Accent Extends VoiceONE from Cloud to Premises
Accent, a national provider of telecommunications services and solutions, recently expanded its portfolio with a new premises-based IP-PBX called 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 is shipping now.
Chris Cameron, President of Accent, explains. “Some customers are locked into a current service contract for premises-based PRI or POTS lines and can’t terminate that contract, making the move to cloud difficult and costly. VoiceONE Onsite allows these customers to migrate to a next-gen VoIP service that is deployed as an on-site UC appliance, but which has the convenience of full management and support by Accent as a Unified Communications-as-a-Service (UCaaS) offering.”
The new VoiceONE Onsite system is available as a solid state hardware appliance which can support multiple virtual appliances, or can be deployed as a virtualized stack inside a customer’s existing VMware environment. Either way, a business can run other business applications alongside the VoiceONE call control to optimize resources and gain cost and administrative efficiencies.
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. All user license tiers (Standard User, Advanced User and Contact Center) support popular enterprise telephony functions, plus more advanced features not always standard in competing telephony solutions such as unified messaging, a mobile client application with presence and instant messaging, disaster recovery and ACD call queuing. The Advanced license adds a Windows or Mac desktop client, meet-me conferencing, third party application integration, voicemail transcription (a new feature this January) and other capabilities, while the Contact Center license enables Web chat, real-time queue and agent monitoring and other contact center related features. Optional add-ons are available for video and Web conferencing, call recording and outbound campaigns, to name just a few.
Hybrid Cloud and Subscription Pricing for All
With the common software for both cloud and premises deployments, Accent is hitting on an important trend – hybrid cloud. Customers use the same phones and endpoints, experience the same functionality and access the same administration software whether the solution is deployed on-site or in the cloud. And, Accent can flexibly support hybrid cloud-premises networks for multi-site business customers that may want to install on-site systems in some locations, but utilize cloud services for others. Further, any new software developments effectively “kill two birds with one stone” since the improvements will benefit both deployment types (premises and cloud).
Perhaps most significant is the simple, subscription-based payment model that applies to both cloud and premises deployments. A trend is emerging in which vendors, seeking ways to ease the buying decision process and eliminate the up-front costs typically associated with installing an on-premises communications system, are beginning to recognize the benefits of offering the same subscription-based pricing (a recurring, operational expenditure or OPEX) for both cloud and premises deployments.
With respect to Accent’s new VoiceONE Onsite system, 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.
Leading Edge Tools
In fourth quarter of 2016, Accent introduced two new online, self-service tools that aim to assess a customer’s (or potential customer’s) network connection and give subscribers confidence in the performance of Accent’s VoiceONE services and uptime. The first, VoIP Test, is a public Web page that gives a live, pre-deployment assessment of the user’s Internet connection and whether the user’s device and network meet the needs of the VoiceONE application. The second, Cloud Status, provides a current status report of VoiceONE cloud services and infrastructure. At present, this real-time view reflects what’s going on in Accent’s Columbus, Ohio data center, but Accent is in the process of adding a second data center in Minneapolis, Minnesota which will serve the north central region of the U.S. and offer full redundancy and failover in conjunction with the existing OH-based data center. In the near future, data from both data centers will be displayed.
With these two real-time performance tools, Accent’s commitment to excellent customer service is clear. How many other providers offer this level of real-time data and transparency on a public website, particularly about their own network performance?
Software-defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) is emerging 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). Just over a year ago, Accent began beta testing cloud-based SD-WAN technology powered by VeloCloud, and in early 2016, began rolling this out to customers as an alternative to using more expensive MPLS for delivery of its VoiceOne business communications cloud offering.
Accent’s “Cloud SDN” solution brings benefits in terms of network simplification, performance improvements, failover and cost savings versus traditional VPN or MPLS techniques. And, Accent goes a step further by fully implementing, managing and monitoring the solution for the customer. A VeloCloud Edge appliance is installed at each customer location to connect the customer’s communications infrastructure to the SD-WAN via the public Internet. The Edge device provides a window and deep level of visibility into real-time network and application performance. Accent engineers are able to monitor real-time performance data, network utilization statistics, and critical circuit details for every location. With this intelligence, traffic control decisions can be made on-the-fly to ensure all communications continue to run efficiently.
Accent reports record sales in 2016 for its cloud services offerings, citing nearly 70% growth of its VoiceONE and CloudSIP (SIP trunking) business in 2016 and the doubling of its business over the last 24 months. This growth is spurring investment in new services and technology, as well as plans to increase its sales team, build out its Partner/Agent program and expand into new geographic markets. Accent also hints that some additional and unique value related to WAN performance is on the roadmap for 2017. Stay tuned.
Despite the Cloud, Part III
The year 2017 started with a bang with respect to new premises-based telephony solutions hitting the market. Five vendors on our radar have introduced new on-site hardware in recent weeks – Accent (VoiceONE Onsite), Cisco (Business Edition 4000), Epygi (QX20 and QX500), 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 it’s intriguing that, just a couple of months into 2017, a number of 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 March of 2017 in the U.S., with other countries to follow.
- Epygi is releasing two new IP-PBX models in mid-March 2017, the entry-level Epygi QX20 for very small offices (to 32 users) and the Epygi QX500 for mid-size offices (to 500 users). The new models fill gaps in the earlier line of “QX” business telephony systems which includes the QX50 IP-PBX (to 50 users), the QX200 (to 200 users) and the QX2000 for mid-range and larger enterprises (to 2,000 users). Epygi transitioned to the QX product line in 2014, incorporating additional built-in applications and offering a licensable Application Programming Interface (API) for developing customized applications to work with the system. This last point is key to Epygi’s vision and strategy around migrating the IP-PBX to a “communications device” that easily integrates with other vendor’s systems, devices and applications for added value. Epygi states that it is open to exploring cloud-based and hybrid solutions, but at present, the company continues to find demand for its economical, all-in-one premises-based equipment. The low-end QX20 has an MSRP of only $385.
- Toshiba America Information Systems Inc., Telecommunication Systems Division has extended 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 with fewer than 24 users. The new IPedge model is now available in the North American market. 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 is expected to complete early in the summer.
- 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? Recent surveys reveal that hybrid deployments are a growing preference and make 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
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 on 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.
Read more here 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.
We’ll continue to watch the hybrid cloud trend. See the write-up “Despite the Cloud, Part III” that highlights four vendors bucking the trend by introducing a new on-site IP-PBX when most providers and vendors are racing to build out their cloud unified communications (UC) offers. 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.
Verizon One Talk for the Mobile-centric Small Business
Verizon zeros in on the “SMB opportunity” with its One Talk cloud-based telephony service for mobile-centric small businesses in the United States. The service, which targets small companies with fewer than 100 users, is touted as a native, mobile-first, one-number business telephony service since it runs over Verizon’s nationwide 4G LTE Wireless network and eliminates the need for subscribing separately to both a business phone service and a wireless service. Verizon One Talk customers have just one phone number, one contract and one bill.
With the One Talk service, each user receives a single Verizon wireless phone number regardless of the type of endpoint used. Business phone features work over supported iOS and Android mobile devices, as well as over One Talk-capable desk phones (a Verizon development in concert with Yealink). All of an individual user’s devices share the same phone number, and each user has access to HD audio and video calling and messaging, plus popular business calling features like transfer, conference, hold and forward and common business group functions like auto receptionists, hunt groups and line sharing. According to Verizon, the focus is on simplicity and features that SMBs actually need, but the company is planning to add more advanced (enterprise-level) business phone features in 2017.
One Talk vs. VCE
One Talk is not the first cloud-based small business telephony service from Verizon. In 2012, the company launched a cloud UC service for SMBs called Virtual Communications Express. When asked about the positioning for each service going forward, the company highlights several distinctions. Both services utilize BroadSoft technology as the underlying call control technology; however, with One Talk, Verizon is not reselling the BroadSoft service, and Verizon’s own internal R&D is behind much of the innovation. One Talk targets small businesses with 100 or fewer employees, while VCE can serve larger SMBs into the hundreds of users (for larger enterprises and more sophisticated requirements, Verizon offers a third business cloud UC service based on Cisco’s Hosted Collaboration Solution or HCS).
One Talk enables a native mobile experience that runs over Verizon’s nationwide 4G LTE Wireless network (hence, the benefits of one Verizon phone number, one contract and one bill), while the VCE customer “brings their own broadband,” either Verizon-provided Internet connections or the customer’s private IP network. VCE customers separately subscribe to a wireless service for mobile device support.
Like One Talk, VCE customers can also take advantage of access to business phone features via a smartphone device. With either service, the user downloads a UC application to their mobile device. But, with One Talk and a Verizon wireless smartphone, the application replaces the phone’s dialer (business-enabled dialer mode). With VCE and other UCaaS offers on the market, the downloaded UC application invokes simultaneous ring or forwarding to deliver calls to the mobile device (an over-the-top or OTT mode). As the OTT mode is not a native capability, the user may need to perform some manual intervention (for dialing or for handing off calls to a desk phone, for example), and the downloaded UC app typically supports only a subset of the business phone functionality.
One Talk is sold through the Verizon Wireless business unit, and Verizon has embarked on a rather aggressive go-to-market campaign, offering One Talk in over 1,600 retail stores, through some 1,800 B2B sales reps and 2,400 indirect partners. VCE and the Cisco HCS-based UCaaS are available through Verizon Enterprise.
Verizon One Talk, which officially launched in the U.S. in August 2016, is priced according to the number of Verizon wireless phone numbers required. One Talk subscribers will pay $25 per number per month which includes one number for each user, one number for a receptionist and perhaps one number for a conference room and/or for a customer service group, for example – a differentiator from other UCaaS offers on the market, like VCE, that charge per user seat and/or per trunk and that offer multiple user packages priced according to the level of features included.
Down the Road
Stay tuned for more in 2017 on the adoption of the One Talk service and Verizon’s plan to make this more of an enterprise-level business telephony service, which the company indicates will focus on three main areas: more advanced features like PC softphone integration and contact center capabilities, integrations with existing premises-based solutions such as PBXs and additional pricing models that break out user roles, trunking or other options.
Zultys Releases MX-E for the Larger Enterprise
Unified Communications (UC) solution provider Zultys announces the general availability of a new IP-PBX model, the MX-E. The new system 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.
Zultys’ MX platform is known for “all-in-one” functionality that embeds capabilities like voicemail and call center (basic ACD) 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 Unified Communications (UC) client application for desktops and mobile devices. Additional applications can be added optionally.
The new, larger-capacity MX-E appliance (to 2,000 users) runs the same MX software as the earlier Zultys MX-SE (to 50 users) and MX250 (to 250 users) IP-PBX hardware appliances and the MXvirtual virtualized software which is deployable on-premises or available from Zultys partners as a hosted/cloud subscription-based service. Zultys offers an identical user and administrator experience whether the solution is deployed at a customer premises, as a managed/hosted service or in a hybrid environment with both types of deployments – a benefit to resellers and customers (more on the flexible deployment options below).
- MX-E comes in in three different models. The base MX-E model supports 300 users, the MX-E+ handles up to 1,000 users, and the MX-E++ can scale to 2,000 users on a single appliance.
- A company-wide MXnetwork, with both physical MX systems and on-premises or cloud-based MXvirtual deployments, can include up to 128 systems or instances and 10,000 users connected as a single system.
- Like the earlier MX-SE and MX250, the new MX-E includes a built-in PSTN and SIP gateway; MX-E, MX-E+ and MX-E++ support maximums of 300, 1,000 and 2,000 SIP trunks, respectively (compared to 60 SIP trunks for the earlier MX250 and 30 for MX-SE).
- The integrated voicemail capability supports 1,200 (MX-E), 4,000 (MX-E+) and 8,000 (MX-E++) hours of storage. Up to 400 Auto Attendants, ACD Hunt Groups and Paging Groups are supported on the largest model (100 for MX-E; 256 for MX-E+).
- Three hot swappable hard disk drives, with two configured in RAID-1 and one spare drive, helps to ensure continuous communications. MX-E also comes with dual redundant hot-swappable power supplies and three cooling fans specially designed and adjustable to meet emergency situations.
Over the past few years, Zultys has steadily evolved the MX solution per discussions with its channel partners and evaluation of market trends. In early 2014 with R9, Zultys introduced MXvirtual, a virtualized software-only version of the MX that larger corporations can run on an existing VMware infrastructure. Or, authorized Zultys channel partners can act as managed service providers, hosting the virtualized software in their own facility and offering the solution as a subscription-based service to end customers as a wholesale managed services offer.
Later in 2014 with R10, the company introduced a Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) “retail” offer whereby the channel partner acts as the reseller, making the sale and providing support to the customer, while Zultys is responsible for the hosting and billing and provides SIP trunking and carrier services. The latest software releases, R11 in 2015 and R12 in 2016, introduced a number of enhancements, including a new Web chat capability, a new disaster recovery capability and improved call center features, among others. The all-in-one MX-E just introduced in January 2017 accommodates businesses with a much larger call volumes and more stringent performance requirements, such as busy contact centers.
Having multiple pricing and deployment models is a differentiator for Zultys in the business communications space. Channel partners can choose the sales model that best suits their go-to-market strategy. Zultys offers the premises-based MX UC appliance or the MXvirtual VMware-ready virtual appliance as a standard, one-time purchase (the traditional capital expenditure or CAPEX model). Or, partners can offer a managed (hosted) subscription-based service (a recurring, operational expenditure or OPEX model) which also has flexible options, either a wholesale managed services model or the retail UCaaS model.
In recent news:
3CX releases the latest version of WebMeeting, the company’s client-free web conferencing solution that leverages WebRTC technology to enable one-click conferencing, meeting recording, remote control and screen sharing. Pricing is based on the number of concurrent meeting participants (10, 25, 50 or 100), and the solution can be deployed as an on-site server or accessed as a hosted service. The new V9.3 re-introduces an online Whiteboard feature, with real-time viewing and simultaneous drawing by multiple users. Additional WebMeeting 9.3 features include support for large meeting recordings of over 2GB and improvements to security and quality of service.
Accent, a national provider of telecommunications services and solutions, recently expanded its portfolio with a new premises-based IP-PBX called Accent VoiceONE Onsite that offers the same features and functionality as its cloud counterpart. Unlike a typical on-site phone system purchase, however, the customer does not buy, rent or lease the installed IP-PBX equipment, but instead pays a predictable per-user monthly fee – the same monthly fee as the cloud-based alternative. See the write-up Accent Extends VoiceONE from Cloud to Premises for more detail.
Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise announces the official availability of Alcatel-Lucent Rainbow, a suite of cloud services related to workplace collaboration. Rainbow is designed as an overlay approach that makes the cloud services available to companies with any vendor’s on-premises or cloud-based solution. The first release, Rainbow Essential, is now generally available and free of charge (a freemium unified communications-as-a-service or UCaaS offer) and includes contact management, presence, instant messaging, audio/video calling, screen sharing, and file sharing accessible via an application on desktops and smartphones. A Premium Rainbow offer with additional services, such as multi-party conferencing, directory and PBX integration, is expected in the second quarter of 2017. With Rainbow, ALE is also offering a Communication Platform as a Service (CPaaS) environment with open APIs for development of custom business applications (for example, enhancing a mobile banking application with chat capabilities from Rainbow).
Allworx introduces the new Verge IP phone series designed for business users with a more mobile work style. This next-generation phone family includes two desktop telephones with color displays, the 12-button 9312 and the 8-button 9308, along with an optional 18-button expansion unit, the 9318Ex. The phones work in concert with Allworx’s unified communications client applications to pair the desktop phone with the user’s mobile devices and/or a PC for real-time sharing of contacts, instant hand-off of calls and remote control. The Allworx Verge IP phones are orderable in early February 2017 and are compatible with the company’s premises-based Allworx Connect platform with System Software version 8.2. MSRP is for $359 for Verge 9312 and $299 for Verge 9308. Read more here about Verge and other next-generation office desk phones recently entering the market.
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. Avaya points out some positive metrics in its latest fourth quarter and fiscal year 2016 financial report, 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. There is plenty of speculation from all angles, but the coming months will reveal how the restructuring is actually proceeding as Avaya moves through the Chapter 11 process.
BroadSoft announces the commercial availability of a new UC-One meeting room solution called BroadSoft UC-One Conference Room. The new solution is designed to provide a one-click to join conference room experience and eliminate the technical complexities associated with traditional conference room systems. The UC-One Conference Room hardware bundle includes the Logitech ConferenceCam and peripherals and works with any standard customer-provided LCD screen. One-click meetings are hosted in My Room (BroadSoft’s group collaboration workspace) and support wideband audio, HD video and content sharing of spreadsheets, presentations or other documents. Integration with the user’s calendar (Google Calendar, Microsoft Exchange or Office 365 Calendar) makes for easier scheduling. BroadSoft also updates its Team-One collaboration application (Team-One is the branding for Intellinote’s virtual workspace for teams acquired by BroadSoft last May). The latest Team-One enhancements focus on the user experience with improved emojis, activity time stamps, notes/tasks comments and more.
CafeX acquires virtual meeting room technology provider Vayyoo, adding a team collaboration application to the CafeX portfolio. Vayyoo Rooms is a virtual workspace designed to help with the challenges and requirements of the modern workplace in which 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. Within the Vayyoo Room workspace, team members can collectively collaborate, review and comment on posted documents and multimedia content, and participants are continually notified in real-time about any updates via push notifications and email alerts. Vayyoo Rooms will be rebranded as ChimeSpaces under the acquisition. Click here for more on the growing team collaboration space.
Cisco has entered the “immersive group collaboration” (IGC) market with its new Cisco Spark Board, an innovative 3-in-1 device with a “tablet-like feel” for collaborating with teams; this includes using the board for wireless presentations, as a digital whiteboard and for audio/video conferencing. Cisco Spark Board, which comes in two sizes - a 55-inch ($4,990 MSRP) available now or a 70-inch ($9,990 MSRP) device available later this year - sits in a physical meeting room, but also wirelessly connects to the Cisco Spark cloud-based subscription service via the activities “dashboard” accessed within the Spark application (there is also a monthly subscription cost of $199 per month for the cloud service, help desk and software upgrades). Users with Spark-enabled devices, whether they are physically in the conference room or attending remotely, can meet, message, call and now use the white-boarding capability in real-time. And, all interactions and shared documents remain accessible (securely encrypted) in the virtual workspace for later viewing, editing and continued collaboration. In other news, Cisco is acquiring AppDynamics, a privately-held application intelligence software platform; the deal is expected to close in Cisco’s third quarter of fiscal year 2017.
CoreDial introduces a new Mobile App for iOS devices (Android to follow). Notable features include making and receiving calls, extension dialing, managing voicemail, viewing recent calls, accessing corporate and personal directories, one-click to join conference calls and managing virtual attendant settings. CoreDial describes the new application as “bimodal” since it is compatible with CoreDial’s Asterisk platform, as well as BroadSoft’s BroadWorks UCaaS services which are scheduled to become available to CoreDial partners in early 2017. CoreDial offers its cloud services to Managed Service Providers (MSPs), Interconnects and Carriers in the Mid-Atlantic and other regions of the U.S. through a private label program. Resellers can offer the new Mobile App under their own brand (white label) as an additional opportunity for recurring, monthly revenue.
Digium announces a new version of its Switchvox Softphone for iPhone that takes advantage of Apple’s latest iOS 10 CallKit API to integrate the softphone with the native iOS call handling and improve the mobile calling experience for business calls. This includes native access to controls such as handling multiple calls and swiping to answer softphone calls, along with all of the previously available business phone functions like transfer, conference, recording, visual voicemail and presence indicators. The new integration is also said to improve battery life performance and the accuracy of notifications and alerts. Switchvox Softphone 3.0 is available now to customers using the company’s Switchvox business phone system. Digium also offers a Switchvox Softphone app for Android mobile devices. In other news, a new IP phone with a 7-inch color HD touch-screen is scheduled for general availability this March; the forthcoming D80 IP Phone will be compatible with Asterisk and Switchvox platforms and will list for $329 USD or $16/month for Switchvox Cloud customers with a 3-year contract. More to come on this new phone and more here about other next-generation office desk phones recently entering the market.
Jive Communications launches a new cloud-based Contact Center that integrates with the company’s Jive Voice Hosted PBX service. Jive Contact Center is designed to offer a good complement of call center functionality at an affordable price. Features include automatic call distribution (ACD) of incoming calls, call queuing, interactive voice response (IVR), call recording, supervisory features and real-time and historical reporting. Jive Contact Center starts at $99.95 per account per month. For more sophisticated contact center requirements, Jive offers Jive Contact Center Pro powered by inContact which adds an omni-channel interface, skills-based routing, speech recognition, database connectivity and custom reporting.
Microsoft made several announcements related to its research in the artificial intelligence space, including the launch of a new social chatbot in the U.S. called Zo which is built upon the technology stack that powers Xiaoice and Rinna, the company’s AI chatbots available in China and Japan. Users engage in conversations with Zo on Kik, a proprietary instant messenger software app for mobile devices. Microsoft also announced that the Skype Bot Platform for Calling is generally available as a mechanism for managing Skype voice calls by bots. Additionally, related to its AI strategy, Microsoft will acquire Montreal-based Maluuba and its deep-learning research labs for natural language understanding. In other news, Microsoft's LinkedIn began rolling out on January 19 with the “largest desktop redesign since LinkedIn’s inception” which the company envisions will increase usability and user engagement.
Mitel entered into a definitive agreement to sell its Mobile division, the former 4G LTE solution provider Mavenir Systems which Mitel acquired in 2015. Per Mitel, this is a strategic decision to refocus the company exclusively on the Unified Communications and Collaboration (UCC) market. Mitel further explains that the mobility division had not returned the shareholder value expected, and pursuing the next wave of 4G/5G innovation would require increased capital investments better suited for a large carrier-focused company. The sale of the Mobile division is expected to finalize in the first quarter of 2017. Digital communications services provider Xura Inc. which agreed to acquire Mitel Mobility (formerly Mavenir), along with Ranzure Networks, announced that upon completion of both transactions the new combined company name will become Mavenir Systems, Inc.
RingCentral adds Extended Enterprise Support to its RingCentral Professional Services portfolio for larger enterprises with more complex networks that require premium support services. The new support level assigns a technical account manager and customer success manager(s) for each account, along with providing a dedicated support hotline, proactive case management and quarterly network assessments. The program is designed for customers with 500+ seats, but RingCentral make exceptions on a case by case basis.
ShoreTel introduces an integration with StarLeaf multi-party video conferencing, enabling customers with Essential, Standard and Advanced Connect CLOUD service plans to use multi-party video conferencing at no additional charge (the plans support 8-party, 12-party and 24-party video, respectively). No additional hardware is required. ShoreTel will introduce StarLeaf multi-party video conferencing for premises-based Connect ONSITE systems in 2017. In other news, ShoreTel Connect CLOUD and ShoreTel Connect Contact Center for CLOUD services are now available to business customers in the UK; both have been previously available in North America.
Slack introduces a new enterprise-grade offering around its team collaboration tool. The new Slack Enterprise Grid is designed for larger, more complex organizations that need to share information among multiple teams or departments that use the Slack workspace tool. Grid creates a single administrative layer across the company by which administrators can create shared channels between specific Slack workspaces. Connected teams can search, take part in one-to-one and group messaging and access all the tools that exist within this layer. With Grid, administrators are also able to manage security, policy and compliance across the entire company and can customize security features and policies for each specific workspace as needed.
Toshiba America Information Systems Inc., Telecommunication Systems Division releases a new version of software for its IPedge business communications platform. Release 1.7.4 adds new capabilities related to security and administration, including a secure dongle offline licensing option that eliminates the need for public internet access when licensing a new system, new QoS troubleshooting tools to help assess call quality issues, encrypted voicemail and fax storage for the built-in IPedge Messaging application and programming improvements that help speed up system installation. The Conference View and Scheduler function for the built-in Meet Me Audio Conference capability improves the user view and calendar integration.
Unify (now part of the European IT service company Atos) has enhanced its OpenScape 4000 hybrid TDM/IP communications platform for medium to large enterprises. The latest Version 8 adds connection to Unify’s Circuit team collaboration solution, support for the new OpenScape Desk Phone CP family and updates the hardware. New user-based licensing results in cost savings compared to earlier versions - up to 15% savings for new systems and up to 24% for upgrades.
Verizon zeros in on the “SMB opportunity” with its One Talk cloud-based telephony service for mobile-centric small businesses in the United States. The service, which targets small companies with fewer than 100 users, is touted as a native, mobile-first, one-number business telephony service since it runs over Verizon’s nationwide 4G LTE Wireless network and eliminates the need for subscribing separately to both a business phone service and a wireless service. Verizon One Talk customers have just one phone number, one contract and one bill. See the write-up “Verizon One Talk for the Mobile-centric Small Business” for more detail.
Vidyo launches the new Vidyo.io communications platform as-a-service (CPaaS) for developers, with SDKs and APIs for embedding multiparty video collaboration into WebRTC, mobile or native applications. The platform and SDK provide all of the necessary components for development of video-enabled applications used in telehealth, enterprise collaboration, customer engagement, field services, distance learning and other scenarios. New users will receive 4,000 free minutes (100,000 minutes with a limited time offer).
Zang Office is a new cloud-based phone service now in controlled introduction for SMBs in the United States. General availability is expected this spring. Zang Office is designed as a 100% cloud-based software-as-a-service offer that is simple to order online through the Zang Store, and as such, does not require a partner or any in-house IT resources. Users choose from three plans: Basic (for lobbies, break rooms or conference rooms; $15.95 per user per month), Standard (for typical office workers; $21.95 per user per month) and Power (for more advanced unified communications needs; $31.95 per user per month). Add-on features are available to customize the packages for individual user needs. Avaya announced the new subsidiary Zang a year ago as a cloud-based communications platform-as-a-service with an application development environment, embedded Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and pre-built applications.
Zultys announces the general availability of a new IP-PBX model, the MX-E. The new solution is designed to support larger enterprises with up to 2,000 users on a single appliance and has a level of redundancy and reliability over and above earlier MX systems in order to meet the requirements of larger corporations. See the write-up Zultys Releases MX-E for the Larger Enterprise for more detail. In other news, Zultys is piloting a new unified communications and collaboration tool called ZAC (Zultys Advanced Communicator) which will be a single hub that combines call control and real-time status with team collaboration; the pilot is open now for partners and customers to try out ZAC in its early stage.
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