ESI Cloud PBX Service Launches in North America
Estech Systems Inc. or ESI (www.esi-estech.com) has officially launched the ESI Cloud PBX, a subscription-based hosted telephony service for businesses in North America. Last year (January 2013), ESI purchased the retail assets of Vintalk, namely the infrastructure and the customer base associated with Vintalk’s SIP trunking and hosted PBX solutions. Since then, ESI has been offering the SIP trunking service, along with hosted audio conferencing, fax services and disaster recovery. Now, ESI makes the hosted/cloud telephony service available in conjunction with its own line of SIP telephones and two SIP telephones from Grandstream Networks.
ESI and its partners have been selling ESI premises-based business communications products for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) across North America since 1987. The company manufactures a family of IP-enabled Communications Servers (ESI-50/100/200/600/1000) and a native IP system (IP Server 900), along with associated ESI phones and applications. Now, with the launch of the ESI Cloud PBX, ESI customers can also opt for a subscription-based hosted PBX service in lieu of installing telephone system equipment on-site.
Hosted/cloud-based telephony and unified communications (UC) services continue to gain in popularity as an alternative to purchasing an on-premises system for business communications. Not only are providers of these services reporting increases in cloud-based orders and rising renewal rates, but analyst projections all point to very strong growth in the hosted/cloud UC market. Frost & Sullivan, for example, forecasts that revenue associated with the North American Hosted IP Telephony and UCC Services Market will climb to $5.95 billion by 2019, up from $1.09 billion in 2012. Read more on the hosted/cloud UC trend here and here.
Whether a business decides to subscribe to a hosted service or prefers to purchase and install PBX equipment on-site, ESI is now in a position to meet any requirement.
Redesigned Partner Program
ESI has a channel-only sales approach (no direct sales), and the company is focused on empowering its channel partners to compete and succeed. To encourage partners to add the new subscription-based service to their traditional telephony equipment portfolio, ESI has redesigned and expanded its partner program with access to more marketing resources (collateral, technical documentation, presentations, video demonstrations), new training and cloud-level certifications and additional financial benefits such as opportunities to earn marketing funds – all of which will help partners succeed in selling both premises-based and hosted/cloud-based solutions.
ESI has realigned the partner program into three levels of participation: Select, Premium and Elite.
- Select Partner: This introductory level includes access to marketing collateral, technical documentation and a knowledge base via ESI’s online portal.
- Premium Partner: Premium partners must complete ESI’s Sales and Level I certification program which enables them to receive higher compensation for sales. Premium partners can also participate in ESI’s Marketing Co-Op program to earn marketing funds which can be used for technical training and certification, the purchase of ESI promotional items or to pay for mail campaigns and other advertising.
- Elite Partner: Elite partners must complete extensive sales and technical certification training which enables them to receive the highest compensation for sales. Elite partners can also participate in ESI’s Marketing Co-Op program to earn marketing funds which are used for technical training and certification, the purchase of ESI promotional items or to pay for mail campaigns and other advertising. These partners also have access to ESI’s new demand generation program. ESI provides Elite members with consultation services to help with custom marketing and lead generation.
ESI currently has 600 resellers, and to date, about 40 of these have already signed up to sell the new ESI Cloud PBX service. This number is expected to grow quickly once training sessions begin in mid-June.
The ESI Cloud PBX Service
ESI uses a geographically redundant data center architecture that provides built-in disaster recovery through two data center facilities located in Los Angeles and New York, with an additional data center and separate 24x7 Network Operations Center under construction in Dallas, Texas to be completed by the end of 2014. Communication transmits over the public Internet.
Typically, target customers for the new ESI Cloud PBX will be SMBs with up to 400 or so employees as this has been the market segment for the ESI premises-based business communications products. However, hosted/cloud services are not limited in capacity, so the solution can scale to meet the requirements of even larger organizations.
Because ESI manufacturers the phones, has developed its own Web-based dashboard and now owns the Cloud PBX technology, customers will benefit from a level of feature integration that is not possible with some competing hosted/cloud PBX services that utilize third party phones and applications. ESI has developed specialized Intelitouch software that integrates and synchronizes the user’s ESI SIP telephone with the Web-based portal and the cloud system, enabling features like visual voicemail and programmable “one touch” functionality on both the ESI phone and the dashboard. For example, users can take advantage of ESI’s one-touch HELP (a verbal user guide for feature programming and operation) and a one-touch call recording.
ESI resellers can use the Web-based dashboard to view system performance even to pinpoint issues with the handset. Office Administrators (can be the reseller) will use the dashboard to manage system configurations such as auto attendants, to add users and even to monitor calls if desired. Users will be able to program phone features, set up answering rules, view personal call histories and contacts and define multiple phone devices among other features.
The ESI Cloud PBX supports many of the same standard telephony features found on the company’s well-established premises-based business phone systems, including built-in voicemail/auto attendant, unified messaging (voicemail notification to email) and basic call center features such as ACD for call routing, queue, and agent performance metrics, barge and monitor capabilities, but also supports more advanced capabilities such as meet-me conferencing and will add a more sophisticated contact center capability later this year.
Customers that subscribe to the ESI Cloud PBX service can select from three main user packages designed to include the features and requirements of different types of users. The monthly subscription fee includes a phone for each user according to the package selected (the service supports two ESI SIP deskphone models and two Grandstream SIP deskphone models, each of which has integrated Power over Ethernet auto provisioning for easy set up).
- Shared: a basic user package for lobbies, mailrooms and common areas that require only basic on-network and 911 connectivity; includes the single line Grandstream GXP1105 desktop phone with four programmable keys, seven dedicated function keys for common features and a 10/100 Mbps network port.
- Select: designed for the general office user that requires standard/essential telephone features; includes ESI’s Web-based dashboard and InteliTouch phone-dashboard synchronization, unlimited North America calling and the ESI 30SIP desktop phone with two lines, speakerphone, 12 programmable keys, 11 function keys and a 10/100 Mbps network port among other features (users can also opt for the more advanced ESI 45SIP Gigabit Ethernet phone for an extra fee).
- Premier: designed for executives, managers and “power” users that require more advanced functionality; includes all Select features, plus on-demand call recording, unified messaging, 15-party meet-me conferencing, call routing options for three phone devices and the ESI 45SIP desktop phone with six lines, HD audio, a three-line display, 16 programmable keys, 15 function keys, a full-duplex speakerphone and a Gigabit Ethernet network port among other features. Users can opt for an iOS or Android mobile device only instead of a desktop phone, downloading ESI’s Ditto smartphone client application.
Additional, company-wide options include extra auto attendants and call queues, a 50-party conference bridge, call logging, additional DID numbers and the Virtual Fax service. Users can also choose the more advanced Grandstream GXP2200 “smart” HD desktop phone based on the Android operating system which has a color, touch-screen display and access to Android-based applications, plus an SKD toolkit for developing custom business applications. The GXP2200 works well with ESI’s Abillity cloud-based billing application that automatically captures billable time spent on both desktop and mobile smartphones (traditional time-tracking tools do not work on multiple devices, and ESI highlights Abillity’s usefulness to the legal industry, noting that the application fills a billing gap experienced by lawyers who often lose valuable billable hours from phone calls that are not tracked).
ESI Cloud Applications
ESI already offers several cloud-based applications which are available to current ESI customers, whether they have installed one of the company’s on-premises business communications systems or will be subscribing to the new ESI Cloud PBX service. Current cloud applications include hosted reservation-less “meet-me” conferencing for up to 50 participants, a Virtual fax service for receiving/sending faxes via email and ESI’s Abillity cloud-based billing application.
In 2014, ESI plans to offer additional cloud-based applications for more advanced contact center, call quality monitoring and enhanced mobility. ESI will be also working closely with partners and customers to set the roadmap for future functionality that will incorporate some of ESI’s unique features such as Virtual Answer for active call control and the Presence Management Suite for door access control, employee presence indication and attendance logging.
Fonality Consolidates Product Lines into Three Tiered Editions
Small and mid-size business (SMB) phone solution provider Fonality formally introduces new company branding and a new way to purchase Fonality solutions that applies to both hosted/cloud and on-premises deployments. Now all product lines, including the company’s earlier trixbox Pro and PBXtra premises-based systems and the Connect/Connect+ hosted/cloud services, are available for a monthly subscription price. The earlier product brand names will no longer be used, but the technology, features and deployment options (cloud or premises-based) remain intact and are now offered more simply as three tiered Editions: Fonality Essentials, Fonality Professional and Fonality Ultimate.
Paying a monthly fee is the norm for a hosted/cloud service, but it is not common when purchasing an on-site telephony system that involves installing system equipment and related components. However, Fonality sees “pay-as-you-go pricing” as appealing to any business, regardless of the deployment model. A business can bypass upfront capital expenses and concentrate on what’s most important – running their operation. (Note that customers still have the option of a one-time payment model for on-site equipment and/or software if required.)
Fonality solutions target SMBs that have 10-250 employees, and currently, the company has more than 27,000 businesses and 275,000 users in 99 countries using its products. Fonality recently redesigned its partner program to reduce complexity and potential conflict as the company looks to increase channel-generated revenue to more than 50% of its business in 2014 (more on this here).
New Tiered Editions
The new Fonality Professional and Ultimate Editions can be deployed in the cloud or with a Fonality-provided appliance server on-site; the more basic Essentials Edition is a cloud-only deployment. Professional and Ultimate editions can also be privately hosted or sold as software, similar to the legacy trixbox product. Customers with more than 25 users are able to switch deployments up to once a year at no charge (a cloud to an on-premises solution, or vice versa). Pricing varies by the add-ons selected, and Fonality offers a built-in discount based on the number of users.
- The basic “Essentials” Edition is available as a hosted/cloud service only and includes over 100 standard phone system features, as well as some more advanced capabilities such as voicemail-to-email notification, find me/follow me, on-demand call recording, basic call center queuing (unlimited queues), hunt and ring groups and a Web-based control panel. Pricing for the Essentials Edition starts at $19.99 per user per month.
- The “Professional” Edition, available as a hosted/cloud service or an on-premises deployment, builds on the Essentials features, adding support for Fonality’s Heads Up Display unified communications client application (desktop, mobile and Web versions), an integrated softphone and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) integration. Optionally, customers can add always-on call recording and more advanced call center features such as skills-based routing, advanced agent and queue reporting, coaching tools (Barge, Monitor and Whisper) and real-time queue details. The Professional Edition also supports the new video conferencing and screen sharing capability (see below) for a retail price of $15 per user per month (may be available at a lower promotional rate). Pricing for the Professional Edition starts at $29.99 per user per month.
- The most advanced “Ultimate” Edition, available as a hosted/cloud service or an on-premises deployment, includes all of the Essentials and Professional features, as well as three additional productivity applications: paperless fax, voicemail transcription and the company’s new HD video collaboration with screen sharing across desktop and mobile devices for up to 25 participants. This package also includes advanced call center features, namely skills-based routing, advanced agent and queue reporting, Barge, Monitor and Whisper and real-time queue details. Always-on call recording is optional. Pricing for the Ultimate Edition starts at $45.99 per user per month.
Fonality solutions are compatible with third party endpoints from Polycom or Yealink. Several entry-level phone models are included in the bundled price at no extra cost, giving customers a significant cost advantage versus competing solutions that often charge separately for the end user phone. In addition, Fonality provides customers with unlimited support and hardware replacement as needed for the lifetime of the subscription.
New Web-based UC Client
Fonality’s Heads Up Display (HUD) unified communications (UC) client allows users to conveniently manage all communications from a single interface, including phone calls, voicemail, unified messaging, directories, conferencing, call recording, presence status and group chat, plus take advantage of file sharing and video conferencing (more on the new video plug-in below). The HUD client can be downloaded to Mac and Microsoft Windows computers, smartphones or tablets (Apple iOS or Android), and now is available as a Web-based application easily accessible from the Web browser of any device. HUD is included for every user at no additional cost with the Professional and Ultimate Editions, an advantage over many competing solutions that may charge extra for a UC client. HUD is not available for the Essentials Edition.
New HD Video Collaboration
Fonality introduces a new HD Video Collaboration plug-in for the HUD UC client application, eliminating the need for a separate, more expensive video conferencing solution or online meeting service. Up to 25 participants can participate in face-to-face meetings from any Mac or Windows computer with a webcam and can share screens and record meetings. The plug-in will be available soon for mobile devices (iOS or Android) with a front-facing camera. Fonality HD Video Collaboration is included with the Ultimate Edition ($45.99 per user per month) or can be purchased as an add-on for the Professional Edition at a retail price of $15 per user per month (may be available at a lower promotional rate). Video conferencing is not available for the Essentials Edition. As a special promotion, Fonality is offering a free trial of HD Video Collaboration with the new Web client version of HUD.
NEC Repackages UNIVERGE Cloud Services Offer
NEC (www.necam.com) has made significant changes to its hosted/cloud Unified Communications (UC) service called NEC UNIVERGE Cloud Services. Based on feedback from sales partners in the field, NEC has “unbundled” and “repackaged” the Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) offer and altered the pricing to be more in line with competing cloud offers. This includes re-aligning the telephony and unified communications features within each of the three package levels, as well as making new recommendations about the customer options for network transport, enhancing the management portal, improving the partner quoting tools and adding new requirements for technical support and service levels that will ensure a quality experience. NEC has also created a new division called NEC Cloud Communications of America and is instituting a “cloud focus group” to solicit ongoing partner feedback.
Introduced last March 2013, NEC UNIVERGE Cloud Services is available directly from NEC and through NEC channel partners in the United States, with plans to expand services to Canada later this year. To date, over 160 NEC partners have signed up to sell the subscription-based UCaaS service in addition to NEC’s on-premises telephony equipment portfolio; this is up from 80 NEC dealers a year ago.
Actual sales figures and market analyst findings about the rapid advances in hosted/cloud UC services are impossible to ignore. Providers of these services continue to report increases in cloud-based orders and rising renewal rates for their subscription services (more on this here). And, analyst projections all point to strong growth in the hosted/cloud UC market. For example, Frost & Sullivan forecasts that revenue associated with the North American Hosted IP Telephony and UCC Services Market will climb to $5.95 billion by 2019, up from $1.09 billion in 2012. Infonetics expects global VoIP services revenue to reach $88 billion by 2018 as more and more mid-market and larger enterprises evaluate and move applications to the cloud.
NEC is unique in that it owns the UCaaS technology from end-to-end, including the servers within the NEC-managed data centers where the UNIVERGE software is hosted to the telephone or mobile device in the end-user’s hand (more on this here). Other hosted providers that rely on third parties for phones, switches, software and management of data center facilities may not be able to guarantee a high quality of service (QoS). NEC, however, manufactures the critical UCaaS components, continues to develop the UNIVERGE 3C call control software and applications, manages and provisions the Tier 3 data centers, manages a 24x7 Network Operations Center and monitors the MPLS network to identify and avoid QoS issues when transporting voice, data and video. (“Over-the-top” deployments are also possible per specific NEC guidelines for network readiness, available bandwidth, network configuration, devices, etc.).
This “exclusive NEC” approach, and the company’s long history in communications, seems to be resonating well with potential customers. NEC indicates that the “pipeline” for its UCaaS sales is growing in number of generated quotes and also in the size of businesses evaluating the hosted/cloud alternative; customers opting for NEC’s UCaaS service now average about 135 users. NEC acknowledges a trend up-market and cites recent sales wins on the order of thousands of endpoints, including a large state university in PA that will utilize NEC’s cloud service to replace an on-premises PBX solution across 86 buildings and 3,400 endpoints and a national retail furniture chain that has some 12,000 phones in locations around the country.
Redesigned UCaaS Packages
NEC UNIVERGE Cloud Services come in three packages for varying user types which can be mixed and matched as needed. While the package naming remains the same (Basic, UC Standard and UC Premium), the package content has changed to create a more flexible and competitive offer. Some functionality can be added a-la-carte if needed such as voicemail, UC desktop and mobile clients, fax, video calling, call recording, queue groups, E911 features and more.
Additional collaborative applications are very close to general availability, including meet-me conferencing, Web conferencing, “Firebar” conferencing (for emergency dial-out conferencing) and NEC’s Mass Notification application. Other advanced applications are targeted for second quarter 2014, namely contact center, dual-mode mobility (Fixed Mobile Convergence) and hospitality.
- Basic: The Basic user package, suitable for lobbies and common areas, comes with over 300 telephony features like call waiting, Caller ID, transfer, forward and 911 Service. Pricing is $15 per user per month (down from $20 originally).
- UC Standard: General office users and receptionists will likely choose the UC Standard package which builds upon Basic to add TUI and Web-based Unified Messaging (voice and email integration) and a hard phone device license, as well as 75 minutes per month of pooled long distance calling. Pricing is $20 per user per month (down from $40 originally).
- UC Premium: The UC Premium package includes all Basic and Standard functionality, but addresses the needs of power users and executives that require UC desktop call control with instant messaging and presence capabilities and device management. This package option also includes NEC’s UC Basic Mobility for extending calls to a mobile device, 2-way video calling and the selection of a hard phone or softphone device license, as well as 150 minutes per month of pooled long distance calling. Local calling is free with NEC’s MPLS network. New pricing is more competitive at $25 per user per month (down from $50 originally).
NEC’s Hybrid Approach
NEC's cloud service uses the company’s UNIVERGE 3C as the core software (the solution evolved from an IP-PBX acquired in 2007 when NEC Corporation of Tokyo Japan purchased Sphere Communications). Using the same software stream for both the premises and the cloud offer lends itself well to hybrid environments in which a business can flexibly deploy on-site equipment and subscribe to hosted/cloud services as needed - the same familiar features are available in either deployment model. The cloud service can act as a disaster recovery solution for an on-premises UNIVERGE 3C system, or vice versa. Or, businesses that have installed the UNIVERGE 3C at a main office can take advantage of the cloud service at branch locations.
On top of that, NEC is on the verge of introducing a number of standalone cloud-based applications that will be available as a monthly subscription to customers that have an NEC telephony system installed on-site. For example, customers that have deployed a UNIVERGE 3C or NEC SV8100/SV8300/SV8500 (or the forthcoming SV9000) system will be able to subscribe to certain hosted applications, rather than having to install any additional hardware and/or software. These “hybrid” applications will initially include Call Center, Conferencing Services, Mass Notification and Collaboration Services. Depending on the application, customers with older legacy systems may also be able to take advantage of NEC’s standalone, cloud-based applications by adding a gateway.
At the recent NEC Advantage 2014 consultant/dealer conference in Nashville, NEC reaffirmed its commitment to the future of communications, a future that is less about physical equipment and more about software, open standards, virtualization and the cloud. The company’s focused approach seems to be on target as evidenced by recent industry analyst reports that rank NEC as a top competitor. In the latest annual study of IP Telephony and UC Cost Data from Nemertes Research, NEC had the lowest overall first-year costs when factoring capital, implementation and operational costs compared to other IP Telephony vendors in the study.
Look for some major NEC announcements in the coming months, including a new series of next generation telephony and UC systems and additional cloud-based applications.
RingCentral Invests in the Enterprise
RingCentral, a cloud business communications provider based in San Mateo, California, is moving forward with a focus on the enterprise market, developing new features and applications that are important to larger businesses. In years past, RingCentral targeted smaller businesses with fewer than 100 employees, but today, the RingCentral Office business communication service can handle larger organizations with 1,000 users or more due in part to a new enterprise-grade packaged offering called RingCentral Office Enterprise Edition (more on this below). As part of this move “up market,” RingCentral is also increasing internal staff to support a growing number of large enterprise customers and introducing new internal programs designed to ensure quality of service.
Subscription-based hosted/cloud unified communications services continue to gain in popularity as an alternative to purchasing an on-premises telephony system (more on this trend here and here), and interest from mid-size and larger organizations is growing. Market analyst firm Infonetics expects VoIP services revenue to reach $88 billion by 2018 as more and more mid-market and larger enterprises evaluate and move applications to the cloud. Frost & Sullivan agrees that larger, geographically distributed organizations are adopting hosted services as a way to “consolidate infrastructure and streamline vendor relationships.”
RingCentral was originally founded in 1999 and introduced a hosted multi-extension phone service for small business in 2003. In 2009, the company launched the RingCentral Office business phone service in the U.S. and Canada, a complete hosted phone, voicemail and fax subscription-based system with unlimited long distance and toll-free service and pre-configured phones. More recently (third quarter 2013), RingCentral opened two new data center facilities in Europe and began offering RingCentral Office in the UK. To date, RingCentral has over 300,000 customers across the U.S., Canada and the UK. Further international expansion is planned.
RingCentral sells its hosted/cloud services through a direct sales force, as well as through channel partners, including large carriers like AT&T that offers the AT&T Office@Hand bundled service and distributors like Ingram Micro which has a large network of resellers in North America and the UK. RingCentral continues to report positive financials. For the full year 2013, the company’s total revenue was up 40% compared to revenue from 2012. This trend is expected to continue in 2014.
RingCentral Office Editions
The RingCentral Office cloud business phone system is available in three feature packages (Editions) that target businesses with varying requirements. RingCentral Standard, Premium and Enterprise Editions are available to businesses with as few as five users to organizations with 1,000 users or more. Subscribers choose from a number of third party desktop phones, including 11 “plug-and-ring ready” models from Polycom and Cisco, or SIP phones from snom, Aastra (Mitel), Grandstream and Yealink that require manual setup. Phones can be purchased upfront or rented for a monthly fee (Polycom and Cisco phones only).
- The “Standard” Edition, the lowest cost feature package, includes popular call management features such as multiple extensions, call forwarding, call transfer, paging, ring groups (call handling by department or group), voicemail, auto attendant, basic unified messaging and many more. The service also delivers some advanced capabilities at no extra cost. Subscribers can take advantage of desktop and mobile client applications for Windows PCs, Mac computers, iOS, Android and BlackBerry mobile devices and a meet-me conferencing bridge for up to 1,000 attendees. RingCentral Meetings for multi-point video conferencing and Web sharing is included at no additional charge with all RingCentral Office editions; Standard Edition supports four participants per meeting. Standard Edition also comes with 1,000 toll-free minutes. Monthly pricing depends on the number of users. For example, customers with 100-999 users will pay the equivalent of $19.99 per user per month if the full year (12 months) is paid up-front.
- The “Premium” Edition mirrors the Standard Edition features, but adds Salesforce CRM integration and automatic call recording and increases the number of included toll-free minutes to 2,500. RingCentral Meetings for multi-point video conferencing and Web sharing is included at no additional charge with all RingCentral Office editions; Premium Edition supports 25 participants per meeting. Monthly pricing depends on the number of users. For example, customers with 100-999 users will pay the equivalent of $29.99 per user per month if the full year (12 months) is paid up-front.
- The “Enterprise” Edition, officially launched in January 2014, builds on the Premium package and includes10,000 toll-free minutes. RingCentral Meetings for multi-point video conferencing and Web sharing is included at no additional charge with all RingCentral Office editions; Enterprise Edition supports 50 participants per meeting. Monthly pricing depends on the number of users. For example, customers with 100-999 users will pay the equivalent of $39.99 per user per month if the full year (12 months) is paid up-front.
New Enterprise-focused Applications
Recently, RingCentral introduced a new Web and video conferencing service (RingCentral Meetings) and updated its mobile client application with additional features designed to improve workplace productivity and efficiency.
- Collaboration: RingCentral recently added a new service called RingCentral Meetings that enables multi-point HD video conferencing, meeting scheduling and management, integrated chat and screen sharing via iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, PCs and Mac computers. As of May 2014, RingCentral includes Meetings with all RingCentral Office Editions. The number of supported participants differs by Edition – up to four participants per meeting with the Standard Edition, 25 participants with the Premium Edition and 50 participants with the Enterprise Edition. Edition pricing, even with the inclusion of the Meetings video conferencing capability, remains competitive. The Meetings application is developed by Zoom Video Communications, Inc.
- Mobility: RingCentral’s latest software release 6.2 includes enhancements to the RingCentral Office mobile client application for Apple iOS and Android-based smartphones and tablets. Users will now have access to real-time presence status information across all devices. In addition, administrators will be able to view and manage user accounts from a mobile device, including setting up, configuring and deleting user accounts, viewing call logs and other usage statistics and maintaining access to the company’s directory. These new mobile features build on 2013 enhancements that added one-click conference calling and invitations via text, Business SMS, phone presence status and mobile device faxing.
On the Roadmap
RingCentral expects to roll out new features and capabilities every few months with an eye on the needs and requirements of forward-looking enterprise customers. The company will be opening up its Application Programming Interface (API) to allow customers to integrate vertical business applications that will improve their business processes (for example, a law firm may want to develop a customized legal billing system). RingCentral will also be enhancing the reporting capabilities of RingCentral Office Enterprise Edition with custom reports and additional business intelligence that will help businesses provide better customer service and streamline the operation. Stay tuned.
Toshiba Introduces Hybrid 'Cloud-Prem' Networking
Toshiba America Information Systems Inc., Telecommunication Systems Division (www.telecom.toshiba.com) announces networking support among the company’s hosted/cloud telephony UC service (Toshiba VIPedge) and its premises-based business phone systems (the Toshiba IPedge pure IP system and the Strata CIX converged IP/digital system). The new “hybrid networking” means that Toshiba customers with multiple offices can now flexibly mix the two solution types (cloud and on-premises) and take advantage of feature transparency across all locations regardless of the deployment.
Toshiba TSD, like other traditional business telephony vendors, has added hosted/cloud UC services to their phone system portfolio, putting them in the perfect position to offer a hybrid solution that integrates both hosted/cloud services and on-site systems. Subscribing to hosted/cloud services for some applications and using on-site solutions for others can be a good fit for a business that already has a phone system in place or that does not wish to move all communications to the cloud (more on this important trend here).
Network 128 Locations, Cloud or Premises-based
With Toshiba’s new hybrid networking capability, existing customers that have a Toshiba IPedge and/or Strata CIX deployed at their business location(s) can now subscribe to the VIPedge hosted/cloud service when adding a new office location, minimizing the upfront capital expense and quickly integrating the new office into the existing network without interoperability issues.
To be specific, Toshiba’s new hybrid networking capability allows up to 128 systems (IPedge or Strata CIX) and the VIPedge cloud service to function as one company-wide network with feature transparency, including 3- or 4-digit dialing among locations. Users at any location can transfer, hold and pick-up calls, make conference calls and use other telephony features seamlessly across the network.
Toshiba IPedge and Strata CIX customers can also tie in the Toshiba-branded SIP Trunking I-VoIP Service for free local and long distance calling among all networked locations. Unlike some other supported SIP trunking services, I-VoIP enables more functionality due to specialized Toshiba-developed integrations with its phone systems, namely DID Failover Forwarding for service continuity (IPedge and Strata CIX) and Bursting for sporadic increases in capacity (IPedge).
Toshiba’s hybrid networking solution requires Strata Net and IPedge Net licenses (VIPedge Net channels are included free with the cloud service), IPedge V1.6 software and Strata CIX V5.20 software or higher.
On the Roadmap: Cloud-based Applications
Toshiba is developing additional hybrid network capabilities such as UC client federation with Microsoft Lync and other XMPP-based clients and will be streamlining management so that VIPedge and IPedge will be administered by the same software (currently these solutions use different versions of Toshiba’s Enterprise Manager for administration). For Strata CIX systems, Toshiba will be offering the Network eManager administration solution as a cloud-based service.
In the near future, Toshiba will introduce standalone cloud-based applications for its customers that have deployed IPedge and Strata CIX telephone systems in their office locations. Subscribing to applications-as-a-service instead of installing additional hardware and/or software to run these applications on-site, will likely be the perfect solution for many businesses. Forthcoming Toshiba cloud-based applications will address the following technologies: call recording, contact center, collaboration and survivability (back-up of a premises-based Strata CIX or IPedge system). Stay tuned for more.
In recent news:
8x8 is partnering with workforce optimization (WFO) solutions provider KnoahSoft to offer KnoahSoft’s Harmony software suite designed to improve call center agent efficiency. The Harmony software tools provide 8x8 Virtual Contact Center (VCC) customers with enterprise-level interaction recording, quality management, coaching, learning, and analytics. ACD metrics, scorecards, reports, real-time custom dashboards, alerts and messaging will help managers identify issues and deficiencies and provide targeted coaching and training. Additional cloud-based options, namely Customer Satisfaction Surveys and Speech Analytics, are planned for later in 2014.
Alteva introduces a new CRM Connector plug-in that works with most CRM platforms, including ACT!, GoldMine, Google Contacts, Microsoft Dynamics, Sage, Salesforce, Sugar and others. Integrating the customer’s UC solution with a customer relationship management application will allow users to preview callers (view screen pops) before answering to improve the customer experience. Users can also search and dial from the application’s address book, view call history lists and see the presence status of colleagues for faster, more efficient collaboration and customer call resolution.
Avaya’s IP Office Platform will be delivered as fully hosted solution by distributor SYNNEX Corporation to its SMB and midmarket resellers. As part of SYNNEX CLOUDSolv technology portfolio, the IP Office as-a-service will support businesses with 25 to 2,000 users and be offered in two packages as defined by SYNNEX: (1) Business Communications including voicemail and (2) Full Unified Communications including mobility and desktop integration. General availability of the hosted IP Office by SYNNEX is expected this June 2014. [Avaya IP Office R9.0 (November 2013) introduced a virtualized software-only version of IP Office that allows the solution to be offered as a hosted/cloud service.] SYNNEX also offers a compact, affordable premises-based telephony solution for the under 50-user business that bundles Avaya’s IP Office Server Edition software on a Lenovo ThinkCentre Tiny Desktop.
Avaya is introducing a new multimedia contact center solution for IP Office called Avaya Contact Center ‘Select’. The new option, due out in June 2014, will support organizations with 30-250 agents; software starts at $29,630 for 30 voice agent licenses, a multimedia license and a supervisor license, with additional licenses are priced per agent. Avaya Contact Center Select is the second Avaya contact center solution for IP Office announced since the beginning of the year. Both solutions enable inbound and outbound multichannel (voice, email, chat) customer interactions, call recording and flexible reporting and are supplied as software to be installed on a dedicated server or as a virtualized instance under VMware. The first solution, Avaya IP Office Contact Center, available since February 2014, differs in scale (supports 5-100 agents) and in features since ‘Select’ supports more advanced features, including multiple languages, SMS and Fax today and high availability, social media integration, WFO and other applications in the future.
Blue Jeans Network expands its cloud-based videoconferencing software as a service (SaaS) solution to support larger meetings with up to 100 participants (up from 25); all attendees can connect via audio and video with the nine most recent speakers displayed on the screen. Several new audio enhancements and moderator controls are also available such as automatic muting of participants as they join the meeting. The company also adds a new recording feature that allows conference participants to record the meetings and store these for later sharing. This extends the reach of lectures, training sessions and live webinars, for example.
Cisco introduces the new IP Phone 8800 Series desktop phones with five SIP-only models to support a variety of users - knowledge workers, administrative staff, managers, executives and conference rooms. The 8811 with grayscale display and the color-screen 8841 are considered low-power devices. The advanced models (8851 and 8861) support Cisco’s Intelligent Proximity feature that wirelessly syncs with a mobile device using Bluetooth technology, allowing users to import contacts and call histories from their mobile device to the phone; users can also move an active call from the mobile device to the phone, and vice versa, and use the phone to charge the mobile device. An IP Conference Phone (8831) enables hands-free audio communications and 360-degree room coverage in rooms up to 1,500 square feet (139 square meters); two base units daisy-chained provides larger conference room coverage.
Cisco has expanded its Desk Experience (DX) Series with two new all-in-one desktop video endpoints, DX70 and DX80, for offices and shared work spaces. The devices utilize the Android operating system (can run any Android application) and are designed for quick out-of-the-box, plug-and-play installation. Cisco’s Jabber client for presence and instant messaging runs natively on the device, and the company’s Intelligent Proximity feature synchronizes the endpoint with the user’s mobile device using Bluetooth technology. The DX70 is a mid-size device with a 14-inch touchscreen; the DX80 is an all-in-one device with a 23-inch touchscreen. Both devices allow the sharing of PC content while in the meeting. The DX Series also includes Cisco DX650 introduced in March 2013, a more compact video phone with an integrated 6-inch touchscreen and optional external monitor for viewing content. The DX Series marks a new category of advanced collaboration endpoints, replacing the earlier video endpoints that Cisco acquired from Tandberg in 2010. In other news related to video collaboration solutions, Cisco is testing a prototype video-conferencing system dubbed ‘Spring Roll,’ a large video wall/touch-screen that wraps around corner of a conference room and which can be used as a digital whiteboard or display. And, a new cloud-based meeting room service called Collaboration Meeting Rooms (CMR) is expected to launch in September as a monthly SaaS subscription.
CounterPath announces Version 4 of its Bria softphone client for Windows and Mac users. New functionality improves Bria feature parity across Windows and Mac desktops, iPad and Android tablets and iOS, Android and BlackBerry mobile devices. Specifically, Bria 4 for Windows and Mac allows users to view and manage IMs, SMS, group chats, chat room sessions and broadcast IMs in a single Messages Window and adds full-screen video calling and screen sharing with up to 100 participants, without any additional software downloads. Windows users can also purchase the Bria Add-in for Outlook. The Bria softphone client can be purchased from CounterPath's online store or through its channel partners.
Estech Systems Inc. or ESI has officially launched the ESI Cloud PBX in conjunction with its own line of SIP desk phones and two Grandstream models. See related write-up “ESI Cloud PBX Service Launches in North America” for details.
Fonality formally introduces new company branding and a new way to purchase Fonality solutions that applies to both hosted/cloud and on-premises deployments. See related write-up “Fonality Consolidates Product Lines into Three Tiered Editions” for details. In other news, Fonality has issued a new patent related to centralized presence management of local and remote users.
Grandstream Networks introduces the new GXV3240 IP Video Phone for Android that combines a 6-line IP Video phone with access to Android applications downloaded from the Google Play Store. Notable features include integrated Bluetooth, Gigabit ports, a built-in Web browser, integrated WiFi, a 4.3 inch touch screen, a mega pixel CMOS sensor camera, HD wideband audio, full duplex speakerphone and Power over Ethernet (PoE) connectivity. Grandstream also includes a free IPVideoTalk account with video mail, up to 6-way audio and 3-way video conferencing, a phonebook with up to 1000 contacts and a 1,000-entry call history log. The phone can integrate with Grandstream’s GXV-series of IP video surveillance cameras for live camera feeds and alarms from IP cameras installed on the same network. List price is US $219.
Interactive Intelligence will introduce the new PureCloud suite of unified communications and contact center application services in fourth quarter 2014 in the U.S. and in other regions in 2015. PureCloud will be a multi-tenant cloud-based solution running on Amazon Web Services (AWS) and will utilize open source technologies for faster application development. PureMatch, an application that dynamically matches customer interactions with contact center agents based on multiple attributes and criteria and PureCloud Social Customer Service that allows customers to view agent profiles and performance before choosing the best qualified agent are among the initial applications. PureCloud will join the company’s on-premises Customer Interaction Center (CIC) and the single-tenant CaaS communications-as-a-service for contact center. In other news, Interactive Intelligence has acquired OrgSpan Inc. and its cloud-based enterprise social communications solutions called OrgSpan Select and OrgSpan Connect; these will be offered on a standalone basis and as add-on applications to Interactive Intelligence’s cloud and on-premises IP business communications solutions and future cloud offerings.
Microsoft has acquired mobile analytics vendor Capptain to further its mobile application development with real-time user and push analytics. Capptain’s “Response Marketing Tool” enables the analysis of user behavior in real-time and reacts by pushing targeted messages, advertising, announcements and other information. Microsoft will integrate the Capptain solution with the Microsoft Azure suite of services. In other news, the Microsoft-Nokia deal is official, making Microsoft the hardware supplier for 90% of Windows Mobile market.
Mitel has launched the cloud-based MiContact Center Live Service with multi-channel support, including phone, email, text messaging and social media channels. The service is based on the contact center platform from LiveOps and goes “over the top" of any existing telephone platform, allowing businesses to subscribe to a cloud-based contact center service regardless of their current on-premises IP telephony platform. MiContact Center Live includes three plans (Basic, Professional, Enterprise) and is available now in the U.S. with select countries to follow. In other news, Mitel launches its MiCloud Enterprise UCaaS offer in the UK market; channel partners can white label the subscription-based cloud services under their own brand.
NEC has repackaged its Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) offer and altered the pricing to be more in line with competing cloud offers. Several new collaborative applications are very close to general availability. See related write-up “NEC Repackages UNIVERGE Cloud Services Offer” for details. In other news, NEC will be introducing the UNIVERGE SV9000 Series, including the SV9100 and SV9300 appliances and the virtualized SV9500 which represent the next generation of the company’s SV8100, SV8300 and SV8500 on-premises telephony platforms; SV9000 platforms are due out in the fall of 2014.
Panasonic introduces two new UT Series SIP phones, the KX-UTG200 ($269) and KX-UTG300 ($379) with color displays, HD voice, full duplex speakerphone and dual Gigabit Ethernet ports. The KX-UTG300 adds a 5-inch color touchscreen, built-in Bluetooth connectivity and supports up to two Panasonic KX-UTA336 expansion modules. The phones are certified to work with standard SIP servers from BroadSoft, Metaswitch and Digium.
RingCentral is moving forward with a focus on the enterprise market, developing new features and applications that are important to larger businesses. See related write-up “RingCentral Invests in the Enterprise” for details.
Toshiba America Information Systems Inc., Telecommunication Systems Division introduces networking support among the company’s hosted/cloud telephony UC service (Toshiba VIPedge) and its on-premises business phone systems (Toshiba IPedge and Strata CIX). Toshiba customers with multiple offices can now flexibly mix the two solution types and take advantage of feature transparency across all locations regardless of the deployment. See related write-up “Toshiba Introduces Hybrid ‘Cloud-Prem’ Networking” for details.
Vertical Communications is merging with systems integrator and sales partner Fulton Communications. The addition of Fulton, a Vertical Diamond Partner and largest reseller of Vertical IP-PBX products, will grow the combined company’s existing national direct sales organization that targets the retail industry with Vertical’s Wave IP system. Vertical will continue to employ a channel partner strategy for its MBX and SBX product lines. The merged organization will have the Vertical Communications branding, though Fulton will continue to operate under its existing brand through an integration period expected to take six to 12 months. Fulton also currently resells the Mitel IP-PBX portfolio and will continue to support existing customers and sell these solutions as appropriate, for a period of time.
Unify (formerly Siemens Enterprise Communications) announces a significant corporate restructuring and new product and sales approach. Going forward, the company will focus on software and software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions (will not remain in the hardware business in the long term) and will foster a channel-first approach to sales. Unify is working to strengthen its partner program in an effort to grow revenue through indirect channels. The restructuring plan also includes reducing Unify’s workforce by half, cutting 3,800 of its 7,700 employees worldwide. The company highlights the forthcoming Ansible collaboration platform as an example of its focus on software and SaaS solutions. Ansible is now in pre-beta trials, including an internal roll-out of approximately 400 users, with general availability of the SaaS version expected in October, 2014.
Zultys enhances its Mobile Communicator client application for Android mobile devices. Version 4.0 adds visual voicemail that lets users view, save, delete or forward messages from their mobile device and also allows agents to take contact center calls from the Android device. In other news, Zultys is offering its hosted MXvirtual system as a business continuity option to back up on-premises MX phone systems or the MXvirtual solution. The solution is hosted by Zultys in its data centers, and customers pay a monthly fee depending on number of users, or larger organizations can rent a backup system.
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