8x8 Bundles Services into New Enterprise Suite
8x8, a Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) provider based in San Jose, California, continues to focus on the needs and requirements of a growing base of midmarket and enterprise customers, especially those with distributed organizations. A new 8x8 Virtual Office Enterprise Suite conveniently bundles a number of 8x8’s existing cloud-based services into a single package, including the “Pro” version of its unified communications service, new business analytics tools, branch office features, third party application integrations, service level guarantees and more. The Virtual Office Enterprise Suite is priced at only $35 per user, per month - a substantial savings over purchasing these 8x8 services separately.
8x8 has been reporting growth in the number and size of its business subscribers since the company introduced the Virtual Office hosted phone service to U.S. small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) in 2004. Today, with data center facilities in the U.S., Europe, Asia Pacific and South America, 8x8 is supporting more than 40,000 businesses in over 40 countries, including multi-site organizations with several thousand endpoints. 8x8 first entered the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) market in 2002 as a service provider, offering residential Internet phone service under the Packet8 brand name.
8x8’s focus on the midmarket and small enterprise lines up with analyst firms studying the UCaaS market that confirm a trend “up-market.” Infonetics highlights the broad acceptance and adoption of hosted VoIP services from all size businesses, but notes an escalating interest from large enterprises. Analysts at Frost & Sullivan agree that hosted communications solutions are gaining traction with larger organizations, especially those with remote and mobile employees.
The Virtual Office Enterprise Suite
Up until now, 8x8 has offered three main user packages, namely the Virtual Office standard user package with popular business communications features, the Virtual Office Pro package that adds more collaborative functionality and the Virtual Contact Center solution. It is Virtual Office Pro that is included in the new Enterprise Suite package, along with a host of features and services that were previously sold a la carte. The Virtual Office Enterprise Suite includes the following:
- Enterprise-grade Telephony & UC: 8x8’s Virtual Office Pro service enables popular business phone features, plus more advanced features like voicemail-to-email notification, call recording, meet-me conferencing, the Virtual Office Mobile application for Android and iOS mobile devices, Internet Fax and the company’s Virtual Meeting Web conferencing service for audio/Web meetings and sharing desktop content. Customers can also use a webcam to add video or opt for a room video conferencing solution.
- Multi-site Features: In 2014, 8x8 introduced two capabilities aimed at enterprise customers with distributed office locations: (1) a Branch Office feature that allows an organization to set up unique branch office instances for specific functions such as auto attendant menus, and (2) the Virtual Office Switchboard Pro Web-based receptionist application that functions as an answering position for an entire organization. Typically, these multi-site features are sold separately, but 8x8 has included them as part of the new Virtual Office Enterprise Suite.
- Application Integration: The Enterprise Suite includes built-in integration with third party applications at no extra cost, namely Salesforce customer relationship management (CRM) software, the NetSuite business software suite and the Zendesk cloud-based customer service system for creating, tracking and closing trouble tickets.
- Business Analytics: Recently, 8x8 introduced Virtual Office Analytics, a suite of web-based tools that capture real-time and historical information about the extensions and devices connected to the 8x8 cloud service. The tools and data, which have been used by 8x8 internally to understand the utilization of its network, are now available to customers to assess their own communications. The Enterprise Suite includes “Analytics Essentials” for information on extensions, call detail records, active calls, unreturned calls and DID calls. Two other analytics tools, “Analytics Supervisor” and “Analytics Service Quality” are available for an extra fee.
- Service Level Guarantee: The Enterprise Suite includes 8x8’s new Performance Assured SLA that guarantees 99.99% end-to-end VoIP service uptime and enterprise-grade voice quality over the public Internet, as well as over a managed MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) network or a dual MPLS/public Internet connection. Call quality is measured using the Mean Opinion Score (MOS), a numeric measure of listener satisfaction. 8x8 guarantees a minimum MOS of 3.0 for at least 98% of the calls in a month, and service credits are applied if thresholds are not met.
- Professional Services: 8x8 recently introduced the Elite Touch professional services package designed to ensure a successful deployment of the 8x8 cloud UC solution. Elite Touch involves a five phase process for network assessment, solution design, training and ongoing support that includes a dedicated Account Manager.
8x8’s Virtual Office Enterprise Suite is available now at a starting price of $35 per extension per month. Look for more developments from 8x8 in the near future, including the anticipated integration of the company’s Virtual Office and Virtual Contact Center solutions which will enable a single sign-on and shared presence status information, along with common dialing and administration across both solutions.
Avaya and Google Partner to Offer Cloud Contact Center for SMBs
Avaya is addressing the hybrid cloud opportunity with new partnerships and services aimed at businesses transitioning toward a public cloud delivery model. Among these partnerships is the recently announced service called Customer Engagement OnAvaya™ Powered by Google Cloud Platform. With this collaboration, Avaya’s IP Office Contact Center technology is now offered as-a-service for a monthly subscription fee through Google Cloud.
The co-branded contact center solution will be sold to small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) and mid-market companies through certified Avaya and Google business partners. Customer Engagement OnAvaya is generally available as of April 27, 2015 in the U.S., with expansion to other countries later. List price is an estimated $140 per agent per month, though pricing details have yet to be formally announced.
The new cloud-based service is a good alternative for any business that wants to maintain its current investment in a premises-based phone system, while eliminating the expense of purchasing and installing contact center software and/or hardware on-site and the cost of the ongoing administration and maintenance that follows. The service can be up and running quickly with no need for any new infrastructure or equipment other than an Internet connection and a Google Chrome device with a headset or attached Avaya IP phone for each contact center agent and supervisor.
Based on Avaya’s IP Office Contact Center
Customer Engagement OnAvaya is based on Avaya’s IP Office Contact Center solution, an inbound/outbound contact center application introduced earlier in 2014 for the company’s IP Office platform. The cloud version is a voice-centric solution that Avaya plans to enhance over time with multi-channel features and more. Initial capabilities are as follows:
- The solution supports from 10-250 agents and up to 50 supervisors (agents and supervisors combined cannot exceed 250; maximum UC/telephony users in the overall organization is 1,250).
- Contact Center agents and supervisors are equipped with a Chromebook, a Chromebase or a Chromebox device with the Customer Engagement OnAvaya software downloaded from the Google Chrome Store. Users will likely plug in a headset, but can also use a connected Avaya IP 96x1 H.323 IP telephone.
- Call Control capabilities include skills-based routing based on agent expertise, built-in call recording and self-service interactive voice response (IVR) options, as well as outbound voice campaigns.
- Real-time statistics are displayed on up to five wallboards for visibility into the contact center operation; historical reports collect call statistics to aid in resource planning and forecasting.
The Hybrid Cloud Opportunity
Avaya’s investment in hosted contact center and hybrid cloud opportunities is timely and on target. Research by Frost & Sullivan indicates that cloud-based contact center solutions are increasingly becoming the preferred deployment model due to flexibility, scalability, business agility and cost savings. The hosted and cloud contact center market is growing at 11.6% a year which is nearing twice the rate of the premises-based contact center system market at 6.1%, though not completely an apples-to-apples comparison, according to the firm.
In addition to the Avaya-Google initiative for SMBs and mid-market companies, Avaya is partnering with several vendors to deliver enterprise-level cloud services. Avaya is partnering with cloud infrastructure provider Spoken Communications to offer a hybrid cloud Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) solution for the enterprise and with VMware to offer Avaya customer and team engagement applications as-a-service hosted on the VMware vCloud Air platform. HP also partners with Avaya to resell Avaya as-a-service offerings, namely Avaya Unified Communications-as-a-Service and Contact Center-as-a-Service.
It's an exciting time in the enterprise communications market as we witness the shift toward subscription-based hosted/cloud services for telephony and collaboration. In this transitional period, subscribing to hosted/cloud services for some applications and using on-site solutions for others is a win-win for businesses and for the vendors that serve them. Read more about how vendors are addressing the hybrid cloud opportunity.
Digium's Respoke: New Market, New Model
Digium announces the public launch of Respoke, a new cloud-based Web communications platform for Web and mobile software application developers. With Respoke, software developers will find tools, services and other building blocks needed to create new types of communications experiences using the latest Web technologies such as REST APIs, WebSockets and the emerging open standard called Web-based real-time communications or WebRTC. These APIs, Libraries and SDKs enable new Web-based solutions to be developed in a matter of days versus weeks and months using earlier technology.
Web browser-based communications have been on the front burner as a way to integrate real-time (or live) voice, video, text and data features into a website or application, without the need for software downloads, plug-ins or other dedicated resources typically required to enable such applications. As an example, embedded WebRTC code can enable “click-to-call” or “click-to-video” chat capabilities directly from a Web page. This makes it possible for an answering agent to see exactly what page the caller is viewing or has recently viewed and be able to answer inquires more accurately for a higher level of customer service. Digium explains that such functionality would be incredibly difficult or impossible to build with traditional VoIP tools.
Use cases for real-time, multi-media communications can be found across all industries, including education, real-estate, retail, medical, legal and more. Since the Respoke developer community was initially offered to early adopters last September, hundreds of Web-based applications and integrations have already been developed. One interesting prototype applicable to distance learning involves remote proctoring for test taking, While a student takes an online exam, a proctor will monitor the student through live video and an audio connection, but also with a complete view of the test-taker’s computer screen (one-way screen sharing) – all without any specialized, proprietary software installation or plug-ins. Instead, the student and proctor access the solution by simply clicking on a link in a Web browser to open up the connection. A developer uses the Respoke library in their code to access the audio, video and screen sharing functionality which is provided through Respoke.
New Market, New Model
Respoke is also a new model for Digium since it is a cloud-based platform or a “cloud back-end,” a Web communications platform-as-a-service (PaaS) which uses subscription-based pricing. With Respoke, developers pay a fixed monthly fee based on the number of simultaneous connections required. A Starter package is free for up to five connections, or developers can choose from the following levels: Basic (starts at $49/month), Pro (starts at $199/month) or Enterprise (starts at $999/month) with support for 50, 250+ or 1,250+ concurrent connections, respectively. The package options also come with varying amounts of bandwidth for media relay used during the month and different support options.
The Respoke developer environment, a service of Digium, has been in testing with select developers since September 2014. With feedback and improvements now incorporated, Respoke is officially open to the larger developer community for Web application development. Currently, Chrome, FireFox and Opera Web browsers support WebRTC natively. Microsoft Internet Explorer and Safari do not have native interoperability, so Respoke plans to release a plug-in for these browsers in the near future. An environment for mobile developers to build solutions for iOS, Android and other mobile devices is in the early stages (Android and iOS mobile SDKs); a beta launch is expected in the next quarter.
Mitel MiCloud Hosted Services Offer Multiple Market Opportunities
Mitel continues to evolve its MiCloud hosted business services portfolio, enhancing the features and functionality, while also expanding the market opportunities. The company first entered the hosted/cloud business communications market in 2010 with Mitel AnyWare, now called MiCloud Business, a hosted business phone service available directly from Mitel and through its resellers to small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) in the United States. Since then, Mitel has developed MiCloud offers for larger enterprises with the full Mitel mobility and unified communications (UC) suite and additional delivery models, including a wholesale commercial offer through Service Providers that is available in the U.S., Canada, the UK and Australia. More on the MiCloud portfolio below.
Mitel has garnered industry attention of late in the cloud communications market, including from Synergy Research Group that recognized Mitel as the global market share leader in its recent Cloud Business Communications Market Share Report, Worldwide. According to Synergy analysts, Mitel is the fastest growing provider of cloud communications and trending upward, with nearly 20% of the global cloud communications market in terms of subscriptions and seats per Synergy’s latest data.
Mitel’s own financial reports also reveal the company’s momentum in the cloud UC space. In its full year 2014 financial report, the company cited a milestone of more than 1,000,000 total cloud seats installed, up 83% year-over-year (taking into account the retail, wholesale and service provider offers).
The MiCloud Portfolio
The current MiCloud portfolio comes in several flavors that address the needs and requirements of small to large businesses. Service delivery may be direct from Mitel, through a Mitel partner or hosted and offered by a Service Provider.
Below we sort out the four MiCloud offers for customers seeking a cloud communications solution or for partners and Service Providers that are looking to resell Mitel cloud-based services.
MiCloud Business (formerly called Mitel AnyWare) is a cloud-based business phone service for SMBs, hosted in Mitel data centers and sold directly by Mitel or through Mitel dealers in the U.S. only. The solution is based on Mitel’s MiVoice Business software (formerly Mitel Communications Director or MCD) and includes “lite” UC features. Seven seat types are available: Small Business Professional, Business Lite, Business Advanced, Extension Only, Business Extension Only with Voice Mail and Contact Center Agent/Supervisor. MiCloud Business targets businesses with fewer than 500 seats (users), but can scale to serve organizations with 1,000 seats or more.
MiCloud Enterprise is a cloud UC service for enterprises that need more sophisticated mobility and UC. The service is hosted in Mitel data centers and sold directly by Mitel or through Mitel dealers in the U.S. only. The solution is based on Mitel’s MiVoice Business software (formerly Mitel Communications Director or MCD) and supports Mitel’s full MiCollab mobility and UC portfolio. Four seat types are available: Lobby, Entry (Office workers), Standard (Knowledge workers) and Premium (Mobile workers). MiCloud Enterprise targets enterprises with 250+ seats (users), but may be suitable for organizations with less than 250 users that require richer UC.
MiCloud Enterprise UCaaS
MiCloud Enterprise UCaaS is a cloud UC service for enterprises that is hosted in Mitel data center facilities, but configured, provisioned and sold by partners in the U.S., Canada, the UK and Australia. The solution is based on Mitel’s MiVoice Business software (formerly Mitel Communications Director or MCD) and supports Mitel’s full MiCollab mobility and UC portfolio. MiCloud Enterprise UCaaS targets enterprises of all sizes, and partners have the flexibility to select the seat types they wish to offer. For example, Frontier Communications offers the service as “Frontier Anyware” in three seat types (Extension only, Lite and Advanced), while UK-based Mitel reseller Denwa sells Mitel MiCloud in three role-based packages they call Office, Knowledge and Mobile.
MiCloud Business for Service Providers
MiCloud Business for Service Providers is a cloud UC service for enterprises that is hosted in the Service Provider’s facilities and sold by partners as a white-label or wholesale arrangement globally to enterprises of all sizes. The solution is based on Mitel’s MiVoice Business software (formerly Mitel Communications Director or MCD) and supports Mitel’s full MiCollab mobility and UC portfolio. Mitel defines five license types, Basic, Standard, Entry UCC, Standard UCC and Premium UCC; however, Service Providers are free to select the seat types they wish to offer. Windstream is among the providers that has added Mitel’s MiVoice Business and MiCollab products to its managed UCaaS offering; the company offers these services in the U.S. through a nationwide network of enterprise-class data centers.
Mitel continues to enhance the MiCloud offers, recently releasing new “2.0” improvements with additional features, integrations, scale, professional services and promotional discounts for moving premises customers to a Mitel cloud-based solution. Aside from the MiCloud portfolio outlined above, Mitel has two other cloud offers that resulted from the Aastra acquisition in 2014, namely the Telepo cloud-based, multi-tenant enterprise communication solution for Service Providers in the Nordics and the Clearspan hosted IP-PBX (based on BroadSoft technology) for large or very large enterprises in North America.
Panasonic Targets SMBs with New KX-NS700 Communications Server
Panasonic expands its latest line of business phone systems, the Linux-based NS Series, with a new digital/IP system called KX-NS700 designed for small and mid-size businesses (SMBs). The new system scales to 288 extensions and joins the higher-capacity KX-NS1000 IP/SIP-based communications platform that handles up to 1,000 networked users.
The new KX-NS700 has built-in functionality over and above the company’s earlier KX-NCP500/1000 and KX-TDE100/200 converged digital/IP systems for SMBs. Highlights include:
A standalone KX-NS700 supports 168 extensions, including up to 40 analog or digital extensions and up to 128 IP extensions. Three expansion cabinets (NS720) can be added to reach the maximum station capacity of 288 extensions for greater scale than Panasonic’s earlier NCP500/1000 and TDE100/200 systems that handle up to 172 and 256 total users, respectively. Panasonic will continue to offer the larger capacity KX-TDE600 that has higher digital trunk and station capacity, as well as the smaller TDA50G which is a cost-effective option for the very small business.
Standard Messaging, UC, Call Center
A two-channel basic voicemail capability, licenses for four IP telephones and Panasonic’s Communication Assistant (CA) Basic-Express for basic unified communications are pre-installed on the KX-NS700 system and standard for every user.
At the basic level, CA supports visual control of calls and messages from a user’s Windows desktop PC. Both the messaging and desktop call management capabilities are easily expandable via licensing, up to 24 voicemail channels and additional unified communications (UC) functionality (see below).
A call center capability is also standard, allowing every user on the system to function as an ACD agent. NS700 software supports call routing by trunk, group or longest idle agent, as well as priority routing, status monitoring by supervisors, listen-in, group/delayed ringing and busy override.
Additional productivity capabilities are built-in and easily license-activated. A 60-day free trial license is available for the following:
- Unified Messaging: The Unified Messaging license adds up to 24 messaging channels, voice guidance to outside callers, e-mail notification, message backup and two-way call recording.
- Call Center: A Call Center activation key adds ACD reporting and calls-in-queue announcements.
- Unified Communications: Additional Communications Assistant (CA) productivity features (Pro, Supervisor and Operator levels) are easily license activated to enable screen-based presence, instant messaging, visual voicemail, integration with Microsoft Outlook, group conferencing and IP camera integration. CA can also tie in CRM applications such as Salesforce.com and Microsoft Dynamics CRM, as well as third party applications for hospitality, call center, security and home/business automation.
- Mobility: A new mobile client application for iOS and Android smartphones and tablets has been added to the CA suite. The new CA RCS application enables access to unified communications, including video calling and chat functionality, using the mobile device. The NS700 (and NS1000) also support a new 4-channel in-building wireless KS-NS0154 Cell Station with LAN synchronization and expansion to eight channels with activation keys.
- One-Look Networking: The KX-NS700 system includes license-activated One-Look Networking software that connects multiple KX-NS700 servers and the higher-capacity KX-NS1000 server (up to 16 systems and 1,000 users) as a single system with centralized administration and reporting. A Web Maintenance Console for the administrator allows the management of all phones and system units from one central point, including devices, features, system updates and changes.
Panasonic is known for protecting its existing customer base by ensuring that current equipment investments remain compatible and reusable when migrating to a newer Panasonic system. The KX-NS700 supports many of the same digital and IP phones as the earlier KX-TDA, TDE and NCP systems, but also Panasonic’s latest line of IP, digital and DECT phones, namely the KX-NT500 Series of IP phones, the KX-DT500 digital phones and the KX-TCA85 Series DECT handsets. Additionally, Panasonic will continue to support earlier KX-NCP and KX-TDE systems with minor updates and software patches, though future development will focus on the NS series.
The KX-NS700 is generally available in the U.S. as of February 9, 2015 from authorized Panasonic resellers. Panasonic offers two lower-end KX-NS models, NS300 and NS500, in other world regions.
In recent news:
8x8 introduces the new 8x8 Virtual Office Enterprise Suite that bundles a number of 8x8’s existing cloud-based services into a single offer designed to address the needs and requirements of larger businesses. The Suite includes 8x8’s Virtual Office Pro, plus newly introduced business analytics, Elite Touch professional services and service level guarantees among other solutions. The single package is available at a substantial savings over purchasing the 8x8 services separately. See related write-up entitled 8x8 Bundles Services into New Enterprise Suite for details. In other news, 8x8 has been awarded its 103rd and 104th U.S. patents; these relate to a web-based user interface for a networked contact center and 8x8’s conferencing and meeting technologies.
Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise introduces the new 8088 Smart DeskPhone, the second model in the company’s Smart DeskPhone series of multi-media user devices (the first model in the series, OmniTouch 8082 My IC Phone, was released in 2011). The new 8088 features a 7-inch touch-screen, Bluetooth handset and built-in HD auto-focus camera for video conferencing. Open APIs can be used to develop customized applications such as room automation or video concierge services for a hotel environment. The 8088 Smart DeskPhone supports the company’s OpenTouch Conversation UC client application which can also be downloaded to iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, Windows PC and Mac computers and Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise 8068 Premium DeskPhones, allowing users to move conversations between devices without interruption. The 8088 Smart DeskPhone is part of Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise’s OpenTouch 2.1 update.
Allworx is introducing the new Connect series of IP phone systems for small and mid-sized businesses. Connect includes five models designed for different segments, namely Connect 731 (to 180 users), Connect 536 (to 50 users), Connect 530 (to 50 users, no analog ports), Connect 324 (to 20 users) and Connect 320 (to 20 users, no analog ports). Connect, with faster processor speed and new System Software 8.0, enables additional functionality over and above earlier Allworx systems such as the Allworx Reach Link device handover capability, native Gigabit Ethernet interfaces and enhanced security (HTTPS encryption). Connect 731 is generally available as of late March; the remaining Connect models are due out in late April. For the time being, the Connect Series will co-exist with earlier Allworx systems, 6x12, 6x, 24x and 48x, which can also upgrade to incorporate some new 8.0 features, including Allworx Migrate tool for upgrading to Connect, updated User Interfaces and a new management dashboard to name a few. Allworx is a Windstream company.
Avaya announces Customer Engagement OnAvaya™ Powered by Google Cloud Platform, a new service that offers Avaya’s IP Office Contact Center technology as-a-service for a monthly subscription fee through Google Cloud. The co-branded contact center solution, generally available April 27, 2015, will be sold to small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) and mid-market companies through certified Avaya and Google business partners. See related write-up Avaya and Google Partner to Offer Cloud Contact Center for SMBs for details. In other news, Avaya acquires workforce optimization (WFO) provider KnoahSoft and also announces that its multi-channel Avaya IP Office Contact Center Select solution now integrates with Calabrio’s WFO and analytics software. Additionally, Avaya introduces new and enhanced Scopia videoconferencing room systems and two new personal desktop video devices.
AVST announces new partnerships with OpenText and Mutare to offer cloud-based faxing and voicemail transcription services to customers that have deployed AVST’s CX-E unified messaging system (CX-E for medium to large enterprises was formerly known as CallXpress). Specifically, OpenText’s RightFax Connect cloud service enables the sending and receiving of faxes without the need for traditional telephone lines. Mutare’s giSTT voice transcription service transcribes CX-E voicemail messages into text that can be read as an email message through a mobile device or computer. Both solutions are available now.
Cisco announces a new name and officially availability of its cloud-based team collaboration application, now called Cisco Spark. Cisco had been seeking feedback on this evolving application since its introduction as Project Squared last November, making it available as a free app for Apple mobile devices or through a Web browser. Now generally available, Cisco has incorporated new features, added additional device support (most features are available for iPad, iPhone, Android, Windows, Mac and Web) and is offering Spark as a free version with limited functionality (e.g. one-to-one video calling and 3-party meetings) or as a monthly subscription with additional functionality such as room moderation, directory sync and broader meeting capabilities. Subscriptions include Cisco Spark Message or Cisco Spark Message and Meet; pricing varies based on volume and discount tiers.
Digium announces the public launch of Respoke, a new cloud-based Web communications platform for Web and mobile software application developers. Respoke represents a next phase beyond the company’s Asterisk open source framework which has long been used by the developer community to build custom applications and integrations related to telephony and voice communications. See related write-up Digium’s Respoke: New Market, New Model for details.
MegaPath Cloud Services adds new collaborative features to its UC client application introduced in 2014, an add-on to the company’s Hosted Voice service. Customers using the UC client application can now communicate via SMS Text Messaging (using the business phone number) and take advantage of a Device Handover feature that moves calls from mobile to desktop devices and vice versa. In addition, users can access MegaPath’s Voice Manager tool from within the UC client to listen to or read voicemails and manage greetings, audio conferences, call routing and other settings. The new features reflect MegaPath’s intention to devote resources to its voice and UC service offers, upon the sale of the company’s managed services business division to GTT Communications, Inc. in April 2015.
Interactive Intelligence adds new cloud-based services within its PureCloud suite of unified communications and contact center applications running on Amazon Web Services (AWS). The new PureCloud Collaborate, now generally available as an unlimited free service, enables group chat, desktop sharing and video conferencing (one terabyte of data storage, five video participants, active directory integration and more). A more advanced version called Collaborate Pro will be available in second quarter 2015 for a monthly subscription fee that starts at $9.99 per user per month. Collaborate Pro will offer unlimited storage, additional third party integrations, an API and more. A third service also due out in second quarter 2015, PureCloud Communicate, will include all PureCloud Collaborate functionality, but also enable enterprise telephony (cloud PBX), speech-enabled auto attendant, audio conferencing, call recording, unified messaging and screen pops (starts at $19.99 per user per month).
Microsoft has begun the rollout of “Skype for Business” as the new naming of next version of Lync, along with some added features like a new user interface similar to the consumer version of Skype, the new Call via Work feature for making voice calls from the Skype for Business client and Skype directory integration (Microsoft will retain all current Lync features). The Skype for Business client and online service are generally available as of April 14, 2015, while the new Skype for Business Server 2015 will be downloadable on May 1, 2015. In related news, Polycom is developing a new series of video collaboration solutions for Skype for Business called Polycom RoundTable; the first solution (due out this summer) is the Polycom RoundTable 100 meeting device for SMBs and teams. Also, Microsoft is acquiring Datazen Software, a developer of mobile business intelligence and data visualization for Windows, iOS and Android devices; the new solutions will complement Microsoft’s cloud-based business analytics service.
Mitel introduces MiCloud 2.0, an update to its cloud-based unified communications service aimed at helping service providers and partners go-to-market more quickly. MiCloud 2.0 introduces new features, roles-based user licensing, additional integrations, increased scale, technical training, professional services and promotional discounts for moving premises customers to a Mitel cloud-based solution. See related write-up entitled Mitel MiCloud Hosted Services Offer Multiple Market Opportunities for more on Mitel’s four MiCloud service offers. In other news, Mitel has acquired 4G LTE solution provider Mavenir Systems which represents a new market for Mitel.
Panasonic recently announced the new KX-NS700 communications server for SMBs with a need for up to 288 extensions, including up to 160 analog or digital extensions and up to 128 IP extensions. The system offers scale and functionality over and above the company’s earlier KX-NCP500/1000 and KX-TDE100/200 converged digital/IP systems. See related write-up Panasonic Targets SMBs with New KX-NS700 Communications Server for more detail.
RingCentral has opened up its Application Programming Interface (API) to customers and partners, enabling them to build, test, deploy and manage custom business applications that will improve business processes. The new cloud-based RingCentral Connect Platform, now in beta, offers the tools and services (APIs, SDKs, tutorials and development area) needed to integrate RingCentral’s communications capabilities with data from other business applications. RingCentral also opened a new Integrations App Gallery where customers can find integrations already developed and in production by RingCentral partners. The Connect open platform and Gallery are part of the company’s focus on enterprise (larger customer) requirements as are some recent RingCentral Office feature enhancements, namely voicemail transcription, additional international toll-free numbers, voice encryption for added security, call monitoring and a visual IVR editor.
ShoreTel is extending its Network Services Portfolio to customers of the ShoreTel Sky cloud unified communications service. ShoreTel Network Services help to ensure that IP networks are designed and configured for optimum performance and a smooth customer installation and experience. The portfolio includes Network Design Validation, VoIP Readiness Assessment, WLAN VoIP Readiness Assessment, Network Delivery and Network Diagnostics. ShoreTel Network Services have been available to ShoreTel customers with on-site telephony/UC deployments since the fall of 2013. In other news, ShoreTel is merging its on-premises and cloud platforms into a new, single common platform; an international beta program is said to begin shortly with select partners and customers. And, ShoreTel has entered into the wearables space, announcing that its ShoreTel Mobility UC application will be available for the Apple Watch.
Toshiba America Information Systems Inc., Telecommunication Systems Division announces common management across its cloud and premises-based solutions with the latest version of its Enterprise Manager browser-based administration tool. With Release 1.6.2, customers that deploy Toshiba’s VIPedge cloud unified communications service or the IPedge IP business communication system, or a hybrid network that includes both solution types, can use the same management software (previously, these solutions used different versions of Toshiba’s Enterprise Manager for administration). Since Toshiba’s cloud and on-premises solutions are based on the same software stream, customers use the same phones and endpoints, the same feature set and now the same administration software whether the organization utilizes a cloud, on-premises or hybrid deployment.
Unify adds new capabilities to its Circuit collaboration platform, a cloud-based, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform designed to improve teamwork by enabling natural, contextual collaboration that combines voice, video, screen sharing, messaging and file sharing into a single user interface. As promised, Unify has enhanced Circuit to include Android device support (a native iOS app and Chrome Web browser support are already available), as well as live meeting recording, connectors for Microsoft Exchange contacts and Box file storage and a Universal Telephony Connector that enables integration with any Unify or third party SIP voice platform. Additionally, Unify introduces Circuit Labs where users and eco-system partners can preview the latest features and provide feedback. Circuit is available now in the US, UK and Germany at a subscription price of $14.95, £14.95 and €14.95 per user per month. Circuit was developed in partnership with frog design and first introduced in October 2014 under the name Project Ansible.
Vertical Communications acquires a third partner, namely voice and data solutions provider CT Innovations that currently serves 400+ customers in the southern and mid-western regions of the United States. This and two other recent acquisitions (Fulton Communications and Voice Systems) form a larger and broader sales force focused on selling Vertical’s flagship Wave IP telephony and UC platform. Vertical merged with systems integrator and sales partner Fulton Communications in June 2014 to grow the company’s national direct sales organization. In turn, Fulton Communications acquired voice and data communications provider Voice Systems in January 2015, a Vertical partner that serves the northeast region of the United States.
Vonage makes a third acquisition in the cloud unified communications (UC) space, acquiring UCaaS provider SimpleSignal in March 2015. The addition of SimpleSignal complements recently-acquired Telesphere which also offers cloud UC services based on Broadsoft technology. Both acquisitions allow Vonage to offer a range of voice, video, mobile and collaborative services for small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) and distributed enterprises (typically 1-1,000 employees). Vonage first entered the hosted business market in 2013 when it acquired Vocalocity, a provider of cloud-based communication services for very small businesses in the U.S. and Canada. The three portfolios are part of Vonage Business Solutions. In other news, Vonage recently added two new solutions to better serve its business customers: the VideoConnect on-demand virtual meeting space (25 attendees) and the ChannelSphere partner portal designed to simplify the sales process, including educational and marketing materials and quoting tools.
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