to purchasing an on-premises system for business communications. In fact, actual sales figures and market analyst findings about the rapid advances in hosted/cloud-based telephony and unified communications (UC) services are impossible to ignore.

 

Providers of these services continue to report increases in cloud-based orders and rising renewal rates for their subscription services (more on this here). And, analyst projections all point to strong growth in the hosted/cloud UC market. For example, Frost & Sullivan forecasts that revenue associated with the North American Hosted IP Telephony and UCC Services Market will climb to $5.95 billion by 2019, up from $1.09 billion in 2012. Infonetics expects global VoIP services revenue to reach $88 billion by 2018 as more and more mid-market and larger enterprises evaluate and move applications to the cloud.

 

So, it is certain that traditional telephony and unified communications manufacturers will be investing heavily in hosted/cloud offers going forward. To this end, new partner programs focused on selling cloud-based solutions are emerging. The programs are designed to provide training, tools and flexible compensation models that will encourage partners to add subscription-based services to their traditional telephony equipment portfolios. Below read about some of the recently introduced programs.

 

Digium Cloud Agent Program

 

Digium recently expanded its Cloud Agent Program, adding multiple levels of participation for telephony agents to sell Digium’s Switchvox Cloud, a hosted business telephony service introduced in March 2013 for small and medium businesses (more on Switchvox Cloud here). While Digium has been primarily using its existing channel and direct sales force to sell cloud services, the company is now expanding the agent program by offering access to Web-based training, quote and configuration tools, product promotions, sales support and other benefits that make participation more attractive (cloud Agents can also sell Digium’s premises-based products). There are three Digium Cloud Agent program levels and associated compensation models:

  • Master Agents manage partners and subagents who sell services to business customers. Monthly, recurring commissions are paid directly by Digium as long as the end user remains a Digium customer. Master Agents are required to bill $250,000 annually.
  • Premier Agents provide Digium services directly to business customers. Monthly, recurring commissions are paid directly by Digium as long as the end user remains a Digium customer. Premier Agents are required to bill $50,000 annually.
  • Subagents work with a Maser Agent to provide services directly to business customers. Monthly, recurring commissions are paid by a Digium Master Agent. Subagents have no annual billing commitment.

ESI Reseller Partner Program – New Cloud-level Certifications

 

Estech Systems Inc. or ESI has a channel-only sales approach (no direct sales), and the company is focused on empowering its channel partners to compete and succeed. To encourage partners to add the new subscription-based service to their traditional telephony equipment portfolio, ESI has redesigned and expanded its partner program with access to more marketing resources (collateral, technical documentation, presentations, video demonstrations), new training and cloud-level certifications and additional financial benefits such as opportunities to earn marketing funds – all of which will help partners succeed in selling both premises-based and hosted/cloud-based solutions. ESI has realigned the partner program into three levels of participation: Select, Premium and Elite.

  • Select Partner: This introductory level includes access to marketing collateral, technical documentation and a knowledge base via ESI’s online portal.
  • Premium Partner: Premium partners must complete ESI’s Sales and Level I certification program which enables them to receive higher compensation for sales. Premium partners can also participate in ESI’s Marketing Co-Op program to earn marketing funds which can be used for technical training and certification, the purchase of ESI promotional items or to pay for mail campaigns and other advertising.
  • Elite Partner: Elite partners must complete extensive sales and technical certification training which enables them to receive the highest compensation for sales. Elite partners can also participate in ESI’s Marketing Co-Op program to earn marketing funds which are used for technical training and certification, the purchase of ESI promotional items or to pay for mail campaigns and other advertising. These partners also have access to ESI’s new demand generation program. ESI provides Elite members with consultation services to help with custom marketing and lead generation.

Fonality Partner Exchange – Recurring Commissions

 

Fonality recently announced a simplified partner program with three levels, Referral, Authorized and Certified (down from four levels previously). The so-called “No Bull” Partner Program is designed to reduce complexity and potential partner conflict as the company looks to increase channel-generated revenue to more than 50% of its business in 2014. Fonality is also offering upfront payments along with recurring commissions to help offset costs and educate partners that are transitioning to a subscription-based sales model. (Fonality’s telephony and unified communications products target small and mid-sized businesses with 10-250 employees and can be deployed as hardware and software on the customer premises or as a hosted/cloud communications solution.)

 

The revamped program offers partners multiple ways to join (as agents or resellers), along with revenue-sharing opportunities and marketing support at both the Authorized and Certified levels.

  • Referral Partners simply pass leads to Fonality and are compensated (per user) when a lead results in a closed sale.
  • Authorized Partners can transact as either agents or resellers with simple sales requirements to retain this partner level. As agents, these partners are responsible for the sales process, co-selling alongside a dedicated channel manager; they generate leads and are compensated if a lead results in a closed sale (compensation is upfront and recurring). In the agent model, Fonality is responsible for customer billing and support. As resellers, these partners “own” the customer throughout pre- and post-sale activities. Reseller partners purchase discounted hardware and software from Fonality and resell this directly to the customer, typically with their own value-added services in the mix; they are responsible for customer billing.
  • Certified Partners complete a sales certification program and take the lead in the sales and marketing of Fonality solutions to customers and the prospect base. These partners participate in the entire sales process, performing customer on-boarding and product implementations and providing technical support. Certified partners also have the ability to act as resellers or agents. The partner (acting as a reseller) purchases discounted hardware and software from Fonality and resells this directly to the customer, typically with their own value-added services in the mix; they are responsible for customer billing.

ShoreTel Champion Partner Program – Cloud Track

 

ShoreTel has expanded its Champion Partner Program to make it easier for channel partners to participate in the growing hosted/cloud unified communications market. More than 600 current partners (and future partners) can take advantage of new tools and training to sell ShoreTel Sky cloud UC services in addition to ShoreTel’s premises-based solutions. Partners can choose from three new cloud partner “tiers” and associated compensation plans designed for varying levels of involvement in sales process, as follows:

  • The “Referral Tier” is designed for IT consultants or technology services companies that provide leads/prospects to ShoreTel. These referral partners receive a one-time commission payment for new ShoreTel Sky clients.
  • The “Approved Tier” is designed for VARs and systems integrators who identify and qualify prospects for ShoreTel Sky services, working closely with ShoreTel’s sales team that will ultimately close the sale. These partners make an annual revenue volume commitment and are paid a percentage of the recurring revenue from these sales.
  • The “Enabled Tier” is for VARs and systems integrators that want to manage the sales process from beginning to end, identifying prospects and selling services directly. These partners make an annual revenue volume commitment and earn a higher percentage of the recurring revenue.

 

 

Desk Phones Here to Stay, for Now

April 2014

 

There has been a lot of debate about the future of the office desktop telephone. Studies continue to show that more and more employees are coming to work equipped with their own mobile phone and that “bring your own device” remains the general trend. Many market analysts are reporting that desk phone sales are relatively flat or even declining; other industry experts suggest the IP extensions market will grow for some period of time (sales of earlier TDM-based phones will decrease). Recent statistics from market research firm MZA reveal modest growth with the IP extensions/licenses market up by just 2% year-over-year in fourth quarter 2013. So, are traditional desktop phones slowly being replaced by the growing preference for mobile devices, or will workers actually require multiple device options, including a desk phone, for the foreseeable future?

 

Perhaps as generations go by, the desktop phone will become obsolete, but for now, it remains an important alternative. There are still many relevant use cases for a traditional hard-wired phone that is “always on” and that can ensure high quality audio and speakerphone capabilities. Wired phones also make the most sense for conference rooms and common areas like hallways, lobbies or cafeterias where deploying a PC/headset or mobile device is not practical.

 

Nevertheless, even as the debate goes on, business communications manufacturers continue to introduce new low-end, mid-range and advanced business telephones. Many of the new entry-level phones come with more sophisticated functionality such as support for Web applications and Gigabit Ethernet. New high-end media phones may integrate a telephone with video and/or Internet content and access to popular social media applications. Some so-called ‘smart desk phones’ incorporate an Android operating system for running Android applications, allowing users to access features and functionality commonly associated with today’s smartphones and tablets.

 

The large number of new desktop IP phones showcased at the recent Enterprise Connect conference in Orlando is a good indication that desk phones are here to stay, at least for now. Read more below on the latest entries.

 

Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise introduces a new family of Premium DeskPhones for small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) and mid- to large organizations. Notable features include a contemporary design, wideband audio, high quality speakerphone, integrated Bluetooth support (8068 IP model), add-on modules and accessories, an alphabetic keyboard, navigator and programmable soft keys and access to applications from Alcatel-Lucent’s OmniPCX or OpenTouch communications platforms.  All three IP models have built-in dual Gigabit Ethernet ports and support Power over Ethernet, but with varying display types and contextual and programmable keys: the 8068 IP Premium DeskPhone ($610 US List) has a larger color display and integrated Bluetooth support; the 8038 and 8028 IP Premium DeskPhones sell for $470 and $380, respectively. Two new digital models are similar in ergonomics to their IP counterparts: the 8029 Premium DeskPhone ($300) and the 8039 Premium DeskPhone ($430).  The new Premium DeskPhones will replace Alcatel-Lucent’s earlier IP Touch 4xx8 and 4xx9 desktop phones.

 

Digium has added a fourth phone model to its D-series IP desk phone family designed for the company’s Asterisk open source PBX software, Switchvox IP-PBX and Switchvox Cloud hosted business telephony service. The new entry-level, 2-line D45 phone with Gigabit support ($179 MSRP) joins three other models in the D-series, including  the entry-level D40 (without Gigabit support; $129), the mid-range D50 ($189) and the D70 ($299) for executives and administrators. The phones are tightly integrated with the Digium system, so users have direct access to Asterisk or Switchvox features from the phone for functions like call recording and call parking, visual voicemail, user presence, call queuing information, custom phonebooks, searchable directories and click-to-dial. All D-series phones support HD Voice, multiple line appearances, plug-and-play provisioning, Power-over-Ethernet, context-sensitive soft keys and other popular features.

 

Grandstream Networks has introduced a new series of color-screen Gigabit HD IP desktop phones for SMBs and enterprises. All models are multi-line and have XML programmable softkeys, BLF extension keys, dual Gigabit network ports, multi-way voice conferencing, Electronic Hook Switch (EHS) support for Plantronics headsets and are preloaded with weather and currency exchange real-time Web applications. The 3-line GXP2130 with 2.8-inch color LCD screen sells for just $99. The more advanced 4- and 6-line GXP2140/2160 phones ($139/$159) have a larger 4.3-inch color display, more programmable keys, support for add-on modules and Bluetooth and USB capabilities. Use of the open standards based SIP protocol makes the GXP phones interoperable with a wide range of SIP-compatible telephony systems and hosted/cloud services.

 

Mitel is introducing four new 6800i series SIP business desk phones that build on the earlier Aastra 6700i series (Aastra is a leading enterprise communications manufacturer that recently merged with Mitel). The new series supports Aastra’s high definition Hi-Q™ audio technology, XML capabilities and an eco-friendly design that incorporates recycled and biodegradable material and energy-saving features (PoE or an optional Efficiency Level “V” compliant power adaptor). Use of the open standards-based SIP protocol makes the 6800i phones interoperable with a wide range of SIP-compatible telephony systems and hosted/cloud services. Models include the 2-line 6863i ($99.99 MSRP) for light telephone users, the 9-line 6865i ($179.99) with dual Gigabit ports, the 9-line 6867i ($229.99) with advanced speakerphone, large color LCD display, optional detachable keyboard and expansion modules and the 12-line, color-screen 6869i ($299.99) for power users. The 6800i series will begin shipping in mid-April.

 

ShoreTel has begun shipping the ShoreTel 400 series SIP desk phones for use with the company’s ShoreTel Sky cloud UC service, enabling channel partners to provide an end-to-end ShoreTel cloud-based solution (previously, ShoreTel Sky (formerly M5 Networks) supported only Cisco 7900 series IP phones). Three ShoreTel 400 series models are available for use with ShoreTel Sky, all with 8-line appearances, full duplex speakerphone, Electronic Hook Switch (EHS) support and other popular features.  The ShoreTel IP485G ($429 list price) has a large, color, backlit display and built-in Gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1000Mbps) switch. The IP480G ($369) has a grayscale display and Gigabit Ethernet support; the IP480 ($299) is similar, but houses a 10/100Mbps Ethernet switch. ShoreTel introduced this SIP-based desk phone portfolio in 2013 for the company’s premises-based IP-PBX (ShoreTel 14 and beyond); a fourth, more basic 2-line model (the IP420 for $189) is also available for premises-based deployments.

 

snom has expanded its 7xx SIP desk phone series with a new entry-level model, the snom 715. The new desktop phone has some advanced features such as a dual port Gigabit Ethernet switch, HD audio and a USB connector (for a Bluetooth headset or other connections), but sells at a competitive price ($139 MSRP). snom’s 7xx series portfolio also includes the entry-level 710 ($129), mid-range 720 ($219) and the higher-end, color-screen 760 ($329) that offer a range of capabilities and price points to fit varying requirements and budgets. Use of the open standards-based SIP protocol makes the snom phones interoperable with a wide range of SIP-compatible telephony systems and hosted/cloud services.

 

Yealink Network Technology Ltd, a China-based voice and video over IP phone designer and manufacturer, has added a new desktop model to its latest SIP-T4 Series of IP phones. The new T48G IP Phone designed for executives and business professionals features a large, 7-inch color touchscreen, built-in Bluetooth headset support (via USB), dual port Gigabit connectivity and HD voice among other features. Other models in the series include the T46G color Gigabit phone, the T42G Gigabit phone and the more basic T41P. Use of the open standards-based SIP protocol makes the Yealink phones interoperable with a wide range of SIP-compatible telephony systems and hosted/cloud services.

 

 

 

Cloud UC Going Strong

January 2014

 

Traditional telephony and unified communications manufacturers continue to move into the hosted/cloud UC market, with many now offering their premises-based telephony solutions as a subscription-based service. (Click here for more on what’s behind this ongoing trend.)

 

A number of vendors are reporting positive financials from the cloud side of their business. In Mitel’s second quarter fiscal 2014 review, the company cited strong cloud sales with the installed cloud customer base growing 70% year-over-year to about 337,000 total cloud users.  Interactive Intelligence’s third quarter 2013 results indicated strong order growth, particularly in cloud-based orders that now represent 48% of the company’s total orders. ShoreTel’s first quarter fiscal 2014 report revealed a 32% increase in ShoreTel Sky cloud revenue year-over-year.

 

Encouraging financial reports from these vendors and others, coupled with analyst forecasts that indicate strong growth in the hosted/cloud UC market, make it certain that vendors will continue to invest heavily in hosted/cloud offers going forward.

 

Here, we look at some of the new hosted/cloud UC offers that entered the market throughout 2013.

 

ESI Enters the Cloud UC Market, Acquires Vintalk Hosted PBX and SIP Trunking Services

 

In January 2013, Estech Systems Inc. (ESI) (www.esi-estech.com) gained instant entry recently into the cloud UC market by acquiring Vintalk hosted PBX and SIP trunking services from San Diego-based Vinculum Communications. ESI began offering the SIP trunking service, along with audio conferencing, fax and disaster recovery services immediately and is currently beta testing the hosted PBX service in conjunction with its own line of SIP telephones (general availability has been rescheduled for first quarter 2014). (more…)

 

Digium Enters the Hosted UC Market with Switchvox Cloud

 

In March 2013, Digium (www.digium.com) introduced a new option for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) called Switchvox Cloud, a hosted business telephony service designed as an alternative to purchasing an on-premises telephone system. Switchvox Cloud mirrors Digium's premises-based IP-PBX, Switchvox SMB, in features, functionality and built-in UC. All Switchvox SMB capabilities carry over into the new Switchvox Cloud service and are included with no additional fees. (more…)

 

Alcatel-Lucent Unveils OpenTouch Suite for Cloud

In March 2013, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise (http://enterprise.alcatel-lucent.com/) announced a new suite of cloud-based services for business enterprises called the OpenTouch Suite for Cloud. The suite includes three offers to be delivered via service providers, system integrators and channels: (1) OpenTouch Enterprise Cloud (for mid-to-large enterprises based on OpenTouch and OmniPCX Enterprise; available as of March 2013); (2) OpenTouch Office Cloud (for small and mid-sized businesses; available as of November 2013); and (3) OpenTouch Personal Cloud (to deliver applications as a service for any size enterprise; due out in first quarter 2014). (more...)

 

Avaya Collaborative Cloud Enables UC, CC and Video Services

 

In March 2013, Avaya (www.avaya.com) furthered its position in the cloud space with three new offers under the umbrella, the Collaborative Cloud, allowing cloud service providers (CSPs) to offer Avaya Unified Communications (UC), Contact Center (CC) and Video solutions as cloud-based services. Avaya has a pay-as-you-sell utility-based pricing model that lets CPS pay only for what customers actually use. The new cloud services include: (1) Avaya Cloud Enablement for Video (Avaya’s Radvision video conferencing portfolio of room, telepresence and personal video solutions available as cloud-based services); (2) Avaya Cloud Enablement for UC and CC (Avaya Aura-based UC and CC platforms available as cloud-based services); and (3) Avaya Managed Private Cloud for CC (private cloud contact center service for small and medium enterprises with 100-500 agents). (more...)

 

Interactive Intelligence Launches CaaS Small Center in U.S.

 

In March 2013, Interactive Intelligence Group Inc. (www.inin.com) introduced a new cloud-based communications-as-a-service (CaaS) for small contact centers. CaaS Small Center is designed for small organizations with 10-50 contact center agents and is based on the company’s Customer Interaction Center (CIC) software for contact center and enterprise IP telephony. CaaS Small Center includes a subset of CIC contact center functionality with core features that are meant to keep the service affordable and simple to deploy. CaaS Small Center is available now in the U.S., with Canada to follow later in 2013. (more...)

 

NEC UNIVERGE Cloud Services: ‘All NEC’ from A-Z

 

In March 2013, NEC (www.necam.com) launched the NEC UNIVERGE Cloud Services or nUCaaS (Unified Communications as a Service) in the U.S. market for small and mid-size businesses (SMBs). The cloud service uses the company’s UNIVERGE 3C as the core software. NEC is unique in that it owns and manages the technology and transport from end-to-end and has designed its cloud service to be dealer-friendly so that channel partners can add the service to their portfolio without investing a lot of money. (more...)

 

Mitel Introduces Mitel AnyWare Cloud Contact Center Service

 

In April 2013, Mitel (www.mitel.com) introduced the Mitel AnyWare Cloud Contact Center service for small and mid-size businesses. Initially offered in the U.S., the new service is available to Mitel AnyWare hosted PBX/UC subscribers and provides customer service capabilities, including Automatic Call Distribution (ACD), real-time reporting and integration with CRM applications such as Salesforce.com, SugarCRM and Microsoft Dynamics CRM; the service allows up to 100 participants (agents), including 10 supervisors. Mitel AnyWare Cloud Contact Center is fully managed by Mitel in data centers.

 

On the horizon… Zultys MXvirtual Managed Service Offer

 

In November 2013, Zultys (www.zultys.com) announced it will introduce MXvirtual, a virtualized software-only version of the company’s MX IP phone system that allows the solution to co-reside with other applications on a single server running VMware vSphere technology. Large corporations can run MXvirtual on their existing VMware infrastructure, or authorized Zultys channel partners can act as managed service providers, hosting the solution in their own facility and offering the solution as a subscription-based service to end customers. MXvirtual is due out in early in 2014 with Zultys MX Release 9.0.(more...)

 

 

Simplifying the SMB Phone Solution Purchase

November 2013

 

In today’s challenging business environment, businesses are seeking new ways to remove the barriers typically associated with purchasing a business phone solution.  Upfront costs, complex installations, lengthy deployments and long-term contracts - all part of the traditional on-premises phone system buying process - are now viewed as inhibitors in our fast-paced, highly competitive world. How can a business bypass the typical business phone solution purchase and concentrate on what’s most important - integrating unified communications solutions that will streamline operations, make employees more productive and improve customer service, all of which lead to more business revenue?

 

Small and mid-size business (SMB) business phone solution provider Fonality (www.fonality.com) has an answer. The company is introducing a new way to purchase Fonality solutions in a single pay-as-you-go pricing model. The new per user, per month subscription-based pricing is unique in that it applies to both hosted/cloud and on-premises phone solution deployments.

 

Many businesses are finding that paying a monthly fee for their communications (the typical hosted/cloud model), in lieu of purchasing on-premises equipment and requiring personnel to manage it, makes good sense in today’s uncertain economic environment. Hosted/cloud solutions also bring inherent redundancy and disaster recovery capabilities and the simplicity of signing up for innovative technologies as soon as these become available. Multi-site and growing organizations, in particular, can benefit from the scalability of an on-demand, pay-per-user model and how quickly new locations can be up and running.

 

While paying a monthly fee is the norm for a hosted/cloud service, it is not common when purchasing an on-site telephony system that involves installing system equipment and related components. However, Fonality sees pay-as-you-go pricing as appealing to any business, regardless of the deployment model. For customers that opt for the on-premises deployment, the Fonality subscription includes a high-capacity server with Fonality’s hybrid-hosted technology for administration. Read more on Fonality's solutions for SMBs with 10-250 employees.

 

So, it seems Fonality may be on to something with its unique pay-as-you-go pricing for both hosted/cloud and on-premises phone solution deployments. We look forward to hearing more on the company’s progress in 2014 and whether other business phone system manufacturers will follow suit.

 

 

 

Taking Your Business to the Next Level

August 2013

 

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology has revolutionized voice communications for businesses by transporting voice digitally over the Internet, rather than via the traditional public switched telephone network. Transmitting both voice and data packets over the same bandwidth utilizes resources efficiently for significant savings, but also facilitates the connection of remote offices, simplifies failover and disaster recovery, and perhaps even most importantly, opens the door to the latest converged solutions such as mobility, social networking, instant messaging and video. Imagine the productivity boost for your business as you unleash the next-generation collaborative capabilities that will enable you to be more competitive in today’s challenging business environment.

 

Truth be told, IP-based communications is the only alternative going forward. All of the Unified Communications (UC) and telephony solutions entering the market today are based on IP technology, whether these are premises-based (the equipment is located at your site) or hosted (equipment is located at a service provider’s data center). There are of course still legacy analog and digital phone systems that continue to linger in many, many businesses, but this aging equipment is slowly being replaced by current IP-based solutions. There are also “hybrid” phone systems that support both VoIP and analog/digital connections, allowing business customers to retain the use of older telephones already owned. But, these are phasing out too as IP telephones suitable for any need and budget continue to fill the market.

 

As a business, you have options when it comes to utilizing VoIP. You can purchase a premises-based IP phone system for your office or subscribe to a hosted or cloud unified communications (UC) service. There are pros and cons for either type of solution, and plenty of factors to consider. Let’s take a closer look.

 

Premises vs. Hosted Solutions

 

Today’s businesses are carefully evaluating whether subscribing to a hosted/cloud UC service or purchasing an on-premises system makes more sense for their particular business requirements. Consider these factors and possible implications:

  • Costs – When purchasing a premises-based IP phone system, you will have up-front capital expenses for system equipment, related components and telephones, as well as ongoing maintenance and operation costs. Hosted/cloud services require a monthly subscription fee per user which adds up over time and may become cost-prohibitive, especially for larger businesses.
  • Scalability - User capacity varies by platform or service. Premises-based IP phone systems have fixed capacity limits, so a growing business may need to add to or replace equipment down the road. There are different tiers of hosted providers, with some supporting only very small businesses (1-20 seats) or targeting small to mid-size organizations (50-500 seats); others might scale to 2,000 seats or more. Here too, a growing business may face scalability limits and may need to switch to another provider to meet capacity requirements.
  • Features and applications - Standard features and add-on options vary by platform or service. Premises-based phone systems generally come with hundreds of popular phone system features, and many have built-in applications that are easily license-activated as needed. Most hosted solutions have a more limited feature set that may include only standard telephone functions; some common PBX features and applications such as mobile phone twinning or automatic call distribution may be extra options that add to the per-month charges.
  • Resiliency - Failover and disaster recovery may or may not be supported. Some premises-based IP phone systems do not support any type of redundancy; system failure can mean a communications blackout. Others may support hardware duplication or software-based failover mechanisms at an extra cost. Hosted telephony solutions tout reliability, redundancy and disaster recovery via automatic failover to redundant servers located at the service provider’s data centers. If offered, this redundancy, which allows communications to continue during outages, also comes at an extra monthly fee.
  • End-user Devices – Generally, the manufacturers of premises-based IP phone systems develop and enhance their own portfolio of entry-level, mid-range and high-end telephones that are well-integrated with the system. Hosted/cloud UC vendors, on the other hand, support selected third party IP/SIP phones which may be restrictive in terms of the range of models and feature support; the addition of new phones will depend on the vendor’s decision to certify and test new devices.
  • Support - One of the most critical elements is the level of support available, and pre-and post-sale support varies by provider. Hosted telephony providers take different paths when it comes to supporting their customers. Some offer little support at all; for others, support may come with a hefty monthly fee. Experienced, long-time IP phone system vendors generally offer high-level support services at an extra cost. This includes the initial assessment and quotation and the installation, as well as ongoing support for future needs or issues.

 

Small businesses in particular may find that paying a monthly fee to utilize a hosted/cloud service for their communications, in lieu of purchasing on-premises equipment and requiring personnel to manage it, can make good sense in today’s uncertain economic environment. On the flip side, the cost of a subscription-based hosted service with monthly fees per user can add up depending on the service options selected; business-grade broadband Internet, end user devices and a router must also be purchased for your office(s). Hosted/cloud UC solutions charge a monthly fee that is typically $25-$50 per user per month (more to add-on some features), so a business with 10 employees at say $30/month is a $300 per month or $3,600 per year, plus the initial cost of 10 phones and a router. This may be preferable as a way to avoid vendor lock-in and the up-front capital expense of perhaps $6,000 or so to purchase and install a small 10-user IP-PBX bundle for your site, then handle the ongoing maintenance and operation.

 

There are hundreds of VoIP solutions on the market. Avaya, Cisco, Digium, Mitel, NEC, Panasonic, Samsung and Toshiba are just a few of the many manufacturers that develop and sell premises-based IP phone systems that are installed on-site. Many of these manufacturers are also now adding a hosted/cloud UC service to their portfolio (click here to read more on this emerging trend). Alternatively, a subscription-based hosted/cloud phone or UC service can supply your communications needs without the hassle of deploying and maintaining on-site equipment. Nextiva, 8x8, Vocalocity, Ringcentral and Fonality were listed as top cloud-based business VoIP providers earlier in 2013 by GetVoIP.com, though there are far more subscription-based services than these on the market.

What’s Your Business Environment?

 

VoIP or IP telephony offers advantages for any business environment. Here are some examples. 

  • Small Office.  IP communications can make a small office seem big. An IP-based communications solution will help you maximize your time, respond efficiently to customers and maintain a professional appearance whether you are in or out of the office. Web-based remote programming and the latest converged technologies such as receiving voicemail to an email inbox, presence status updates with calendar integration and video calling are just a few of the IP capabilities that will keep you connected to colleagues and customers at all times.
  • Multi-site Organization. Connecting multiple offices over an IP network unifies your locations to act as a single system and can be set up to enable automatic take-over from one system to another during system outages, ensuring that business continues. With a hosted/cloud UC service, multi-site and growing organizations will appreciate the ease of adding new users on-demand and how quickly new locations can be up and running.
  • Call Center. You can stand out from your competition and provide personalized service to incoming callers with an IP-based call center and auto attendant. With IP technology, the system can direct calls to the most appropriate department or staff member, regardless of their location. Additionally, you can integrate non-voice channels so that customers can contact you via their preferred method, perhaps by email or Web chat. And you can tie in popular social media sites, allowing your agents to communicate with customers via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or other online services.
  • Mobile Staff.  The latest IP-based mobile phone applications will help your staff maximize their time and juggle multiple tasks. Mobile applications are easily downloaded to popular Apple iPhone, iPad, Google Android and other mobile devices. Your staff maintains their professional identity while using the mobile device since the Caller ID name and number of the user’s office extension is displayed whenever the user places a call; they also have access to the same dial plan, same office mailbox and same phone system feature set whether they are in or out of the office – all from their mobile device.
  • Remote Workers. IP technology makes it possible to set up simultaneous ringing or call forwarding of office phone calls to multiple alternate phones, including a home phone or mobile device. Or, a softphone or software program for making telephone calls over the Internet can be easily installed on a home computer. With IP technology, the latest desktop and mobile client applications can be easily downloaded from the Internet to the device of choice – a PC, computer, laptop or a mobile device – for voice or video calling, instant messaging and more.
  • Collaborative Teams. With communications over the Internet, high quality Web and video conferencing is easily configured and easily managed. Distributed employees can conveniently share presentations, utilize an interactive whiteboard or video conference with other team members without the expense and time of physically traveling to meetings.

Next Steps

 

VoIP technology has advanced business communications at a rapid pace, and there is no shortage of solutions and services to meet any business requirement. So, how do you choose the VoIP solution that’s right for your business? What should you look for when upgrading your communications equipment or purchasing a new solution or service? It’s not easy as there are many factors to evaluate, but below are some important considerations to help get you started.

  1. Research the history and stability of the provider you are considering.

 

Experienced, long-time IP phone system vendors will generally publish “corporate facts” online so you can get a feel for the company’s stability in the market. The hosted/cloud market is still maturing, so take a close look at how long the hosted provider has been in business and do some research to find out if they actually own and develop the call control technology they are using. If so, the company is likely backing their solution with ongoing research and development, a good sign. Or, if the call control is owned by another company, find out if it is a major corporation that is well-known and proven in the market.

  1. Learn more about the provider’s track record of service.

 

This can be difficult as many vendors will only provide ‘good’ customer references. However, one way is to ask about the vendor’s Net Promoter Score (NPS) which is becoming a popular way to gauge and demonstrate customer loyalty. NPS is an absolute number between -100 and +100 which indicates the likeliness that customers would recommend a particular company or solution to someone else. According to the consultants who developed the tool, the average American company scores less than +10 on the NPS, while the highest performing organizations have scores between +50 and +80.

  1. Carefully review the provider’s solution portfolio.

 

Today’s premises-based IP phone systems generally come with hundreds of popular phone system features, as well as license-activated functionality (extra cost per-user or system-wide licenses) that adds value without the need for additional software or hardware. Some hosted phone services have a reduced standard feature set by comparison with additional features and applications offered optionally at an extra monthly fee per user; for example, meet-me and video conferencing services, if offered, typically incur per user, per-minute charge. Each service chosen will add to the monthly fee, and costs can add up over time.

  1. Check out the provider’s product/service roadmap.

 

Mobility, video technology and social network integration are fast-growing trends that are quickly becoming necessary tools to stay competitive. Find out if the provider supports these and other forward-looking technologies that you may require for your business. Consider the feature set you require today, but also think about additional functionality that would improve your business going forward.  Are the capabilities you require and desire already available? If not, ask if these are on the provider’s roadmap and find out the expected availability dates.

  1. Determine the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

 

The sales representative will be able to provide you with this information. Premises-based IP phone systems are customer-owned and do not have hidden or unexpected fees or recurring user-based monthly charges. Assess the overall cost of the equipment acquisition, the installation, the ongoing maintenance and operation and the cost of the personnel you will need to manage it. Will you get a Return on your Investment (ROI) over time? Compare this to the cost of a subscription-based hosted service - monthly fees per user can add up depending on the service options selected, and the cost of business-grade broadband Internet, a phone or device for every user and a router must also be included.

 

The Bottom Line

 

Choosing the right VoIP solution for your business requires careful evaluation. Look for a stable company that excels in customer support and service and which offers the breadth of products and services that will meet and exceed your long-term needs. Do the math, assessing the costs and the expected ROI if implementing a new premises-based IP system and comparing this to the recurring monthly fees from a subscription-based service.

 

In the end, whether you purchase an IP-based communications system for your office(s) or decide to subscribe to a hosted/cloud UC service, utilizing VoIP technology will open the door to a new way of working – you will be able to streamline your operation, vastly improve employee productivity and deliver far better service to you customers. Are you ready to take your business to the next level?

 

 

Enterprise Connect 2013: New Cloud UC Services Launched

April 2013

 

The Enterprise Connect Conference and Expo is the premiere forum for enterprise communications vendors to highlight their latest and greatest unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) products and services. During the recent event in Orlando, FL, more than 150 of vendors participated and showcased their equipment, software and services that address trends in mobility, video, unified communications, contact center, social networking and the cloud.

 

Here, we zoom in on several new hosted/cloud UC services launched during the event, including from Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya, Interactive Intelligence, Microsoft (AT&T and HP partnerships) and Mitel (Sprint partnership).

 

These and other telephony and UC manufacturers are moving quickly to offer their premises-based telephony solutions as a hosted/cloud UC service as cloud services have become a strategic imperative. A number of vendors are already reporting that their cloud division revenue is now exceeding the revenue from their premises-based business. This encouraging trend, coupled with analyst forecasts that indicate strong growth in the hosted/cloud UC market, make it certain that vendors will be investing heavily in hosted/cloud offers going forward. So, new and improved cloud services, including hybrid premises-cloud offers, are surely on the horizon. Click here to read more on this emerging trend.

 

Alcatel-Lucent Unveils OpenTouch Suite for Cloud

Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise (http://enterprise.alcatel-lucent.com/) has announced a new suite of cloud-based services for business enterprises called the OpenTouch Suite for Cloud. The cloud suite will include three offers to be delivered via service providers, system integrators and channels:

  • OpenTouch Enterprise Cloud (for mid-to-large enterprises; available now)
  • OpenTouch Office Cloud (for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs); expected in 2Q2013)
  • OpenTouch Personal Cloud (to deliver applications as a service for any size enterprise; expected 3Q2013). 

 

First in the suite, and available now, is the OpenTouch Enterprise Cloud solution, a Unified Communication-as-a-Service (UCaaS) offer based on Alcatel-Lucent’s OpenTouch applications and the company’s OmniPCX Enterprise (OXE) IP communications system. So far, three partners have signed up to deliver the service based on a flexible RTU (right-to-use) elastic software license by which actual usage is tracked and charged per user, per month. Current partners include Icon Voice Networks in the U.S., Switch Communications in the UK and UXC Connect in Australia.

 

Avaya Collaborative Cloud Enables UC, CC and Video Services

 

Avaya (www.avaya.com) furthered its position in the cloud space with three new offers under the umbrella, the Collaborative Cloud, allowing cloud service providers (CSPs) to offer Avaya Unified Communications (UC), Contact Center (CC) and Video solutions as cloud-based services. Avaya has a pay-as-you-sell utility-based pricing model that lets CPS pay only for what customers actually use. The new cloud services include:

  • Avaya Cloud Enablement for Video – Avaya’s Radvision video conferencing portfolio of room, telepresence and personal video solutions for small, medium and large enterprises are now available as cloud-based services. This Video-as-a-Service (VaaS) includes the company’s Elite Series MCUs, Scopia Mobile and Scopia Desktop solutions. Orange Business Services is already offering the service, recently launching the Orange Video Meeting application (powered by Radvision Scopia Mobile technology) for access to video meetings through its cloud-based Open Videopresence service.
  • Avaya Cloud Enablement for UC and CC – Avaya Aura-based UC and CC platforms are now available as cloud-based services for small, medium and large enterprises. The UC-as-a-Service (UCaaS) offer includes voice communications (SIP) via Aura Session Manager and Aura Communications Manager, UC applications for audio/Web/video conferencing and mobility, Presence, Unified Messaging and Avaya phones. The Contact Center-as-a-Service (CCaaS) includes Avaya's Elite multi-channel contact center portfolio with voice (SIP), reporting, self-service, workforce optimization, agent desktop and phones. CSPs will use the Avaya Control Manager SP Edition Web-based interface to centrally manage the service offerings for multiple tenants and end users.
  • Avaya Managed Private Cloud for CC – A new private cloud service, called Avaya Communications Outsourcing Solutions (COS) Express, is designed for small and medium enterprises (100-500 agents). The solution can be hosted by Avaya directly or hosted by a CSP that can sell the solution as an Avaya or as a co-branded offer. 

 

Interactive Intelligence Launches CaaS Small Center in U.S.

 

Interactive Intelligence Group Inc. (www.inin.com) has a new cloud-based communications-as-a-service (CaaS) for small contact centers. CaaS Small Center is designed for small organizations with 10-50 contact center agents and is based on the company’s Customer Interaction Center (CIC) software for contact center and enterprise IP telephony. CaaS Small Center includes a subset of CIC contact center functionality with core features that are meant to keep the service affordable and simple to deploy. The base functionality includes Automatic Call Distribution (ACD), Interactive Voice Response (IVR), Unified Communications (UC), multi-channel routing (voice, e-mail, chat) and voice, email and chat recording. Supervisory and reporting features, real-time speech analytics, post-call surveys and Salesforce integration can be added optionally.

CaaS Small Center is available now in the U.S., with Canada to follow later in 2013. Pricing starts at $99 per agent, per month, and customers can opt for month-to-month or annual contract terms. For businesses that require larger scale and more advanced features, Interactive Intelligence has CaaS solutions for mid-size and larger contact centers: the Standard Edition (25-500 agents), the Preferred Edition (25-5,000 agents) and the Premium Edition (25-5,000+ agents). 

 

Microsoft Partners with AT&T and HP for UC-as-a-Service

 

AT&T (www.att.com) is enhancing its existing voice communication and collaboration offer by adding the Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) Lync unified communications portfolio of presence, instant messaging, Web and video conferencing capabilities. AT&T customers have three options in taking advantage of the Lync solution; they can run Lync in their own premises-based data center, or have Lync hosted by AT&T or run Lync as part of the Microsoft Office 365 service from AT&T. IT integration, management and ongoing support will be available from AT&T. Microsoft and AT&T will market the service globally.

 

HP (www.hp.com) has announced several new communications solutions, including HP Enterprise Cloud Services - Unified Communications, a UCaaS (unified communications-as-a-service) offer that combines HP Enterprise Services and Microsoft Lync UC capabilities as subscription-based service (the infrastructure to support these capabilities is located in an HP data center). The UCaaS offer is available now in select countries, including the United States. To complement the service, HP will be introducing a new line of IP phones (HP 4120 series) this summer. Additionally, HP is developing a solution for business continuity at branch offices; the open standards-based multiservice router (MSR), expected this summer, will come with pre-installed Microsoft Lync Survivable Branch software.

 

Sprint Wholesale Cloud Services Adds Mitel Hosted PBX

In a wholesale agreement, Sprint (www.sprint.com) will be including Mitel’s (www.mitel.com) hosted PBX cloud service as part of the Sprint Wholesale Cloud Services.  With Sprint Wholesale Cloud Services (first announced in April 2012), SMB-focused resellers can deliver (under their own brand) on-demand access to Sprint’s cloud services which include computing services and storage resources in the areas of business process, archiving, Web commerce and security without having to build their own IT environment or create their own services. Now, the resellers can also offer hosted voice and unified communications (UC) from Mitel. Additionally, Mitel will be marketing Sprint’s cloud services (computing services and storage) directly to its U.S. SMB customers, so the Sprint-Mitel partnership is extending the market reach for each company.  Sprint Wholesale Cloud Services are currently available in the U.S., Canada and Mexico; other markets are expected to follow.

 

 

 

 

Microsoft Lync 2013: What's New, What's Next?

March 2013

 

Recently, Microsoft held its first Lync Conference in San Diego, CA. There were 1,000 attendees from 40 countries, including 300 partners and 350 customers, as well as analysts, press and Microsoft employees. The company revealed the latest release of its unified communications (UC) software, Lync 2013, and introduced new products and solutions set to roll out over the next 18 months. Lync 13 is the next version of Lync 2010 which added enterprise voice capabilities to the UC features (presence, IM and Web conferencing) available with the earliest version, Office Communications Server 2007.

 

Microsoft’s main message was around its alignment of the Lync and Skype teams under one division (Microsoft acquired Skype in 2011). Lync is Microsoft’s unified communications platform for business users, while Skype enables real-time communications over the Internet for consumers. At the conference, Microsoft announced its intentions to introduce new Lync-Skype integrations that will transcend home and work environments and connect consumers and business users - family, friends, clients and colleagues - in new ways. Microsoft coined a new acronym, B2X, to imply that communications needs to be more than just transactions from business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C). With the Lync-Skype integration, businesses will be able to communicate with clients, colleagues, family, friends and the public, hence B2X. The company highlighted its existing large-scale customer base and global reach, citing that over a billion people are currently using the Microsoft Office productivity tools and some 300 million+ are using Skype.

 

The Lync-Skype integrations and developments are being based around four key principles: (1) a common user experience that is people-centric, simple, consistent and ‘delightful’ (an adjective that several industry leaders have been using to describe the user experience); (2) removing the barriers of communication (simplify communications, enable global reach); (3) multi-platform device support (cannot limit endpoint choices) and (4) reliability and security (secure, reliable access over public networks is critical).

 

What’s New?

 

Microsoft discussed and demonstrated several new products and features at the show; some are available now and others due out in the coming months. Below we sort out what’s new for Lync 2013 on the client- and server-side, with a focus on new offers that relate to enterprise voice and video, and list the associated general availability (GA) dates, starting with the most current.

  • Lync 2013 Server (GA December 1, 2012)
    New Enterprise Voice features include: Group Call Pickup (to answer another line) and Location-based Routing (controls routing based on the user’s physical location), Call Forward and Simultaneous Ring options, Response Group Management Roles, Site resiliency by pairing pools across datacenters and SQL database mirroring.
  • Windows 8 Lync Client (GA February 22, 2013)
    The Lync 2013 desktop client adds support for VoIP and video (can click to join a video or VoIP meeting).
  • Lync 2013 for Windows Phone (GA March 11, 2013)
    The Lync 2013 mobile client for Windows Phone adds support for VoIP and video (can click to join a video or VoIP meeting).
  • Lync 2013 for iOS (GA March 12, 2013)
    The Lync 2013 mobile clients for iOS (iPhone and iPad) devices add support for VoIP and video (can click to join a video or VoIP meeting); the iPad tablet will also support viewing a shared desktop or shared application.
  • Lync 2013 for Android (GA April 2013)
    The Lync 2013 mobile client for Android devices adds support for VoIP and video (can click to join a video or VoIP meeting).
  • Lync-Skype connectivity/federation (GA June 2013)
    Lync 2013 will support federation (sharing) of presence, instant messaging and voice calls between Skype clients and Lync users (video in 2014). Skype users will require the forthcoming Skype client and must sign-in to Skype with a Microsoft account.
  • Lync Meeting Room Systems (GA 2H2013)
    Single and dual-screen HD room configurations will be available via partners SMART, Polycom, LifeSize and Crestron. More information has already become available for systems from LifeSize and SMART. LifeSize LRS 1000 for Microsoft Lync is optimized for smaller-size conference rooms of 6-8 participants, while the SMART Room System for Microsoft Lync will come in three sizes for small (up to six participants), medium (up to 12 participants) and large (up to 16 participants) versions; prices start at US$19,999.

What’s Next?

 

The Lync Roadmap in next 18 months:

  • Enterprise Voice in Lync Online. Microsoft plans to add enterprise voice capabilities to its hosted service, Office 365/Lync Online, within the next 18 months. Today, customers of Microsoft's hosted offering deploy their own Lync server on-site or use a 3rd party solution for voice capabilities.
  • Lync Online Quarterly Updates. Microsoft plans to roll out new capabilities on a more regular basis for its Lync Online hosted service.
  • Lync Server Update. Microsoft highlights its commitment to the Lync Server product, announcing that the next release is planned for second quarter 2014 (2Q2014).
  • Structured Meetings in Lync Online and Lync Server. Microsoft has announced the discontinuation of its Live Meeting commercial subscription-based web conferencing service. The addition of a meeting capability in Lync Online and Lync Server (part of the Lync Server release in 2Q2014) will enable LiveMeeting users to transition smoothly to one of the Lync offers.
  • Interoperability with 3rd party VTC devices. Microsoft intends to make video more pervasive and will add interoperability with Video/Teleconference products from 3rd party vendors. Today, Microsoft’s Lync Video Interoperability Program (VIP) tests and qualifies the interoperability of 3rd party partner video solutions, such as from Polycom, LifeSize, Vidyo, and Radvision (Avaya), with Lync 2010 and Lync 2013. Over the next 12-18 months, Microsoft will add built-in video interoperability to Lync so that 3rd party gateways will no longer be required; this will reduce complexity and cost and give customers additional video options.

Stay tuned for updates on Lync 2013 and any changes or delays in expected GA dates.

 

 

 

Traditional Business Telephony Vendors Add Cloud UC
Hybrid Solutions Best of Both Worlds

December 2012


Today’s businesses want options when it comes to choosing a telephony solution, and many are carefully looking into whether a hosted telephony service or the purchase of an on-premises system makes more sense for their particular business requirements. There are pros and cons for either type of solution and plenty of factors to consider – costs, scalability, features and applications, resiliency and recovery, ease of administration, the level of ongoing support, and of course, the selection of end user devices. Nevertheless, the hosted market is maturing quickly, and small businesses in particular are finding that a fixed-rate (pay-as-you-go), quickly deployable hosted solution is appealing in today’s challenging and uncertain economic environment.


Forecasts differ among the various market analyst firms since there is variation in the UC elements included in the calculations. Nevertheless, all forecasts point to strong growth in the cloud UC market. Wainhouse Research predicts the worldwide Hosted UC market will grow to $5.6 billion by 2014. Infonetics Research projects that the number of seats for hosted business VoIP and UC services (worldwide) will more than double between 2012 and 2016. By 2018, the North American Hosted IP telephony installed base will reach 17.5 million users (15% of the total business telephony user base), according to Frost & Sullivan.


So, it’s no wonder that traditional business telephony vendors are quickly getting into the game, adding hosted UC services to their portfolio of premises-based IP-PBX, contact center, messaging and other UC solutions. Whether a business decides to subscribe to a hosted service or prefers to purchase and install PBX equipment, a vendor that offers both hosted and on-premises options is in an excellent position to meet any requirement.


Better yet, ‘hybrid’ solutions that include both hosted services and on-site solutions may be the best of both worlds at least for businesses that  are not yet ready to move all of their communications to the cloud. A business with an existing PBX already located on-site may find that subscribing to a call recording service or a hosted contact center capability, for example, is more desirable than installing additional hardware and/or software for this on-site. Using hosted services for some applications and on-site solutions for others can be a winning combination and will likely make sense for many businesses.


Cloud or hosted PBX and UC services from traditional telecom vendors have already entered the market, including services from Interactive Intelligence, Mitel and Siemens to name a few. Panasonic is partnering with BroadSoft to offer a hosted PBX service for small business. Read below about some new 2012 Cloud UC entries from traditional business telephony vendors.


New in 2012


Avaya


Avaya (www.avaya.com) has a new cloud-based UC service for smaller businesses called AvayaLive Connect that targets the under-20 user business with a focus on the needs of remote and mobile users in multiple locations. The service supports various modes of communication, including voice, voice conferencing, messaging, multi-party video, mobility and presence across endpoints such as PC and Mac computers, iOS and Android devices. The service is an alternative to an on-premises voice platform (i.e. a PBX replacement) and is based on the company’s Software Communication System or SCS (acquired from Nortel). AvayaLive Connect is generally available for order and download as of July 11, 2012 in the continental United States with a free 30-day trial for new customers.


NEC


NEC (www.necam.com) is integrating a number of its technology components into a new hosted offer called UNIVERGE Cloud Services - UCaaS (Unified Communications as a Service). The solution delivers IP telephony, unified messaging, contact center, audio and video conferencing, Web collaboration, mobility, presence and IM – all designed for easy access as hosted services for a monthly fee. UNIVERGE Cloud Services is based on the company’s Sphericall open, call control software (now known as UNIVERGE 3C) that scales to meet the capacity requirements of small to large organizations (to 30,000 endpoints). Initially, three UNIVERGE Cloud Services packages (Basic, UC Standard and UC Premium) are targeted for availability in early 2013 in North America.


ShoreTel


ShoreTel (www.shoretel.com) gained instant entry into the hosted UC market in March 2012 by acquiring M5 Networks, an established, New York-based hosted provider that serves small and mid-size businesses in North America (the 5-500 user market). M5 Networks, recently renamed ShoreTel Sky, operates as a separate ShoreTel business unit and has enabled ShoreTel to offer a hosted UC service in addition to its own on-premises IP-PBX that scales small to large (24-20,000 users). In recent months, ShoreTel announced support for a UC application, a Web-based management application and the ShoreTel Mobility fixed mobile convergence solution for its cloud-based customers. Another solution, ShoreTel Sky AppFuse, due out later in 2012, will integrate the ShoreTel Sky cloud-based phone system, ShoreTel Sky Contact Center and Salesforce CRM. Going forward, ShoreTel is looking to engineer ‘hybrid’ applications that will work across both its premises-based and cloud-based solutions.


Toshiba


Toshiba (www.telecom.toshiba.com) has a new cloud-based or hosted business telephone solution called VIPedge designed for small businesses as an alternative to purchasing an on-premises telephony system. Businesses can simply subscribe for a monthly service fee to access telephony system features and applications without having to deploy or maintain any system equipment on-site. Initially, Toshiba is targeting small businesses with up to 60 users, but plans to increase capacity later to 1,000 users. VIPedge is based on Toshiba’s premises-based IPedge business phone system, so it provides similar IPedge features and functionality, including complete telephone features, voicemail, unified messaging and the Call Manager UC application. Toshiba is managing multiple IPedge systems in six data centers. The VIPedge service is available as of July 10, 2012 in the U.S. from Authorized Toshiba Dealers (expansion to Canada and other markets is planned).

 

 

 

Desktop IP Phones Still an Important Alternative

June 21, 2012


With the proliferation of mobile phone devices, there has been a lot of debate about the future of the office desktop telephone. Plenty of studies show that more and more employees are coming to work equipped with their own mobile phone and how “bring your own device” or BYOD is the general trend.

 

Nevertheless, the desktop telephone remains an important alternative for high quality audio and the ease of handling some functions that are difficult or not possible with a laptop/headset, smartphone or tablet. For example, a telephone can handle multiple calls at the same time (multi-line) and can include busy lamp fields to monitor the status of other extensions. A phone’s key pad can be preferable and more intuitive for call transfers, putting callers on hold and easily adding callers to a conference. Further, there are some areas within a business, such as in hallways, lobbies and cafeterias, where deploying a PC/headset or mobile device is just not practical.

 

Many business communications manufacturers continue to round out their IP phone portfolios with low-end, mid-range and advanced models. The newer high-end media phones integrate a telephone with video and/or Internet content and even access to popular social media applications. New low cost phones include advanced functionality such as support for Web applications and UC type features.

 

Here are some of the new desktop IP phones introduced so far in 2012:

 

Digium D Series ($129-$279, GA April 2012)


Digium (www.digium.com) has developed its first desktop phones specifically designed for the Asterisk open source PBX software and the company’s Switchvox IP-PBX for small and mid-sized businesses. Up until now, Asterisk and Switchvox systems relied on third party SIP phones, and this option will continue, but Digium can now offer its customers a package that includes the system and the phones. The following three Digium phone models are available as of April 2012: (1) D40, an entry-level model with two lines and four feature keys ($129 MSRP), (2) D50, a mid-range model with four lines, six feature keys, 10 Rapid Dial/BLF keys ($179 MSRP) and (3) D70 for executives and administrators with six lines, 10 Rapid Dial/BLF keys, additional LCD for real-time status information ($279 MSRP).

 

ESI 250 Smartphone (Price TBD, Beta May 2012)


Estech Systems, Inc. (ESI) (http://www.esi-estech.com) is introducing a new Android-based IP desk phone called the ESI 250 Smartphone (beta release in May with general availability expected 3Q2012). The ESI 250 Smartphone uses the Android operating system and incorporates a 7-inch resistive color touch-screen that allows the user to navigate using traditional swipes, scrolls and presses. Notable features include one-touch access to internal extensions or speed dial entries through 144 programmable “soft” keys, contact synchronization, presence management and real-time call handling. Users can also download custom ESI business applications and selected third party developed applications from the online ESI application Marketplace. The ESI 250 Smartphone is compatible with the ESI IP Server 900 and the ESI IP-enabled Communications Server product line for SMBs.

 

Grandstream GXP2124 ($169, GA March 2012)


Grandstream (www.grandstream.com) introduced the GXP2124 Enterprise HD IP Telephone in 2012 ($169, GA March 2012), the company’s first HD IP phone with Electronic Hook Switch (EHS) support for Plantronics headsets, allowing users to answer and end calls using a button on the headset. The new GXP2124 has four lines (four SIP accounts), 24 speed dial/BLF keys and enables 5-way conferencing. All GXP HD phones support a range of voice codecs (including the wideband G.722 codec), multiple languages, a large backlit display, XML screen customization, dual network ports with integrated Power over Ethernet support, a 2,000-entry phonebook, advanced security protection and embedded real-time Web applications. Grandstream GXP phones interoperate with most service providers and third party SIP-based VoIP products.

 

Panasonic KX-UT248-B ($349, GA May 2012) and KX-UT670 ($499, GA January 2012)


Panasonic (www.panasonic.com/sip) released two new SIP corded phones in 2012: the KX-UT670 and KX-UT248-B. The KX-UT lineup, now six models in total, is available for BroadSoft’s BroadWorks hosted switch, Digium’s Asterisk open source PBX software and Metaswitch platforms. The KX-UT670 ($499.99, GA January 2012) is a color, touch-screen desk phone with an open source-based operating system (programmable in Java) which allows the phone to run business applications that users can easily load via a SD (secure digital) memory card that inserts into a card slot on the phone. The KX-UT248-B ($349.00, GA May 2012) is also aimed at executives. This desk phone incorporates high-definition, wide-band voice (handset, headset and full duplex speakerphone) for clear audio and plug and play configuration, as well as two Gigabit Ethernet ports, PoE (Power over Ethernet), 3-way conferencing, 500 Entry Phonebook, built-in Bluetooth headset support and an ‘ECO mode’ for lower power consumption.

 

Yealink VP530 ($389, GA May 2012)


Yealink Network Technology Ltd. (www.yealink.com), a China-based voice and video over IP phone designer and manufacturer, has introduced the VP530 IP Video Phone ($389, GA May 2012). This advanced executive level desktop phone has a 7-inch color touch-screen, an intelligent search capability (directory solution) and local 3-way video conferencing that is considered an industry breakthrough as no extra network resources are needed for video conferencing; there is also a door phone application. An Open API allows third party developers to integrate specialized business applications for targeted industries such as healthcare, hotel and education. The VP530 and earlier VP2009P IP Video Phone from Yealink work with SIP-based IP-PBXs and hosted platforms.

 

 

 

Apple iPad Support: The Race is On
New UC Clients on the Horizon
May 2, 2012

 

Leading communications vendors continue to introduce UC clients running on computers and popular consumer mobile devices, addressing the ‘bring your own device’ or BYOD trend that has become unstoppable as more and more employees favor using their own smartphone or tablet for both personal and business communications (see related blog below “Bring Your Own Device (BYOD): Embracing the Trend”).

 

Earlier this year, Avaya announced the Flare Communicator for iPad tablets as the first version of the Avaya Flare technology on a consumer tablet device (general availability was January 16, 2012; more devices are planned). Microsoft introduced support for the Lync 2010 client on its Windows Phone in December 2011, as well as on iPhone, iPad, Android and Nokia Symbian mobile devices; RIM is developing a Lync application for BlackBerry devices. Several other vendors, namely Aastra, Alcatel-Lucent and Cisco, are rolling out new UC clients for the Apple iPad and other devices in the coming months. Read more below.

 

Aastra

 

Description: Aastra is expanding its BluStar portfolio, adding support for this technology across a number of devices, including PCs, laptops and Apple iOS devices. The first product in the line, the BluStar 8000i media phone, was made generally available in November 2011 in North America and Western Europe. BluStar 8000i is a personal video phone that combines audio, HD video conferencing and unified communications into a single functional desktop display device. Now, Aastra is introducing this collaboration technology as client software for other devices, including a UC client for the Windows PC and for Apple’s iPhone and iPad, making it possible for users, especially remote workers, to choose the device that is most convenient for them and be able to collaborate with colleagues using video (2-way video initially; 3-way video later in 2012 for the Windows PC client).

 

Availability: The BluStar Windows PC client is expected in second quarter 2012; the Apple iOS client for iPhones and iPads will become available during the second half of 2012 and will be a subset of the PC client features focused on 2-party video calling. The BluStar clients will be available for the following Aastra call managers: Aastra 5000, MX-ONE and Aastra 400.

 

Alcatel-Lucent

 

Description: Alcatel-Lucent OpenTouch Conversation is the company’s new UC client that will enable a range of voice, video, instant messaging and data sharing capabilities across PCs and popular consumer devices, beginning with the Apple iPad in June 2012. OpenTouch Conversation builds on the OpenTouch architecture that Alcatel-Lucent introduced last November for mid-size and larger businesses. The technology concept is to allow users to continue conversations across multiple devices, including desktop phones, smartphones, tablets and PCs, without having to hang up and redial. For example, on the iPad screen, a user will be able to view a graphical timeline of recent, current and future conversations, as well as photos and presence statuses of their contacts, along with a "stage" where the current conversation takes place. Users will click on the screen to easily switch a chat session to a voice conversation or a video conference (the OpenTouch platform supports up to 94 participants). So, users are able to start a voice call on an office phone, seamlessly move the conversation to a video conference on a PC or tablet and then to a mobile phone if desired.

 

Availability: The OpenTouch Conversation client application will become available on the Apple iPad in June 2012, followed by clients for Windows PCs and the Mac operating system later in 2012. The iPhone client will be available for download at the end of 2012 or beginning of 2013. OpenTouch Conversation clients compatible with Android-based tablets and Android-, Microsoft Windows- and BlackBerry-based smartphones are expected in 2013.

 

Cisco

 

Description: Cisco is extending the Jabber UC application to Apple iPad tablets and Windows PC platforms, adding to its Jabber portfolio which already includes UC clients for Android, iPhone, Mac, BlackBerry and Cisco Cius. Users can collaborate using a variety of modes, including presence, instant messaging (IM), voice and video, voice messaging (visual voicemail), desktop sharing and conferencing from these popular consumer devices, PCs and laptops (note that video and desktop sharing are not part of the Jabber client for smartphones). Cisco Jabber users can also join Cisco TelePresence and WebEx sessions natively from their PC or mobile device (Cisco TelePresence and WebEx are separately purchased). Cisco acquired Jabber in 2008 and began incorporating the Jabber presence and IM technology into its on-premises solutions and cloud-based services, and since then, has developed a standards-based (H264, SIP, XMPP) UC client that combines federated presence and IM, but also incorporates other modes of communication. Cisco Jabber for iPad has three deployment options: IM only, Voice/Video or IM/Voice/Video. Cisco Jabber for Windows has the added benefits of HD video, desktop sharing and integration with Microsoft Office, Outlook and SharePoint.

 

Availability: Cisco Jabber for Windows is available as of April 16, 2012, and Jabber for iPad is due out in second quarter 2012.

 

 

 

Small Businesses Want Big Business Features
March 9, 2012

 

When choosing a new IP phone system, today’s small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) want high value phone system features that will improve productivity and collaboration and streamline their operation - ultimately resulting in better customer service that translates into more revenue. In short, small businesses want big business features.

 

There are common features supported by all phone systems today (hold, transfer, ad-hoc conference calling, Caller ID, etc.). But, aside from these expected features, today’s SMBs consistently request a number of higher value capabilities, including cell phone integration, desktop clients and unified messaging. Multi-party conferencing and call recording are also high on the list.

 

Furthermore, the larger the business, the greater the need for more enterprise-level features and higher-end applications such as multi-site networking, a contact center capability with reporting, third party integration such as for CRM applications, and of course, more advanced mobility

 

Overall, mobility tops the list as a “must have” for any size business today as more and more professionals are on the go and working away from their office. SMBs are looking for affordable, easy-to-deploy access to phone system features from anywhere. Most phone systems today include standard features like find-me/follow-me call forwarding or a basic mobile twinning feature that rings multiple devices (simultaneously or in a cascading fashion). There may even be some call control features when the call is picked up from the alternate phone, such as transferring, holding or parking calls. Some mobile extension applications enable one phone number and one voicemail account regardless of the device used and the ability to assign an extension and profile to another phone (including an external phone) so that Caller ID information always displays the user’s office number.

 

Beyond these basic mobile options, SMBs are increasingly asking for more advanced cell phone integration that enables call control features from one of today’s popular consumer mobile devices such as an Apple iOS-based or Google Android-based device (the Bring Your Own Device or BYOD trend) . By simply installing client software, a smartphone or tablet device can still function as a personal phone, but also as a business phone with access to corporate phone system features such as extension dialing, call hold, transfer, forwarding or ad-hoc conferencing.

 

At the high-end, some SMBs are choosing to deploy a more costly Fixed Mobile Convergence solution (WiFi-Cellular) that utilizes a controller (server) connected to the phone system and client software to extend desktop telephone features to a mobile device for single number reach over both the corporate WiFi network and the cellular network. This may also support more advanced presence and location functionality or least cost routing that transmits cellular calls via the cheapest path inside and outside the enterprise.

 

 

 

New IP Phone Systems 2011 – a Chronology
SMBs Continue to Drive Business Telephony Market
January 4, 2012

 

A review of 2011 releases from the established telecom manufacturers reveals that the majority of the new IP phone systems that entered the market were again aimed at small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs). It is well-known in most all world regions that smaller enterprises represent the largest and fastest growing business segment, and as such, are driving innovation. So it is no surprise that telecom manufacturers and service providers continue to make SMBs a particular focus as they introduce new IP phone systems, user devices and applications.

 

It was a good year for IP phone system introductions with twice as many new system entries compared to the previous year.  About 20 new IP phone systems (some with multiple versions) and new system bundles were introduced by the telecom manufacturers we tracked* in 2011, with the majority (above 60%) aimed at the under 500-user segment. Aastra, Avaya, Cisco, Epygi, LG-Ericsson, Mitel, NEC, Panasonic, Siemens, snom, Toshiba and Vertical are among the telecom manufacturers that rolled out new IP phone systems or new system bundles for smaller businesses in 2011. Epygi and Toshiba also released higher capacity platforms that scale to 1,000 users, and there were several other mid-market offers, including Alcatel-Lucent’s OpenTouch Business Edition, Avaya Aura Midsize Enterprise and Siemens OpenScape UC Server Xpress. ShoreTel 12 addressed larger enterprises with additional scalability, and Siemens introduced the OpenScape UC Server Enterprise package for its large customers. See below for a detailed chronology.

 

Microsoft Lync was not new in 2011, but introduced in late 2010 as an upgrade to Microsoft’s Office Communications Server (OCS) unified communications software. Lync will continue to garner a lot of interest and speculation as an enterprise telephony solution with its added support for enterprise voice features.

 

New IP Phone Systems 2011

 

Below is a chronology that focuses on new IP phone systems or new system bundles that entered the market in 2011. There were also many new software releases for existing systems** and countless new user devices, mobile solutions and applications related to messaging, contact center, video, collaboration and business continuity. More on these in subsequent write-ups and in the G Business VoIP Insider as 2012 unfolds.

 

January 2011: Vertical released MBX IP for growing small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs), a converged TDM/IP system that scales from 50 to 324 extensions (target is 200 extensions). MBX IP is positioned as the “going forward system” for businesses currently deploying Vertical's SBX IP Key system introduced in 2008 or for customers with a legacy key system from Comdial or Vodavi, two companies previously acquired by Vertical.

 

February 2011: Aastra introduced a new system called Aastra 700 to replace the company’s MX-ONE Compact for small to mid-sized businesses (SMBs). Aastra 700 has the same capacity as the earlier MX-ONE Compact (up to 1,000 users in North America or 300 users elsewhere), but utilizes virtualization technology that reduces the hardware requirement. Aastra 700 adheres to open industry standards and has built-in, license-activated UC applications.

 

February 2011: Epygi responded to customer demand in foreign markets for larger capacity Quadro platforms with built-in ISDN BRI interfaces (ISDN BRI is a common trunking interface promoted in many countries outside of the United States). Two new Quadro systems, QuadroM12Li and QuadroM26xi, each support six ISDN BRI trunks and more IP phones (98 and 106 telephones, respectively) than Epygi’s earlier Quadro4xi and Quadro 16xi ISDN platforms (66 telephones).

 

February 2011: Siemens introduced two new IP-based voice packages for mid- to large-size enterprises, namely OpenScape UC Server Xpress, a Linux-based, pre-configured hardware and software solution for mid-market customers (350-1,000 users) and OpenScape UC Server Enterprise, an integrated OpenScape Voice and OpenScape UC software solution for larger enterprises (to 100,000 users). Both new packaged offers have license-based pricing similar to that of Siemens’ voice-only solutions, but which is less than purchasing the UC applications separately.

 

March 2011: At the annual Cisco Partner Summit, Cisco announced two new platforms designed specifically for small and mid-sized  businesses (SMBs), the Unified Communications 300 Series (2-24 users) and Cisco Unified Communications Manager Business Edition 3000 (75-300 users across 10 sites). Both new solutions are all-in-one designs with what Cisco calls “foundational unified communications features” or an essential feature set that is required/desired by most SMBs.

 

March 2011: Siemens updated the OpenScape Office product for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs), still offering the OpenScape Office MX for up to 150 users (previously available), but introducing the new OpenScape Office LX (to 500 users), a software-only version with software running on Linux-based industry standard server hardware or on a single virtualized server using virtualization technology from VMware (vSphere). At the same time, Siemens introduced the OpenScape Office HX Unified Communications (UC) software application server, adding UC features for the company’s earlier HiPath 3000 converged PBX for SMBs.

 

March 2011: snom introduced a hardware-based version of its snom ONE IP PBX called snom ONE plus (a software-only version was introduced in December 2010).  The solid state appliance is available in two versions, each of which has the same snom ONE features: snom ONE plus yellow (up to 20 extensions) and snom ONE plus blue (up to 150 extensions). The appliance supports SIP trunking or PSTN connectivity via analog, PRI, BRI, T1 and E1 interface cards for flexibility in configuration and connectivity in regions with differing trunking requirements.

 

March 2011: Avaya announced Aura Midsize Enterprise, a single server platform that targets businesses with 250-1,000 employees. Aura ME is the successor to the Avaya Aura System Platform, a virtualized platform (Xen technology) first introduced in December 2009, but adds four additional co-resident applications beyond this earlier version, for a total of seven co-resident applications. The system supports centralized, distributed or mixed (centralized and distributed) branch architectures for up to 250 remote sites and up to 384 users per site using Avaya’s new B5800 Branch Gateway.

 

April 2011: Aastra announced the Aastra 400, an IP phone system for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) in France, Germany, Switzerland and the UK and later added several more European countries (Belgium, Austria, Croatia, Serbia, Hungary, Italy, and Netherlands), plus Brazil and Australia. Aastra 400 represents the next generation and evolution for earlier SMB platforms from Aastra, namely BusinessPhone, IntelliGate and MD-Evolution.  Aastra 400 comes in three versions, Aastra 415 (4-12 users), Aastra 430 (to 50 users) and Aastra 470 (to 400 users with expansion to 600 users through networking).

 

May 2011: Avaya updated IP Office with a number of enhancements for smaller businesses, including a new mode of operation for the sub-20 user market; the new Quick Mode enables basic system functionality with voice mailboxes on all phones and a simple Telephony User Interface (TUI) or Graphical User Interface (GUI) for managing the system. Also, the IP Office Essential Edition Norstar Version, first introduced in 2010, now has more capacity, up to 100 analog or digital stations and 64 trunks (the PARTNER Version also has this increased capacity).

 

May 2011: ShoreTel addressed larger enterprises with a new version of its call processing software, ShoreTel 12, that doubles the user capacity to 20,000 local or remote users in a single system image (up from 10,000). Up to 500 ShoreGear voice switches can be connected anywhere on the IP network to handle a maximum of 20,000 total users. This total can include up to 20,000 IP phone users or up to 5,000 analog phone users.

 

June 2011: Toshiba released IPedge, an IP-only platform that runs multiple applications on a single Linux-based server. Call processing, voicemail and centralized management are built-in and part of the standard software, while unified messaging, UC client software and Meeting audio/Web conferencing reside on the system as license-activated applications. IPedge comes in three models: the EC server (200 users) and the EM server (up to 1,000 users) were released first, while the EP server for smaller businesses (8-40 users) became available in September 2011.

 

August 2011: Epygi announced its first offer geared toward mid-size enterprises, the QX1000, which handles 1,000 IP extensions and has some more advanced capabilities, including a new audio/video conferencing licensed feature and a hot standby option. The QX1000 unit supports 200 IP phones in the default configuration with an additional 800 SIP phones enabled via software licenses in blocks of 16, 32 or 64 phones. The new platform joins other Epygi Quadro all-in-one IP PBXs that have varying physical trunk and station configurations and scalability from two to 192 users.

 

August 2011: Panasonic partnered with software provider BroadSoft to offer the new Panasonic Cloud Business Phone System for businesses with up to seven employees. The offer is comprised of Panasonic’s KX-TGP551 SIP Cordless Phone System, a corded handset base station and up to six associated cordless handsets at the customer premises, with BroadSoft’s BroadWorks switch providing the call control as a hosted service.

 

September 2011: LG-Ericsson’s new iPECS SBG-1000 is a SIP-based system for very small businesses (up to 24 users) that incorporates voice, data and wireless services all in one box. The SBG-1000 includes voicemail and auto attendant, license-activated applications, SIP trunking, a WiFi antenna and DECT base station, Gigabit WAN connections, LAN ports with built-in PoE, an embedded file server/print server and Web-based administration.

 

September 2011: As part of the latest Mitel Communications Director (MCD) release and enhancements, Mitel expanded the scalability of its virtualized solution, Virtual MCD (vMCD), to handle 150-2,500 users (previously, vMCD scaled from 300-1,000 users). Virtual MCD consolidates voice and non-voice (data) applications on a single VMware vSphere platform. The latest version (5.0) provides a virtualized MCD for smaller businesses (150 users) that includes embedded voicemail and auto attendant, creating an all-in-one virtualized solution convenient for smaller companies.

 

September 2011: NEC developed a new bundled offer for the mid-market (50-300 users) called UNIVERGE Sphericall for Medium Businesses and Small Enterprises (MB/SE); four configurations offer different levels of functionality with Sphericall call control (R8.0) and user-based licensing, a choice of IP phones and NEC’s UM8700 Lite unified messaging on a general purpose server.

 

November 2011: Alcatel-Lucent released the first products in its OpenTouch suite for mid-size and larger businesses, introducing new IP telephony platform options to meet varying customer needs and pre-installed software applications such as for one number service, Web conferencing, presence, Instant Messaging, video interactions. New platforms include OpenTouch Business Edition 500 Users (Appliance Server), OpenTouch Business Edition 1500 Users (Appliance Server) and OpenTouch Business Edition Hosted 500 users (Blade Server for data center environments available as a managed or hosted service), as well as the OpenTouch Multimedia Services 1500 Users, a software add-on for existing OmniPCX Enterprise Communication (OXE) customers.

 

Business Applications – Mobility, Video and the Cloud


As noted earlier, there was no shortage of new productivity applications, phones and mobile devices to complement the new and existing IP phone systems in 2011.

  • Mobility tops the list as consumer mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) continue to make their way into the business environment. Nearly all of the telecom manufacturers are addressing the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to work trend and developing mobile clients for popular smartphones and tablets. Digium, Mitel, Polycom, RADVISION, ShoreTel and Siemens are among the manufacturers that released new mobile clients in 2011.
  • High quality video collaboration is becoming more affordable, easier to manage and more available. Aastra, Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Epygi, Polycom, RADVISION, Siemens and Zultys are just a few of the vendors that released new video solutions in 2011.
  • Cloud-based or hosted telephony solutions are gaining popularity, or at least garnering high interest among businesses, as a way to reduce equipment costs and ensure reliability, redundancy and disaster recovery. Hosted or cloud solutions eliminate the hassle of deploying on-premises equipment that requires ongoing administration and maintenance, and the fixed-rate payment model appeals to many, particularly in a challenging economic environment. Cisco, Interactive Intelligence, Panasonic and BroadSoft, NEC, Siemens and inContact and others introduced new cloud-based offers in 2011.
  • Voice virtualization technology is advancing, and the adoption rate is climbing as businesses learn more about the economic, operational and energy savings possible by running call control software and other voice or non-voice applications together on a single server. Voice virtualization is also a stepping stone toward cloud-based deployments. Aastra, Avaya, Cisco, Interactive Intelligence, Mitel, Siemens and ShoreTel are among the communications vendors that are already supporting telephony applications in a virtualized environment.

New technology is emerging rapidly, and 2012 will be another year of major advances in the business communications market. Read the monthly G Business VoIP Insider to stay informed about the latest new offers as the New Year unfolds.

 

*G Business VoIP tracks business telephony products from leading manufacturers, including Aastra, Alcatel-Lucent, Allworx, AltiGen, Altitude, Avaya, AVST, Cisco, CounterPath, Digium, eOn, Epygi, ESI, Esnatech, Grandstream, HP, Interactive Intelligence, Iwatsu, LG-Ericsson, Microsoft, Mitel, NEC, Panasonic, Polycom, RADVISION, Samsung, ShoreTel, Siemens, snom, Tadiran, Toshiba,Vertical and Zultys.

 

**In 2011, the following existing IP phone systems had new software releases: Aastra 5000, Alcatel-Lucent OmniPCX Office and OmniPCX Enterprise, Avaya IP Office, Avaya Aura Communication Manager, Cisco Business Edition, Cisco UC300 and UC500 Series, Cisco Unified Communications Manager, Digium Switchvox, ESI Communications Servers (the new ESI IP Server 900 is due out in early 2012 in North America), ICON Voice Networks (formerly Iwatsu America) Enterprise-CS, Interactive Intelligence CIC, Iwatsu Enterprise-CS, Mitel 5000, Mitel MCD, NEC UNIVERGE SV8100 and SV8300, NEC UNIVERGE Sphericall, Panasonic KX-NCP and KX-TDE, ShoreTel Small Business and Enterprise Editions, Siemens OpenScape Office, Siemens HiPath 3000 and 4000, Vertical Wave IP and Zultys MX30 and MX250.

 

 

 

 

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD): Embracing the Trend
December 21, 2011

 

Consumer mobile devices continue to find their way into the workplace as more and more employees are coming to work equipped with their own mobile phone. This trend, dubbed “Bring your own device” or BYOD, is clearly unstoppable. In fact, a 2011 Forrester Research survey of 1,681 U.S.-based workers indicated that the number of workers using consumer devices, such as Android-based smartphones or the Apple iPhone, for work-related purposes is certainly on the rise. Nearly half (48%) of those surveyed said they chose a particular smartphone based on their own individual preference, without regard to what mobile devices their company recommends or supports. And, in environments where employees are forced to use a company-approved mobile device, the study found that many workers are bringing in their own smartphone anyway in order to use applications not supported by the approved device.

 

IBM is a good example of a major corporation that is embracing the BYOD trend, but with some precautions. IBM is preparing to allow some 200,000 IBM employees (half of the company’s global workforce) to bring their own smartphone or tablet to work by 2012. IBM recognizes what it refers to as the consumerization of IT with employees preferring to use their personal mobile device at work. Rather than buck this trend, the company is accepting this reality, but taking steps to secure their internal network at the same time. IBM will require users to download IBM client software onto their device and is also developing endpoint management tools that will delete corporate proprietary information if the device is lost or stolen.

 

Most unified communications (UC) vendors are wisely introducing mobility solutions compatible with the leading smartphones and tablets rather than developing their own, proprietary devices. Those that are fully behind the open mobile platform approach or BYOD concept are extending support to the highly popular Android-based consumer mobile devices, including those from Motorola, Samsung and HTC that support the Android operating system, as well as smartphones and tablets based on Apple, Symbian and BlackBerry operating systems.

 

Looking forward, there is no doubt that consumer mobile devices will continue to make their way into the business environment. By using the same mobile device for both personal and business communications, workers never miss an important call and can collaborate with colleagues and customers quickly and efficiently, from anywhere. Businesses will find it impossible to ignore the BYOD trend and addressing security issues will be a very high priority. But, in the end, a mobile device that can function as both a personal and business device means improved employee productivity and better customer service - businesses must and will embrace the trend.

 

 

 

The Right Phone

September 30, 2011

 

There is a lot of talk about Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) telephones. These phones continue to gain ground due to a wide market reach and interoperability with a variety of SIP-compatible phone systems such as those from Avaya, Cisco, Digium, Mitel, NEC, Toshiba and Vertical, to name only a few, but also service provider hosted phone systems from BroadSoft, Metaswitch and others. 


The investment protection is appealing, and in addition, SIP phone manufacturers continue to add new models and enhance the functionality. An informal survey of SIP phone manufacturers revealed that the lower-priced entry-level SIP telephones are most widely sold as budgets remain constrained in our current economy, so most manufacturers now offer a low-cost model for under $100. Grandstream sells their newest entry-level SIP phone for just $55, and while there is no display, the phone does support some more advanced features such as HD audio, security protection and integrated Power over Ethernet.


The benefits of SIP phones are easy to see, but SIP phones don’t always meet end user needs. Selecting a phone really depends on the user’s particular job function and the applications they require to handle their day-to-day tasks. A company CEO will likely require a high-end, full featured, large screen executive phone set, while a busy office receptionist will use a PC attendant console with softphone in order to view and manage call activity, directories and statistics. Sales executives will want a mobile device that functions as their office extension whether they are in the office using the corporate WiFi network or out of the office on a cellular network.


End users must also be aware that SIP phone features depend on the associated telephony system. As an example, with Toshiba’s new IPedge, customers can choose to deploy Toshiba’s own IP 5000 phones or a selection of Polycom SIP-based endpoints. There are differences. The Toshiba IP phones are tightly integrated with the phone system and enable more functionality than is possible with the Polycom SIP endpoint. IPedge users with a Polycom endpoint will not have access to some basic functionality such as conferencing, multiple line appearances, inbound paging and blind call transfer, and several features (e.g. voicemail retrieval, call forwarding, do not disturb, etc.) require the user to press # access codes instead of the convenient one-touch buttons found on the Toshiba IP phones.


So, in the end, businesses must carefully evaluate job functions and required applications and find the right phone for each employee – the phone that allows each worker to accomplish their particular tasks and to communicate most effectively with customers and colleagues. Afterall, productive employees are a company’s most valuable asset, and the right phone may make all the difference.

 

 

 

Web Conferencing, In-house vs. Hosted, the ROI
May 2, 2011

 

The current trend toward a more distributed and more global business environment has been well-discussed. The number of remote workers and telecommuters is growing fast, and at the same time, there is the expectation that we are on-call and available 24x7. Web and video conferencing is a natural fit since it enables a viable alternative to travel, effectively allowing colleagues and customers to communicate with ease, anytime and from anywhere.


In addition to the collaborative advantages, vendors of Web and video conferencing solutions are highlighting the cost-cutting aspect due to reduced travel, but also the benefit to the environment in terms of lower carbon emissions. Some governments in Europe and Asia are now mandating environmental policies, and many companies in the United States have begun their own initiatives, actively using collaborative conferencing to reduce travel costs and help our planet. Some are going as far as instituting company travel policies that require virtual meetings instead of travel.


So, the benefits are easy to see. The question becomes whether to deploy an in-house conferencing server or to use a hosted conferencing service from an outside vendor. Of course, there are hardware equipment costs and maintenance issues for the in-house solution, while the hosted service will entail monthly fees or fees per use. In-house solutions are limited in terms of capacity and features with a fixed maximum for the number of participants in the conference. Hosted services, on the other hand, can handle large numbers of participants, and new features can be added as these emerge. Businesses can quickly take advantage of new technologies as needed without the hassle of deploying additional software or equipment.


For businesses, the decision point rests on what their particular conferencing needs are and which option will be more cost effective in the long run. What is the business objective? For businesses that have a regular, predictable need for meet-me or Web conferencing meetings such as among internal sales groups or executives, it may make good sense to invest in on-premises hardware that will pay for itself over time. In-house conferencing solutions can guarantee privacy and security as well. For businesses that routinely engage in large-scale webinars, or those whose conferencing needs are infrequent, a hosted service may be the answer.


It’s really all about the Return on Investment (ROI) based on a business’ conferencing objective. What are the actual savings that will result from purchasing equipment versus making an ongoing payment for a hosted service? More and more, small and mid-size businesses with regular conferencing needs will likely opt for an in-house solution, or at least seriously consider this, and here's one big reason why - manufacturers continue to make the in-house Web conferencing option even more attractive by offering Web conferencing functionality that runs natively on an IP communications system with no additional hardware required.

 

 

 

Smartphones and Tablets Take Center Stage
January 24, 2011

Looking back over 2010, there were a host of new products and applications introduced into the business telephony market, including new VoIP desktop telephones and softphones and new applications related to contact center, conferencing, messaging, mobility, presence and video. Also, some new trends emerged such as voice virtualization, a stepping stone toward cloud-based services, and new user experiences or so-called personal workspaces that utilize tablet devices. And, as in prior years, Small and Mid-sized businesses (SMBs) remain a key and growing segment within the enterprise communications market and a particular target for new solutions.


Most significant, however, has been the focus on end user devices that improve worker productivity and make collaboration simpler and more efficient. Smartphones and tablet devices have taken center stage as these consumer devices continue to make their way into the business environment, becoming the device of choice for today’s dispersed and mobile workers. Many of us are frequently away from our offices, so using the same mobile device as both our personal phone and our business telephone means never missing an important call and being able to collaborate with colleagues and customers quickly and efficiently – an obvious advantage for any business.


Telecom manufacturers have been busy developing solutions that integrate these mobile devices into the workplace. By simply installing client software, a smartphone can function as both a personal phone, but also as a business telephone to make calls and to access corporate PBX calling features such as extension dialing, call hold, transfer, forwarding or ad-hoc conferencing. Some clients support more advanced presence and location functionality or least cost routing that transmits cellular calls via the cheapest path inside and outside the enterprise.


The benefits to both businesses and their employees are clear. Regardless of the network that the call is using (cellular or corporate WiFi), the Caller ID name and number of the user’s office extension will be displayed, giving employees a single phone number and single voicemail wherever they are. Businesses will benefit from lower communications costs when the corporate WiFi network is used for voice calls instead of more expensive cellular minutes.


Looking forward, we can expect continued uptake of smartphone and tablet devices in the business environment as these are fast becoming the devices of choice for today’s mobile workers.  In conjunction, video collaboration will also play a key role, becoming more affordable, easier to manage and more available with high quality video features delivered via portable smartphone and tablet devices. This innovation and integration will also mean more focus on corporate security and management of these mobile devices.

 

 

 

Voice Virtualization and True Convergence
December 28, 2010

Virtualization technology is advancing rapidly. It well-known in the IT space, but for voice communications, virtualization is just taking off. Several leading telecom manufacturers have announced virtualized telephony solutions for larger businesses that allow their enterprise-level call control software to run with their own voice applications on a single virtualized platform. Fewer (so far) have begun to take this to the next level, running their voice software alongside data applications for true consolidation and convergence in either a data center environment or in a cloud computing scenario.

 

As background, virtualization technology is a layer of software that decouples or breaks the bond between the operating system and the physical hardware, thus allowing multiple operating systems and software applications to run simultaneously and share the resources of a single physical computer. So, for example, an IT organization can run both Windows and Linux, or multiple versions of an operating system, along with multiple applications, on the same server. Fewer servers results in capital, operational and energy savings.


Businesses will hear about the economic savings of a virtualized telephony solution, as well as the environmental benefits in terms of energy, but they will also consider the potential down-side. Each physical server still has the potential for hardware failure, and with fewer actual servers running multiple applications, there is the risk for failure of all of these applications at once if the server goes down.

 

So, the question remains “When the pros and cons are weighed, will businesses choose to adopt voice virtualization technology?” I believe so. Technology is advancing quickly in this area, and the hardware failure issues will be overcome. The consolidation of hardware and the associated savings tied to running call control software and voice applications together are appealing, and even more so when both voice and data applications successfully co-reside on the same server. This true convergence, in which telephony and IT come together, is the future of communications.

 

 

 

Media Phone vs. UC Client?
June 23, 2010

 

In recent months, a number of leading communications vendors have introduced new multimedia desktop phones that integrate a telephone with video and/or Internet content and even access to popular social media applications. With so many of these new devices making a debut, it seems that the new media phone market is poised to take off. And, it’s not just the business communications market. Service providers, too, are rolling out media phones, but to the consumer market. The Verizon Hub, a new touch screen home phone, promises to replace traditional home phones with a “home communications system” that runs over broadband.


Some analysts are predicting that the media phone market, for both businesses and consumers, will soar over the next few years; however, others (Microsoft among them) are touting the end of the desk telephone altogether, since soft phones and unified communications clients are already providing more advanced, multimedia functionality via an existing PC or even over a mobile device.


As leading communications vendors are introducing new media phones, they are simultaneously developing and marketing unified communications clients that encapsulate all communications – telephony, presence and contact management, Instant Messaging, e-mail and voice mail, video and much more, right from an existing desktop PC, or better yet, a mobile device. And with the proliferation of mobility, one wonders if the media phone will have much of a future.

 

 

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