8x8 is rolling out the new X Series that combines all 8x8 unified communications and contact center services as a single platform, bringing together 8x8’s separate Virtual Office, Virtual Contact Center and ContactNow cloud-based products as a continuum of services. Eight mix and match feature packages, X1-X8, are designed to line up with various user types/roles within an organization. The X1, X2, X3 and X4 Editions build out a range of telephony, audio/video conferencing, CRM and analytics, while X5, X6, X7 and X8 add levels of contact center functionality such as IVR, inbound voice, outbound dialers, omni-channel (including voice, chat, email and social channels), speech analytics and quality monitoring. Team messaging will be included across all X Series packages. The advanced X Series packages will also include 8x8’s Sameroom interoperability platform that connects disparate team messaging solutions. A basic Lobby edition provides auto attendant, hunt group and call queue functions. The 8x8 X Series will be available in the U.S., U.K. and France in Summer 2018. In other news, 8x8 is partnering with Itancia to offer the 8x8 cloud communications services in France and the European market.
Amazon introduced a new, usage-based pricing model for its Chime cloud-based service for team meetings, effective April 1,2018. There are two user packages, including the free Chime Basic that enables features related to 2-party voice and video calling, chat and attending meetings as a participant. Chime Pro adds features for scheduling/hosting meetings (up to 100 people) and incurs a charge of $3 per day when hosting meetings, up to a maximum of $15 per user per month. Users assigned Pro permissions will have access to all Basic and Pro features. Amazon has eliminated the earlier Chime “Plus” plan, adding its features, such as screen sharing and corporate directory, to the free Basic plan.
Avaya unveiled a new mobile cloud service for contact centers, called Avaya Mobile Experience. The new subscription-based cloud offering, owned and operated by Avaya, aims to reduce toll-free carrier costs that a contact center must pay when calls arrive over toll-free lines (per Avaya, up to 70% of calls to contact centers come from mobile devices). The new service identifies mobile calls to a toll-free number and gives the caller the option to deflect the call to a relevant page on the company’s website where the caller may find other self-service options, including co-browsing or re-escalation to a voice or video call. Upon selecting the website option, the toll-free call (and associated per-minute costs) ends. In related news, Avaya is collaborating with Post Quantum on an Identity-as-a-Service (IDaaS) solution aimed at improving data security in contact centers. The new identity and authentication service, which uses biometrics and blockchain technologies, will initially be offered as the identity and authentication service for Avaya Mobile Experience, and subsequently available as a standalone service. In other news, the acquisition of Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) provider (and partner) Spoken Communications is complete, adding a multi-tenant, fully cloud-based contact center offering to Avaya’s portfolio (more here on this and other recent mergers in the UC space).
Avaya’s Equinox Experience with team collaboration integration is due out in May. Avaya is enhancing the Avaya Equinox UC app to include the features and functionality of its cloud-based team collaboration capability called Spaces (based on technology from Avaya’s subsidiary Zang). All Equinox client users will get Basic team collaboration functionality which includes team space creation and management, web and mobile app access, room chat, one-to-one instant messaging and video calling, file sharing (1 GB), and voice conferencing for up to five participants with content sharing. Plus and Business editions (the paid plans) increase the number of audio and video conferencing participants, add unlimited file sharing and offer expanded support options. (Avaya introduced the Equinox desktop and mobile client in 2017 to replace multiple earlier Avaya client offers - Communicator, Flare, OneX and Scopia clients). In other news, Avaya introduces new devices for hospitality companies, including Avaya Vantage with mobile phone sync, and three new IP phones with HD audio, programmable soft keys, speaker with acoustic echo cancellation, and an optional full 3.5-inch color display screen. All of these devices are supported by Avaya Aura, Avaya IP Office as well as the Powered by Avaya IP Office cloud which was recently launched in additional regions (Australia and New Zealand).
Dialpad has entered the call center market, launching the new Dialpad Call Center inbound/outbound call center service for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs), built on the Google Cloud platform. Call Center seats are available as an add-on to Dialpad Pro and Enterprise unified communications as-a-service (UCaaS) plans. A standalone call center service is planned for the near future. Users can select from three Call Center bundles: Standard (25 agents, three call queues, $15/user/month prepaid annually), Pro (200 agents, 25 call queues, $35/user/month prepaid annually) and Enterprise (500 agents, unlimited queues, custom pricing). All bundles include unlimited inbound calls, 3,000 outbound minutes per agent ($0.01/minute additional), customizable IVR, analytics, business application integrations (including Salesforce, Zendesk, O365 and G Suite) among other features. The advanced seats add agent monitoring, service level alerts, dashboards and reporting.
Epygi has entered the cloud unified communications space with the new Epygi Cloud QX (ecQX), a virtual instance of the company’s QX business telephony system running in the cloud. Epygi emphasizes an easy ordering process through its online portal and automatic per-month payments through PayPal. A configuration template initiates the basic service for five extensions, but additional extensions can be configured up to 2,000 or more, as needed. In addition to popular telephony features and functions, some more advanced features can be added for an extra fee such as Call Center, Call Recording and a Receptionist Service, among others. A Cloud Monitoring service (monitors over 70 events) and a Cloud Directory Service (Cloud-based Click-to-dial Service) are also included. Epygi offers ecQX through integrators and resellers (not directly to end users).
Fuze has expanded its partnership with NICE inContact (expanded, joint go-to-market efforts) and announces a new partnership with Five9 to offer an additional contact center as-a-service option to its enterprise customers with more complex contact center environments. Fuze has its own voice-only call center offering for less complex customer requirements, but the NICE and Five9 solutions enable Fuze to offer a wider range of solutions to enterprise customers, including more advanced capabilities such as omnichannel interactions, outbound campaigns and workforce optimization, among other more sophisticated contact center features.
Microsoft continues to enhance the Microsoft Teams chat-based workspace (winner of the Best of Enterprise Connect 2018 award), recently adding one-click meeting recording with automatic transcription (due out this summer), as well as several features expected later this year, namely message translation in 80 languages, voice commands using the Microsoft Cortana personal digital assistant, background blur on video calls, proximity detection to discover and add a nearby Skype Room System to a meeting, and content sharing from mobile devices. Additionally, Microsoft continues to evolve Teams as the primary user interface for Office 365 and has been adding in the Skype for Business Online features (telephony, conferencing and chat), with waves of feature parity already occurring and continuing throughout 2018. The latest Calling features added include Direct Routing for connecting SIP trunks into Teams, consultative transfer, call delegation and federation. Microsoft Teams also now supports additional devices, including Microsoft’s Surface Hub, meeting room systems from HP and Lenovo, new desk phones from AudioCodes and Yealink, new conference room phones from Creston, Polycom, and Yealink and new mobile phone stations from Plantronics, as well as interoperability between Teams and BlueJeans Network, Pexip and Polycom hardware solutions. In other news, Microsoft will be opening its first data centers in the Middle East (Abu Dhabi and Dubai) and Switzerland (Geneva and Zurich) in 2019; the company now serves 50 regions around the world, with 12 new regions planned.
Mitel has unveiled a new, unified Global Partner Program, launching in April 2018, that draws from and combines “strengths” from the previous Mitel and ShoreTel channel partner programs (Mitel completed its acquisition of ShoreTel in September 2017). Among the notable elements, per Mitel, are partner growth incentives for moving to the cloud, offering more points for monthly recurring revenue (previously, Mitel rewards and discounts were tied to on-site solutions). The two-tier distribution model also includes three partner program levels (platinum, gold and authorized partner certifications), a new point-based system to measure performance and a revised approach for allocating marketing funds to support new business development. Mitel is also looking to consolidate channels to a smaller number of distributors. In other news, Mitel has sold its DeTeWe division (from Mitel’s Aastra acquisition) to German ICT Systems Integrator Ostertag Group. DeTeWe, as part of Ostertag, will continue to be a Mitel channel partner in Germany (closing is expected in early Q2 2018).
NEC has announced the general availability of the UNIVERGE BLUE ONDemand Collaboration video conferencing cloud service in North America based on technology from Vidyo. Under this partnership, NEC channel partners can resell the VidyoConnect online meeting solution as an add-on subscription service for the company’s UNIVERGE BLUE hosted telephony offering. Depending on the user plan, UNIVERGE BLUE ONDemand Collaboration supports up to 200 video conferencing participants per room and enables content sharing, group chat and recording, among other collaborative features. Users meet in a virtual meeting room and can join via desktop and mobile devices, web browser (WebRTC), telephone, Vidyo Room Systems and even third-party legacy video conferencing systems. The new cloud-based video offering is also available as-a-service for NEC’s premises-based telephony systems (the SV9000 telephony servers) or can be sold as a stand-alone product for non-NEC systems. Along with reselling NEC-branded Vidyo services, NEC is also integrating the Vidyo technology within its own solutions to create new vertical applications for healthcare, hospitality, education, financial, retail and other industries. As an example, NEC is leveraging Vidyo technology with its biometrics solutions to provide a second level of authentication in point-of-sale scenarios and at ATM machines, as well as for verifying time and attendance in distance learning applications.
Ooma is extending its portfolio and global reach with the acquisition of unified communications as a service (UCaaS) provider Voxter Communications. Voxter, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, provides telephone numbers in over 130 countries and operates data centers in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan and Australia. Voxter services, including voice, video and messaging solutions for mid-market and enterprise businesses, complement the Ooma Office telephony platform for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs). The acquisition also brings additional functionality from Voxter around mobile apps, collaboration, contact center and application integration, as well as three channel partner programs with retail, wholesale/white-label and referral-based models. The Ooma-Voxter transaction is expected to close in March 2018. Also, recently, Ooma purchased Butterfleye, Inc. and its Wi-Fi video camera platform for homes and small offices. The Butterfleye technology incorporates artificial intelligence (AI) for facial and audio recognition and Butterfleye’s patent-pending activity-based recording. Ooma is integrating the Butterfleye wire-free, rechargeable HD camera with its own security solutions, but will also continue to sell the cameras standalone under the Butterfleye brand. The Ooma-Butterfleye transaction is complete. Already in 2018, we’ve heard about a significant number of mergers as UC vendors look to round out their portfolios and expand into new markets.
Panasonic System Communications Company of North America, Division of Panasonic Corporation of North America, announced the KX-NSX2000 IP-based business communications server. The new all-IP platform, currently available in the U.S., Europe, Asia, Brazil and parts of the Middle East and Africa, is designed for a growing company and allows Panasonic to address mid-size enterprises that require support for up to 2,000 user devices (a single user can have multiple devices) and centralized management for up to 32 sites. The KX-NSX2000 enables business continuity via an optional back-up server that immediately takes over for the main server should the main server or the network it runs on fail. Customers can add some more advanced applications, including a new suite of contact center solutions (based on technology from partner CyTrack) that includes omni-channel support for voice, SMS, email, fax, web chat, web callback, queue callback and social media connections. The KX-NSX2000 joins Panasonic’s KX-NS business communications system family which also includes KX-NS700G for very small businesses (to 26 extensions), the KX-NS700 digital/IP communications server (to 288 extensions) for small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) and the KX-NS1000 IP/SIP-based communications server that handles 1,000 networked users across up to 16 locations. Panasonic also continues to sell the KX-TDA50G (digital system) and KX-TA824 (analog system) for small deployments along with the TDE600 for large digital or analog deployments.
Plantronics announced its intent to acquire Polycom, adding Polycom’s audio and video conferencing endpoints and SIP telephones to its portfolio of headset products. The combination gives Plantronics a more comprehensive suite of unified communications and collaboration products and services. Plantronics is also looking to integrate solutions and create new user experiences, envisioning a continuity of experience as workers move from headset to conference room device, for example. The transaction is expected to close by the third quarter of 2018. Recently, Polycom also broadened its portfolio with new technology and software from Obihai Technology, a California-based developer of software and hardware for Voice over IP (VoIP) enabled devices and the OBiTALK service API (Application Programming Interface). More to come on this major merger. Already in 2018, we’ve heard about a significant number of mergers as UC vendors look to round out their portfolios and expand into new markets.
RingCentral released new integrated solutions in the areas of contact center and online meetings, with a new version of the company’s user interface to follow soon. RingCentral’s new “collaborative” Contact Center adds the company’s Glip team messaging application (acquired in 2015) to the RingCentral Contact Center service (built on inContact technology). The idea here is to facilitate communication among contact center agents and knowledge experts across an enterprise in order to resolve customer issues quickly. Agents have access to the full range of Glip features, including team chat, video chat, file sharing and storage, calendar sync and task management. RingCentral Meetings is a new stand-alone web and video meetings solution that combines web meetings (based on technology from Zoom) and team collaboration (based on RingCentral’s Glip) into an easily accessed, subscription-based service. Meeting participants will be able to seamlessly transition from a Glip chat conversation to an online meeting to share screens and discuss projects live. Participants can share files from services like Dropbox, share animated online GIF files and save all messages and content on Glip. More on these new integrated solutions here. In other news, RingCentral introduces the new RingCentral for Hangouts Chat add-on bot that enables calling and video meeting capabilities within the Google Chat platform (requires a Google account and a RingCentral Office subscription).
Talkdesk continues to target the enterprise, introducing a new cloud-based contact center service called the Enterprise Contact Center Platform. The new platform is designed to handle over 500 seats and touts a number of enterprise-level capabilities over and above the company’s Professional version for teams, including advanced reporting and analytics, Context Mobile (provides real-time information about a caller’s mobile app activity), 24x7 support, a dedicated account manager and access to APIs and SDKs for customizing business applications (Talkdesk leverages the Twilio communications platform as a service). Customers can also “bring their own carrier,” an advantage to businesses that have an existing and/or extensive telco infrastructure already in place; Talkdesk becomes a simple SIP extension, handling calls and queuing in the cloud. Talkdesk also announced new enterprise partners including Afiniti that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to predict behavior and efficiently match customers with agents, and Clearview for Workforce optimization and performance management. Last year, Talkdesk rolled out the AppConnect app store where customers can try and buy various contact center related tools and technology and is adding new agent-customer interaction channels (in addition to voice), namely SMS and video which are targeted for Fall 2018. Talkdesk for Sales, a new product suite for inside sales teams, includes SalesAssist (AI, voice analytics), power dialing, voicemail drop, local presence, Salesforce Sales Cloud integration (SalesAssist is not yet fully released).
Twilio has entered the contact center space, introducing Twilio Flex, an omnichannel cloud-based contact center platform that enables customer interactions via multiple channels including voice, SMS, email, chat, video, or social media. Twilio has been in the contact center market since 2008, providing communications APIs for other vendors to build customized contact center solutions. With Flex, Twilio will now compete with its own contact center as-a-service (CCaaS) application that is touted as new type of contact center application in that it is fully programmable and customizable to flexibly meet the needs of any business. The user interface, communication channels, agent routing, reporting and other contact center elements are designed to be “deconstructed” and then, using Twilio’s communications platform as a service (CPaaS), can be programmed and customized to meet the unique requirements of a business. Twilio Flex has been tested to support very large organizations with up to 50,000 agents (possibly more in the future) and is currently in preview. General availability is expected by the end of 2018.
Vonage Business rolled out the new Vonage Business Cloud (VBC) to replace its earlier Essentials UCaaS offering for smaller businesses (Essentials was the former Vocalocity service acquired by Vonage in 2013). The cloud-native VBC, designed to run on Amazon Web Services (AWS), is the result of a three-year software development effort and offers a broader UCaaS feature set that targets mid-size and larger companies (up to 1,000 seats). Among the enterprise-level features are integrated mobile text messaging created using resources from the Nexmo CPaaS platform, a Vonage software-defined WAN service (SD-WAN) and the Amazon Chime team collaboration capability. In the near-term, Vonage plans to enhance the scale of the VBC offering and extend the international coverage. Per Vonage, the majority of Essentials customers have already been migrated over to VBC since Essentials will be discontinued soon. In other news, Vonage introduces skills-based communications routing and real-time sentiment analysis, developed as a part of the Nexmo Partner Program for Vonage's API Platform and which can be used stand-alone or to augment Vonage's or a third-party's contact center solution. And, Vonage has launched a new channel partner program, the Vonage Partner Network. The new program aims to strengthen partnerships with Managed Service Providers (MSPs), Independent Software Vendors (ISVs), System Integrators (SIs) and Value-Added Resellers (VARs) by offering support, ongoing training and consultation services before, during and after a sale.
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