3 Cloud Trends to Watch in 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.
1. 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.
2. 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 hybrid cloud solutions from the leading business communications vendors.
3. 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 2016. Read more here about some of the services already addressing the needs and requirements of larger businesses.
Microsoft Offers Cloud PBX with New Office 365 E5 Bundle
Microsoft introduces a new premium Office 365 Enterprise Suite subscription plan called E5 that adds enterprise voice features to its hosted service, Office 365. Microsoft's new E5 bundle makes it possible for businesses to use Office 365 as their telephony service, eliminating the need to install and maintain a traditional phone system (private branch exchange or PBX) on-site. As Microsoft describes it, Office 365 is now “One Platform for Meetings and Voice.” The new E5 subscription is intended for organizations with 250 or more employees, according to the company.
UC-as-a-Service (UCaaS) solutions like the new Microsoft Skype for Business Cloud PBX service are appealing to businesses of all sizes that are looking to bypass the typical business phone system purchase. There are obvious budgetary advantages to selecting a subscription-based service (a recurring, operational expenditure or OPEX model) such as reduced capital expenses, fewer IT personnel and predictable per-user monthly fees, to name a few. And, there are strategic advantages in terms of scale, consistency across a network of locations and the ease of adding innovations and technologies that emerge in the future.
Microsoft had been offering technical previews of three new Skype for Business services to customers with an Office 365 enterprise plan or Skype for Business Plan 2: Cloud PBX (Microsoft’s Skype for Business/Lync enterprise voice features), PSTN Conferencing (a traditional dial-in capability) and Skype Meeting Broadcast (for large virtual meetings with up to 10,000 participants).
As of December 1, 2015, the three services are now part of the new Office 365 Enterprise Suite E5 bundle which also includes some new analytics and advanced security features. Skype Meeting Broadcast is also included with the existing E1 and E3 bundles (more on the Enterprise Suite bundling and regional availability below).
According to Microsoft, there are 60 million commercial Office 365 monthly active users as of the first quarter of the company’s fiscal year 2016.
Office 365 Enterprise Suite
The Office 365 Enterprise Suite includes three bundles: E1, E3 and the new E5 that replaces the earlier E4 bundle which will no longer be sold after June 30, 2016. The pricing of existing E1 and E3 subscription remains the same at $8 and $20 per user per month respectively, though each now includes some new capabilities such as Microsoft’s Skype for Business Meeting Broadcast service. The E5 subscription, priced at $35 per user per month, includes all E1 and E3 features, plus Skype for Business Cloud PBX features, along with PSTN Conferencing, new analytics and advanced security features.
PSTN Calling is an enterprise plan add-on for an extra monthly fee (for example, $24 per user per month for domestic and international calling or $12 for domestic calling only with the E5 plan). PSTN Calling is also available for E1 and E3 users with a per-user monthly fee of $32 for domestic and international calling (this price also includes Cloud PBX).
- E1 ($8) includes Exchange Online (business class email and calendars, 50 GB), Yammer, Office 365 Video, SharePoint Online, Planner (for work management), IM, Online Meetings, the new Skype for Business Meeting Broadcast, OneDrive for Business (for storing and organizing work documents), Delve and Office Online.
- E3 ($20) adds unlimited storage for Exchange Online, Office 365 ProPlus (the complete set of Office applications delivered as a service), Archiving, Rights Management and new security capabilities for Data Loss Prevention and Encryption.
- E5 ($35) builds on E1 and E3 to add access to Skype for Business Cloud PBX and PSTN Conferencing and additional analytics, namely Equivio Analytics for eDiscovery, Secure Attachments and URLS, Access Control and end-user and organizational analytics (Power BI Pro and Delve Analytics).
Note that PSTN Conferencing may incur additional per-minute charges. Cloud PBX and PSTN Conferencing can also be purchased standalone. Microsoft’s CRM Online Professional (Microsoft Dynamics) is available for an add-on fee.
Per Microsoft, PSTN Conferencing is initially available for purchase in 15 countries (can provision dial-in numbers in 45 countries), with a phased expansion into international markets in 2016 and 2017. Cloud PBX is available worldwide, but PSTN Calling is available only in the U.S. now; additional regions will follow in 2016 and 2017.
The Hybrid Cloud
Recent market studies highlight a growing preference for “hybrid cloud-premises” implementations that make use of hosted/cloud services for some applications and on-site solutions for others. Such hybrid solutions 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 conferencing capability is 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. A larger enterprise that has significant investments in equipment may find that a staggered transition with deployments of hosted/cloud services for remote sites, while continuing to use existing premises-based telephony systems at main locations, makes the most sense.
Now that Microsoft has added hosted/cloud PBX services as an alternative to their on-site Skype for Business (formerly Lync) Server implementation, the company joins other telecom vendors that are uniquely able to offer flexible hybrid arrangements – an approach that pure cloud communications providers cannot provide.
In this initial phase, Microsoft is offering some hybrid cloud-premises capabilities. Microsoft customers that upgrade to the latest premises-based Skype for Business Server will be able to take advantage of the subscription-based Meeting Broadcast cloud service - a hybrid server and cloud approach. Per Microsoft, hybrid models will also be possible such that customers with a Skype for Business Server deployed on-premises can use that software to connect the customer's PSTN environment with Cloud PBX; additionally, the company adds that customers can operate with some users hosted in Office 365 and other users hosted on the Server.
As noted above, Microsoft will be expanding the regional availability of Skype for Business Cloud PBX, PSTN Conferencing and PSTN Calling throughout 2016 and in 2017. And over time, Microsoft will round out the features for Skype for Business Cloud PBX to bring it in line with the on-premises Skype for Business Server solution. Initially, a set of traditional calling features are available, including voicemail, call answer, call waiting, hold, transfer, forward, music on hold and others. Additional Skype for Business features such as for paging, call park, Response Groups (basic ACD) and more will be phased in later.
Microsoft publishes an Office 365 Roadmap that outlines features and functionality that are currently available, in the process of rolling out or which are in development. In a recent briefing, Microsoft stated that we can typically expect major updates quarterly, with smaller improvements more frequently.
NEC Advances and Rebrands UCaaS Offer as UNIVERGE BLUE
NEC advances and rebrands its unified communications as-a-service offering as UNIVERGE BLUE Business Cloud Services. First launched in March 2013 as NEC UNIVERGE Cloud Services, the updated and rebranded UNIVERGE BLUE service is available directly from NEC and through NEC channel partners in the United States, with expansion to Canada expected soon and European coverage set to follow in 2016. To date, over 200 NEC partners have signed up to sell the subscription-based UCaaS service in addition to NEC’s on-premises telephony equipment portfolio.
NEC has been soliciting partner feedback since 2014 through a “cloud focus group” and has used this valuable information to enhance its UCaaS offering, including designing a new UNIVERGE BLUE website that provides potential customers with information about products/services, vertical solutions, subscription plan details and how to subscribe or request a quote. NEC has also updated its dealer compensation model, developed a new self-service portal (for dealers and end-users) and will be introducing several advanced cloud-based applications that will roll out in phases. Desktop Collaboration as-a-service is expected soon (first quarter 2016), followed by cloud applications for emergency conferencing, mass notification and video collaboration.
NEC has a long history in communications (100 years, with 50 years in the U.S.) and is unique from many UCaaS providers in that it owns the technology from end-to-end. NEC manufactures the UCaaS components, develops the call control software and applications (NEC UNIVERGE 3C software is common to both premises and cloud deployments), manages and provisions the Tier 3 geo-redundant data centers, manages a 24x7 Network Operations Center and monitors the MPLS network to identify and avoid QoS issues when transporting voice, data and video. “Over-the-top” deployments are also possible per specific NEC guidelines.
Like the earlier cloud offer, UNIVERGE BLUE has three user seats, Basic, Standard and Premium, that address varying user needs and which can be mixed and matched and customized with a selection of add-on capabilities. The package naming remains the same, but the feature content and options have evolved to create a more flexible and competitive offer. The Standard user seat now optionally supports many of the capabilities originally available only to Premium users such as mobility, call recording and the forthcoming collaborative applications.
- Basic: The Basic user seat, suitable for lobbies and common areas, comes with over 300 telephony features like call waiting, Caller ID, transfer, forward and 911 Service. Long distance calling is priced per minute per user, and voicemail, auto attendants, queue groups and meet-me audio conferencing are add-on options.
- Standard: General office users and receptionists will likely choose the Standard package which builds upon Basic, but includes voicemail and unified messaging and a hard phone device license, as well as 75 minutes per month of pooled long distance calling. A number of more advanced capabilities can be added such as UC desktop call control with instant messaging and presence capabilities and device management, video calling, basic mobility (twinning) or a mobile client for iOS and Android devices, call recording and several forthcoming applications: desktop collaboration, Firebar conferencing (emergency dial-out conferencing), mass notification and video collaboration.
- Premium: The Premium seat is designed for power users and executives and includes all Basic and Standard functionality, plus UC desktop call control with instant messaging and presence capabilities and device management, video calling, basic mobility (twinning) or a mobile client for iOS and Android devices, and the selection of a hard phone or softphone device license, as well as 150 minutes per month of pooled long distance calling. Queue groups, meet-me conferencing, call recording and the forthcoming collaborative applications are optionally added.
NEC’s Hybrid Approach
NEC's cloud service uses the company’s UNIVERGE 3C as the core software. Using the same software stream for both the premises and the cloud offer lends itself well to hybrid environments in which a business can install telephony equipment on-site and/or utilize cloud services according to their particular business communications needs and requirements - the same familiar features are available in either deployment model. For example, the cloud service can act as a disaster recovery solution for an on-premises UNIVERGE 3C system, or vice versa. Or, businesses that have installed the UNIVERGE 3C at a main office can subscribe to the cloud service at branch locations.
On top of that, NEC has been introducing standalone cloud-based applications for customers that have an on-site UNIVERGE 3C or NEC SV9000 or earlier SV8000 telephony system. These customers continue to use their existing phone system, but can subscribe to advanced capabilities as-a-service for a monthly subscription fee. Cloud-based applications for meet-me audio conferencing and contact center are already available, and applications for desktop collaboration, emergency conferencing, mass notification and video collaboration are coming soon.
ThinkingPhones Expands Services, Integrates Fuze Video Collaboration
ThinkingPhones, a Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) provider based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is expanding on multiple fronts. The company has grown to 720 employees due to both internal hiring and acquisitions (more on these below) and is gaining traction in the market, surpassing a milestone in 2015 of 1,000 enterprise customers as more and more companies realize the benefits of moving their communications to the cloud. Historically, ThinkingPhones has targeted mid-size and larger businesses with 500-3,000 employees (the sweet spot in terms of optimal cost-effectiveness), but the solution now scales to meet the requirements of even larger organizations with 5,000-10,000 users or more. ThinkingPhones cites an average customer size of 1,000 users for new sales in 2015.
Additionally, ThinkingPhones continues to launch its multi-tenant UCaaS offer in new regions, opening data centers in Asia (Hong Kong and Singapore) in 2015 for a total of 10 data centers worldwide to date (five in North America, three in Europe and two in Asia). Another data center is planned in the Asia Pacific (Australia) in 2016 to further accommodate the company’s growing number of larger, multi-site customers (mainly based in North America) with offices overseas.
ThinkingPhones is also expanding through acquisition. The company acquired Whaleback Managed Services in 2014, a provider of cloud-based managed voice and UC services for small and medium enterprises in North America, followed by Contactive and its Klink contextual intelligence platform in early 2015. Cloud video conferencing company Fuze marks the third, and most recent, acquisition. The Fuze portfolio of voice and video conferencing and content sharing services for devices, desktops and meeting rooms brings a key technology in-house (ThinkingPhones had been offering the iMeet online conferencing service from partner PGI).
Industry analysts are taking note. Market research firm Gartner positioned ThinkingPhones as a “Visionary” in its September Gartner Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications as a Service, citing strengths in customer service, voice quality and user experience, as well as innovation from internal R&D and acquisitions. The recently acquired Fuze company also earned Gartner’s “Visionary” status in the 2015 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Web Conferencing study and was named an “Innovator” in the Aragon Research Globe Report for Web and Video Conferencing for its competitive pricing and integration of video and meetings with project- and team-based collaboration, among other strengths.
ThinkingPhones has designed six feature bundles for basic, mid-range and more advanced business needs and user requirements.
The bundles are cumulative, each incorporating popular telephony features and voicemail, but also going above and beyond competing UCaaS offers to include the company’s in-house analytics application that equips businesses with intelligence about employee performance, customer engagement and business processes. Data is collected and aggregated across voice, mobility, video, presence, contact center, conferencing and third-party CRM applications, to provide visibility and insights into how teams and business units are performing and how applications are being utilized.
- UC Basic supports popular telephony features and voicemail and provides access to the analytics business intelligence application, with dashboard statistics viewable via the customer portal.
- UC Core comes with significantly more productivity features, including a softphone and a mobile client (called Communicator), Google Gmail integration, click-to-call plug-ins for Microsoft Outlook and major web browsers and the Contactive contextual intelligence application which combs through a large number of public and private data sources to display in-depth profiles for incoming and outgoing calls.
- UC Power builds on UC Basic and UC Core to add more advanced applications such as for meet-me audio conferencing, 6-party video conferencing, fax-to-email and API Connectors APIs to integrate data from the ThinkingPhones platform with dozens of third party business applications (i.e. Skype for Business, Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, SugarCRM, etc.) for call control, inbound screen-pops, reporting and analytics purposes.
- Attendant View adds operator/receptionist functionality, including visibility into the calling status of users on the system and contact center administration.
- Contact Center Agent includes UC Power features and also enables ACD agent and call queuing functionality, as well as call recording (contact center administration and visibility are not part of this user bundle).
- Contact Center Supervisor enables supervisory privileges such as managing call flows and live queues, call recording visibility and a call monitoring/whisper/barge capability to monitor, guide and take control of a call.
User bundles start at $25 per user per month (list price). Customers can subscribe to ThinkingPhones UC services directly through ThinkingPhones’ sales team or indirectly through one of the company’s wholesale partners that can choose to brand and tailor the offer as their own under a white-label/OEM program.
The Fuze Integration
ThinkingPhones tells us that the integration of the Fuze web and video conferencing technology is still being sorted out, but we can expect more details on the bundling in the first quarter of 2016. In conjunction, the company will also introduce a new unified client application that combines all modes of interaction (voice, email, SMS, video, etc.) and allows users to easily move between modes for more efficient and effective communications.
Meanwhile, ThinkingPhones is offering the current Fuze personal and room-based plans as standalone services that can be utilized over-the-top of any businesses’ existing telephony environment. Here is a run-down on the current Fuze plans and pricing.
- Fuze Free includes 3-party voice and video, plus screen and content sharing.
- Fuze Pro is $20 per user per month and includes 25-party voice, 12-party video, screen and content sharing and unlimited U.S. dial-in.
- Fuze Premium is $40 per user per month and includes 250-party voice, 12-party video, screen and content sharing, unlimited U.S. dial-in, webinar and meeting recording.
- Fuze Rooms is $40 per room per month and includes 250-party voice, 12-party video, screen and content sharing, unlimited U.S. dial-in, webinar and meeting recording.
On the Roadmap
The integration of the Fuze web and video conferencing services and the forthcoming new unified client are a major focus for 2016. Additionally, look for architectural enhancements related to the contact center and connecting calls more efficiently across geographically-dispersed agents. Stay tuned.
Toshiba Enhances IPedge Security and Performance with R1.7
Toshiba America Information Systems Inc., Telecommunication Systems Division introduces new software for its IPedge IP-based communications solution that targets organizations with as few as four users to as many as 1,000 users at a single location. The new Release 1.7 improves network performance with an upgraded Linux operating system and incorporates advanced security software that protects against vulnerabilities, threats and attacks. Additionally, IPedge R1.7 includes free system trial licenses of key applications related to unified messaging, unified communications and contact center. Current IPedge, ACD and UCedge users can also now flexibly transfer existing licenses between sites to save cost.
Toshiba first launched IPedge in 2011 as a single server IP communications system and an alternative to the company’s earlier Strata CIX converged IP/digital telephony platform. Today, IPedge runs multiple applications on a single Linux-based server running VMware for a more efficient use of hardware and computing resources; this includes call processing, unified messaging, unified communications, mobility and centralized administration, along with optional contact center software and reporting.
Moreover, Toshiba’s IPedge software is the base software for its VIPedge hosted/cloud service that was introduced in 2012. Customers use the same phones and endpoints, experience the same functionality and access the same administration software whether they deploy the system on-site (IPedge), select the monthly subscription service (VIPedge) or utilize a mix of the two solutions in a hybrid configuration. Any new software developments, such as the recent R1.7, effectively “kill two birds with one stone” since the improvements will benefit both deployment types (premises and cloud). The Linux updates and security enhancements have already been applied to VIPedge (the new virtual licensing service is not relevant to the cloud offer).
On Board with Hybrid Cloud
Recent market studies highlight a growing preference for hybrid cloud-premises implementations like the Toshiba IPedge and VIPedge interoperability (more on this below). 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). On-site equipment will remain an important part of many business communications deployments into the future.
Because Toshiba uses the same software stream for both its on-site telephony system (IPedge) and its cloud-based UC service (VIPedge), including an IPedge Application Server version that works with Strata CIX, the company is able to offer hybrid solutions that are often a perfect fit for its installed base of IPedge systems, Strata CIX converged IP/digital systems and even earlier Strata CTX digital systems.
In June 2014, Toshiba introduced Hybrid Cloud Networking among locations utilizing the VIPedge cloud service and locations with on-site telephony system installations. Toshiba customers with multiple offices can flexibly mix the two solution types (cloud and premises) and take advantage of feature transparency across all locations regardless of the deployment. Toshiba’s VIPedge Application Service followed in September 2014, making its Unified Messaging (UM) and Unified Communications (UC) applications available “as-a-service” for Toshiba customers with a Strata CIX or upgraded Strata CTX system (these apps are already built into the company’s IPedge software).
In 2015, Toshiba announced common management across its cloud and on-site solutions with the latest version of its Enterprise Manager browser-based administration tool. And, in January 2016, Toshiba announced a set of enhancements to its UCedge UC client application, including a softphone for iOS devices, customizable buttons and other new features available to customers with either a premises-based or a cloud deployment.
So, while many of Toshiba’s competitors are in the process of developing solutions for a hybrid approach, Toshiba is already there – and has been for a while. Toshiba’s hybrid networking capability and cloud-based applications ensure that its customers, even those with an earlier Strata CTX digital telephone system, are not left behind as technology moves forward. Regardless of the deployment, Toshiba customers will be able to add the latest capabilities and expand their solution.
Down the Road
Look for additional IPedge software improvements in 2016 that will benefit Toshiba’s installed base of IP-PBX systems as it remains a significant opportunity in terms of software and support contracts and the potential to integrate these as part of a hybrid cloud migration. Toshiba will also introduce new hosted applications in 2016, including meet-me conferencing, contact center and disaster recovery delivered from the cloud. Stay tuned.
In recent news:
3CX restructures its Partner Program, adding new partner levels (Silver, Gold and Platinum) and a new points system designed to incentivize and reward active partners who sell and support the 3CX Phone System and 3CX WebMeeting solutions. The new points system takes into account sales volumes, but also the number of projects to allow partners with smaller projects to earn a higher ranking. 3CX also offers regular webinars and on-site training at no cost, as well as a free certification program.
8x8 continues to expand its UK-based presence and operation by opening a new office in Manchester in support of customers and channel partners in the North West region of the UK. The company also earned two more patents, related to voice routing technologies and networked contact center, bringing the total to 114 United States patents.
Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise releases the latest version of OpenTouch Suite (R2.1.1), adding three new capabilities. An innovative mobility option (OpenTouch Contactless Call Shift), based on Near Field Communications technology, allows calls to automatically shift between cell phones and desk phones. The new OpenTouch Conversation Web uses WebRTC to enable conferencing via a web browser (no need to dial-in to a bridge or download any software). OpenTouch Conversation One is a new, free web-based application that enables essential unified communications for all users, including instant messaging, presence, document sharing, web presentation and directory look-up.
BroadSoft acquires PBXL, a cloud-based communications provider in Japan, expanding its footprint in the region and enabling Service Providers there to offer the BroadCloud managed hosted service to small businesses. BroadSoft estimates there are some five million small businesses (70% of Japan's work force) that represent an underserved and growing market which is “eager” to adopt cloud-based business services.
Cisco is extending the features and functionality of its cloud-based team collaboration application, Cisco Spark, adding business telephony and video conferencing to the existing messaging and meeting capabilities already available. The new “cloud PBX” will be sold by Cisco partners as a monthly per-user subscription and will have a feature set suitable for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) and mid-market companies. The updated Spark application will also support some hybrid configurations that combine cloud and premises-based solutions. The complete Cisco Spark service will be available in early calendar 2016 in the U.S., with expansion to Australia, Canada, the UK, Germany, France around the third quarter of 2016 and additional countries in 2017. In other news, Cisco has acquired UK-based Acano Ltd and its gateways, and video and audio bridging technology that allows customers to connect video systems from multiple vendors across both cloud and hybrid environments.
Epygi Technologies announces a new software release (R6.1.5) for its QX line of IP-PBXs and gateways, including a redesigned web-based ACD application. Call center agents, supervisors and administrators can monitor queues and agents, create custom status and wrap up codes, update and review agent status and access real-time statistics and reporting. Because it is web-based, the new Epygi ACD Console (EAC) is accessible via mobile and tablet devices. R6.1.5 also adds new Phone Book support, a new Recording Tool and Find Me Follow Me feature enhancements. In other news, Epygi QX IP PBXs now interoperate with intercom door station and OmniTouch 7 touchscreen security products from Leviton.
Fathom Voice rebrands its cloud-based communication platform for small and mid-market businesses as “Fathom Connect” and adds collaborative features, including SMS/Chat and screen share, to its suite of business phone and call management features. Fathom Connect starts at $20 per user per month with an annual payment and a two year subscription, or $30 per user if paid monthly. Fathom Voice also offers other cloud-based services, namely Fathom Customer Care (contact center), Fathom Sales Accelerator (sales team software) and the forthcoming Fathom Call Tracking. In other news, Fathom Voice is helping th entrepreneurs with the new Fathom Startups program, offering its entire Fathom Voice product suite free of cost to qualifying startups for one year. The company also recently completed the HIPAA compliancy process.
Fonality introduces new video collaboration features for its Heads Up Display (HUD) UC client, including advanced scheduling, increased scale (50 video participants, 125 audio participants), unique meeting IDs and meeting history logs. Fonality Video Collaboration, based on technology from Zoom, is included in the company’s Ultimate Edition at no extra cost or as an add-on for the Professional Edition. In 2014, Fonality consolidated product lines and now offers its business phone technology in three editions for a monthly subscription fee: Fonality Essentials (cloud only), Fonality Professional and Fonality Ultimate (cloud or premises deployments).
Grandstream Networks has a series of new products, including a lower-capacity (3-way video), cost effective video conferencing system called GVC3202 (US $2,499 list) which supports Grandstream’s IPVideoTalk platform and third party SIP video conferencing platforms such as from Cisco, Polycom, Huawei, Blue Jeans and others. Additionally, GVC3202 supports Android-based video conferencing apps from the Google Play Store, including Google Hangouts, Skype and GoToMeeting. A new Android-based HD 6-line conference phone (US $449 list) with built-in 7-way conference bridge and 4.3-inch touch screen also offers access to Android apps in the Google Play Store. For mobile device users, Grandstream’s Wave softphone app (free) is now available for iOS, and the already available Android mobile app now supports two-way video calls. For desktop phone users, Grandstream’s GXP2170 12-line HD IP Phone (US $149 list) targets receptionists and others handling high call volumes.
Interactive Intelligence has enhanced its Global Partner Program to give partners new revenue opportunities especially within the cloud market. Changes include new Systems Integrator and Telco/Carrier Programs, updates to the Channel Program with simplified partner levels and contracts and a new PureCloud track. The company also supports partners that offer complementary solutions by allowing them to list these on the Interactive Intelligence MarketPlace “virtual storefront.” In other news, Interactive Intelligence has acquired India-based SaaS developer Customer360 and will incorporate Customer360 customer engagement platform (video chat and mobile apps for live chat and helpdesk) into its PureCloud services.
Microsoft introduces a new premium Office 365 Enterprise Suite subscription plan called E5 that adds enterprise voice features to its hosted service, Office 365. Microsoft's new E5 bundle makes it possible for businesses to use Office 365 as their telephony service, eliminating the need to install and maintain a traditional phone system (private branch exchange or PBX) on-site. See the related write-up Microsoft Offers Cloud PBX with New Office 365 E5 Bundle for more detail. In other news, Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2016 is leveraging the Cortana Analytics Suite for advanced analytics and machine learning capabilities, and Microsoft has opened limited preview of the PowerApps mobile business apps creation service for iOS, Android and Windows devices. Microsoft is also making acquisitions, including purchasing the technology assets from Event Zero, a provider of management software for Skype for Business Online, and buying mobile messaging app technology company Talko that will benefit future features and capabilities in Skype and Skype for Business.
Mitel continues to unveil solutions for the “cloud-powered mobile enterprise” that combine elements of the company’s experience in enterprise, cloud, service provider and 4G LTE (Mitel acquired 4G LTE solution provider Mavenir Systems in 2015). To this end, Mitel introduces the Mobile Cloud Suite for Tier 2 and 3 mobile carriers to enable provisioning of hosted VoLTE (voice over LTE), ViLTE (video over LTE), VoWiFi (voice over WiFi) and advanced messaging services (Mitel now powers VoLTE/ VoWiFi services in 18 countries). Additionally, Mitel releases mobile field service-scheduling software from FieldAware that integrates location-based technology, CRM tools and real-time communications (this is the first product from Mitel’s Accelerator initiative). Also new is a team collaboration application called MiTeam, as well as a cloud-based healthcare solution that focuses on the eldercare segment. And, the company continues to launch its MiCloud hosted business services throughout Europe, adding 20 new cloud partners during fourth quarter 2015. Mitel MiCloud UCaaS is now available in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, France and Germany.
Mitel updates and rebrands its MiContact Center Business customer engagement solution (formerly called MiContact Center Workgroup/Business/Enterprise Edition). The new Release 8.0 simplifies packaging, improves scale (doubles the agent capacity and the number of digital interactions per hour), supports native SMS interactions and adds speech-driven self-service capabilities using text-to-speech (TTS) and automatic speech recognition (ASR). A new Web-based agent desktop (called Ignite) is in beta testing and expected to be available with Release 8.1 later in 2016. In other product news, Vidyo’s VidyoWorks platform is now fully integrated into the latest version of Mitel’s MiCollab UC client, enabling video conferencing from a mobile endpoint.
NEC’s Marketplace App Store for its UT880 Android-based phone is now open, making free and paid applications and enhancements easily accessible to users. A number of partner applications are being developed such as for video surveillance, hospitality, healthcare and e-learning to name a few. The UT880, which combines a traditional desktop phone and an Android tablet into one device, is designed to enable easy access to NEC’s UC Suite Client with a corporate directory, presence, instant messaging unified messaging and call control. Other notable features include a 7-inch color touch-screen, an integrated Bluetooth capability, a built-in camera and a USB port. NEC UT880 works with the company’s UNIVERGE SV9000 communication servers and UNIVERGE 3C platforms.
Numonix, an interaction recording and quality management solution provider based in Boca Raton, Florida, highlights RECITE Service Provider Edition (SPE), a version of its flagship RECITE recording solution that is specifically designed for service providers. RECITE SPE offers features and functionality that fit a service provider’s business model, including flexible billing options, file encryption, segregated databases and permission-based roles that ensure data security and regulatory compliance, plus centralized Web-based administration, proactive monitoring and the ability to migrate tenants as needs change. Numonix also announces enhanced integration of RECITE interaction recording with the Allworx business telephone system, adding the ability to record calls even from remote users, home-based agents and the Allworx Reach client application running on a mobile device (this is in addition to the internal and PSTN call recording already supported). Last fall, Numonix introduced a major update, RECITE 3.0, which added multi-media recording within a Microsoft Skype for Business environment, increased scale and cloud storage, among other capabilities.
RingCentral announces a new integration for its cloud business communications solution, RingCentral Office. The new Zoho CRM for RingCentral lets users manage calls from within the ZoHo CRM application, including single-click dialing, viewing screen pop-ups for incoming calls and automatically logging calls. The ZoHo integration is available for RingCentral Office Premium and Enterprise users and requires a Zoho CRM Enterprise, Professional or Standard Edition account. In other news, RingCentral has entered the wearables market with new RingCentral Mobile for Apple Watch that notifies the wearer about incoming calls and messages. The user can then opt to send calls to voicemail, reply with a text message or handoff a call to an iPhone; the application also syncs with the user’s RingCentral Office account.
ShoreTel acquires cloud-based communication software and service provider Corvisa LLC. With the acquisition, ShoreTel gains Corvisa’s open, standards-based application programming interfaces (APIs) and software development kits (SDKs) for third party application integration, Corvisa’s SIP trunking service (new revenue stream for ShoreTel and its partners) and Corvisa’s standalone cloud contact center (integration with other vendor’s communication platforms), as well as Corvisa’s 95 employees, including technical engineers. Corvisa’s Amsterdam and UK data centers will also help to further the expansion of ShoreTel’s cloud services in Europe. Recently, ShorTel also acquired M5 Networks Australia, a cloud provider with technology developed in conjunction with M5 Networks in the US (acquired in 2012 by ShoreTel and later renamed as ShoreTel Sky); this acquisition added offices and data centers in Australia.
ThinkingPhones is expanding on multiple fronts, including corporate growth, market traction, regional expansion and new technologies, namely the Contactive contextual intelligence platform and the Fuze portfolio of voice and video conferencing and content sharing services. See the related write-up ThinkingPhones Expands Services, Integrates Fuze Video Collaboration for more detail.
Toshiba America Information Systems Inc., Telecommunication Systems Division introduces new software for its IPedge IP-based communications platform. Release 1.7 improves network performance with an upgraded Linux operating system, incorporates advanced security software and adds free system trial licenses of key applications. See the related write-up Toshiba Enhances IPedge Security and Performance with R1.7 for more detail. Toshiba has also enhanced the feature set of its UCedge unified communications application, adding a softphone for iOS devices, customizable buttons and more.
Unify (formerly Siemens Enterprise and recently acquired by European IT service company Atos) unveils three new lower cost pricing packages for its Circuit team collaboration cloud application, namely Free, Team and Professional versions, in addition to the existing Enterprise package. The Free package supports up to 100 users, with three users per conference call and 1GB of storage; the monthly fee-based Team, Professional and Enterprise plans support unlimited users, more storage and more features. Unify is also releasing OpenScape Contact Center v9 in February, with a new user interface modeled after Circuit, contextual intelligence and more (on-premises, cloud and hybrid deployment models). In other news, Patton Electronics and Unify are targeting global SMBs (to 1,000 users) with the SmartNode OpenScape Business Appliance, a single device that combines Patton’s SmartNode VoIP-gateway technology with Unify’s OpenScape Business S unified communications software.
Vertical Communications expands its Summit product family with a new higher-capacity model, the Summit 800 IP/TDM hybrid phone system for medium businesses with up to 400 users in single system or to 800 users by connecting an expansion unit. With Summit, popular telephony functionality is built-in, including voicemail and auto attendant, e-mail notification, Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) and Web-based administration. More advanced capabilities, such as click-to-call, a mobile client for Android or iOS devices and a softphone for Windows PCs, are embedded and easily license-activated without the need for any add-on software (five licenses of each are included). Call Recording and an IP Attendant (operator) can be optionally added. Vertical introduced the first Summit system in 2014 as a medium IP key system suitable for businesses with 5-50 users, scale to 140 extensions using one of four basic system units and one expansion unit. Both Summit systems can be part of an IP network (up to 250 sites) with Vertical’s small SBX IP and larger MBX IP key systems. Basic features and functions are transparent across the network (Summit does not integrate with the company’s Wave IP platform).
Yealink Network Technology Ltd, a China-based voice and video over IP phone designer and manufacturer, has a series of new products and integrations of late, including the VC110 All-in-One Videoconferencing Endpoint (for small meeting rooms in branch offices), the SIP VP-T49G HD Touch Screen Video Phone (desktop video) and the VC Desktop software (mobile video). The new VC110 and T49G endpoints are compatible with Zoom’s cloud-based HD video communications service, along with two other Zoom-enabled products in the Yealink VC portfolio (VC400 video conferencing system for large offices and VC120 endpoint for medium branch office meeting rooms). The company also announces new or updated interoperability with a number of vendors, including Elastix (Latin America), Centile (Europe), Mind (Russia), Aarenet AG (Switzerland), Brekeke, Sangoma and FreeSwitch, along with a new distribution partner Imago in South Africa. In the first quarter of 2016, Yealink plans to announce that its T4X series of phones is compatible with Microsoft’s Skype for Business cloud PBX service as part of Office 365.
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