Accent Introduces More Affordable VoiceONE Business Edition
Accent Communication Services recently expanded its VoiceONE business telephony offering with a more affordable option for small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) in North America, the VoiceONE Business Edition. The new offering is an Asterisk-based solution that supports essential telephony features in either a cloud or on-site deployment. Chris Cameron, President and CEO of Accent, explains that the new Business Edition is a great fit for businesses with 5-150 users that don’t require sophisticated UC or contact center (CC) capabilities. He emphasizes, however, that the solution is not restricted by size and can actually scale to handle as many as 500 users or more.
Accent’s new Business Edition joins the earlier VoiceONE Cloud and On-Site offerings (based on Zultys call control) which have been rebranded under the umbrella VoiceONE Enterprise as these offer a more sophisticated suite of features for a higher monthly fee. The Business Edition is about 35% less expensive than the Enterprise Edition, with an average Business Edition license priced at $16.99 per user per month versus an average Enterprise Edition license of $28 per user per month.
Accent made news earlier this year when the company introduced an on-site version of its VoiceONE cloud service. The company, which has been a cloud-only provider of business communications services for years, found that not every business is ready for the cloud, and so, Accent designed and developed an on-premises system with the same features and functionality as its cloud counterpart. With the common software for both cloud and premises deployments, Accent hits on an important trend – hybrid cloud. Customers use the same phones and endpoints, experience the same functionality and access the same administration software whether the solution is deployed on-site or in the cloud. And, Accent can flexibly support hybrid cloud-premises networks for multi-site business customers that may want to install on-site systems in some locations, but utilize cloud services for others. Read more here on Accent’s cloud, on-premises and hybrid solutions.
Also significant (and also trending) is Accent’s simple, subscription-based payment model that applies to both cloud and premises deployments. VoiceONE – either the new Business Edition or the Enterprise Edition and either a cloud-based service or an on-site installation – is available for the same monthly payment. Accent is among a number of Unified Communication (UC) vendors that recognize the appeal of subscription-based pricing and are coming up with new payment models that apply to both cloud and premises deployments (more here on this growing trend).
Accent VoiceONE Business Edition
- Technology: Internally developed, Asterisk-based solution
- Target Market: SMBs in North America without a need for sophisticated UC or contact center (CC) requirements
- Scale: 5-500+ users
- Data Centers: Redundant data centers located in Ohio and Minnesota, with geographic failover
- Service Delivery: Point-to-point, MPLS, private networking, Over-the-top (OTT) via public Internet, or managed service via Accent’s Cloud SDN service
- Telephony/UC: Three Business Edition user packages come with unlimited service and support, as well as a good complement of business telephony features, including voicemail, auto attendant, unified messaging, ACD call queuing and distribution and reporting.
- Mobile-only ($12.99 per seat per month) enables access to business telephony features and functions via an iOS or Android mobile device.
- Standard ($16.99) adds desk phone support, including third party SIP phones (from Cisco, Grandstream, Panasonic, Yealink or Zultys) and analog devices (requires an analog telephone adaptor or ATA).
- Premier ($21.99) includes a Grandstream desktop phone (GXP2135) in the package price and bundles in Accent’s voicemail transcription solution.
- Add-on Options: voicemail transcription, SMS and MMS text messaging, multi-party audio conferencing, toll-free numbers, third party softphone support, SD-WAN managed service delivery
Accent VoiceONE Enterprise Edition
- Technology: Internally developed, Zultys-based solution
- Target Market: SMBs and Enterprises in North America with more sophisticated UC or CC requirements
- Scale: 5-5,000+ users
- Data Centers: Redundant data centers located in Ohio and Minnesota, with geographic failover
- Service Delivery: Point-to-point, MPLS, private networking, Over-the-top (OTT) via public Internet, or managed service via Accent’s Cloud SDN service
- Telephony/UC: Three Enterprise Edition tiers, include:
- Standard supports popular enterprise telephony functions, along with more advanced features such as unified messaging, a mobile client application with presence and instant messaging, disaster recovery and ACD call queuing.
- Advanced adds a desktop client, meet-me conferencing, third party application integration and voicemail transcription.
- Contact Center enables Web chat, real-time queue and agent monitoring.
- Advanced Apps: Optional add-ons are available for video and Web conferencing, call recording and outbound campaigns, to name just a few.
Both Editions (Business and Enterprise) support Accent’s real-time performance tools, VoIP Test and Cloud Status, that help to assess a customer’s (or potential customer’s) network connection and give subscribers confidence in the performance of Accent’s VoiceONE services and uptime. Additionally, both Editions can take advantage of Accent’s Cloud SDN solution that brings benefits in terms of network simplification, performance improvements, failover and cost savings versus traditional VPN or MPLS techniques.
The company also recently announced support for Phonism’s VoIP provisioning and management solution that automates the deployment and configuration of SIP-based telephones from multiple vendors. Phonism currently supports phones from Grandstream, Yealink, Polycom and Cisco. More developments are on tap for 2017 and beyond. Stay tuned.
Fuze Streamlines User Packages for Voice and Collaboration
Fuze, a Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) provider based in Cambridge, Massachusetts recently streamlined its user packages down to two offerings to help simplify its multi-tenant UCaaS offer that targets mid-size and larger businesses. By pricing the solution as a true software solution with all-inclusive features, Fuze customers can budget communications and collaborations costs more accurately and spend less time reconciling complex pricing models, according to the company.
The new “Fuze Voice” and “Fuze Collaboration” user packages consolidate the legacy ThinkingPhones and FuzeBox bundles. Back in November 2015, ThinkingPhones acquired the Fuze cloud video conferencing company, and subsequently changed the corporate name to Fuze to better reflect its range of cloud-based services that deliver (i.e. “fuze”) voice, text, data and video on a single platform. Since then, the company has been working to integrate the Fuze web and video conferencing technology with its UC services, including the development of a new unified client that enables access to various modes of interaction (voice, email, SMS, video, etc.) via a single screen.
At the same time, Fuze continues to launch its multi-tenant UCaaS offer in new regions to accommodate the company’s growing number of larger, multi-site customers with international offices. Recently, Fuze announced expansion into Latin America, opening a new data center in Sao Paulo, Brazil and bringing the total to nine primary data centers across four major regions - North America, South America, Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and the Asia Pacific (APAC). Per Fuze, about half of its customers are mid-market and larger organizations with between 500 and 5,000 employees. A growing number of sales are now coming from outside North America. Currently, about 65% of current Fuze customers are based in the Americas, with the remainder in EMEA and APAC.
The Fuze UCaaS services now come in two simplified user packages, as follows:
- Fuze Voice ($30 per user per month) replaces the legacy ThinkingPhones Basic, Core and Power user packages, providing access to popular telephony and voicemail features, but also to more advanced functionality like desktop and mobile client applications, messaging (topic-based chat and group chat), analytics (real-time reporting on usage and activity), file sharing, click-to-call browser integrations and Fuze’s Contextual Insights and enhanced Caller ID which combs through a large number of public and private data sources to display in-depth profiles for incoming and outgoing calls (technology from the Contactive acquisition in 2015). Fuze Voice also includes PSTN access and Direct Inward Dialing (DID) service. Users manage personal settings and features via the Hub user administration tool. Unmetered calling plans are available for an add-on monthly fee.
- Fuze Collaboration ($30 per user per month) replaces the legacy Fuzebox Premium service, providing group video conferencing for up to 1,000 participants, screen and content sharing, and webinar and meeting recording. Like Fuze Voice, the Fuze Collaboration package also enables messaging (topic-based chat and group chat) and incorporates the company’s in-house analytics (real-time reporting on usage and activity). Users manage personal settings and features via the Hub user administration tool.
Fuze’s UX unified user interface (for iOS, Android mobile devices, Mac computers and Windows PCs) provides a single access point for Fuze Voice and Fuze Collaboration users to access all media channels (voice, video, messaging) for both internal and external communications. For users subscribing to Fuze Voice only, the video icon will be inaccessible (will not appear on the UX home screen). Similarly, users that subscribe to Fuze Collaboration only will not see the dial pad or call icons. Subscribers to both Fuze Voice and Fuze Collaboration will gain access to the full suite of telephony, messaging (chat), analytics and video/web conferencing services for a combined rate; volume discounts are available.
Fuze will continue offering separate packages for attendants and contact center agents and supervisors, as well as for room-based video conferencing. Customers can subscribe to the Fuze UCaaS services directly through the Fuze sales team or indirectly through one of the company’s wholesale partners that can choose to brand and tailor the offer as their own under a white-label/OEM program.
2017 and Beyond
Fuze Connect is the company’s new integration solution that ties together enterprise applications such as CRM or customer service applications with the Fuze UCaaS platform. The API integration enables call control and management directly from the application, eliminating the need to toggle between applications or perform manual look-ups. For example, contact details, activity records and notes from a CRM or service desk application will display on the screen for an incoming call. After the call, activities are saved directly into the integrated application. Ten pre-built integrations are currently available, including for Salesforce, Netsuite, MS Dynamics, SugarCRM, ServiceNow, Jira, ZoHo, Zendesk and BullHorn.
In addition, Fuze recently announced tighter integration with inContact, its partner for more complex call center environments. New product integrations include Virtual Prefix Routing that routes calls to the closest Fuze and inContact data centers globally, Presence Adapter that updates inContact My Agent eXperience-MAX availability and Dynamic Directory Sync that lets inContact agents utilize the Dynamic Directory Sync address book of all Fuze users. Call quality and security between Fuze UCaaS and inContact platforms has also been enhanced through the establishment of private connections between Fuze and inContact data centers in North America, EMEA and APAC. This eliminates the need to transmit calls via the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) or the public internet. (Note: Fuze also offers its own call center offering for less complex customer requirements.)
Look for a new solution in the team collaboration space, with the re-launch of the former LiveMinutes team application as Fuze Spaces. Fuze is currently working to perfect this application for mid-size to large enterprises, the company’s target market. Fuze has a topic-based persistent chat capability which is a step toward the full launch of the Fuze team collaboration solution, but is not yet announcing a general availability date for Spaces. Stay tuned.
Mitel Outlines Next Steps for the Toshiba Telecom Assets
In March of 2017, Toshiba Corporation of Japan announced abruptly it would "wind-down" its Telecommunications Systems Division (TSD) starting immediately, including all telecom sales in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The news came just as TSD was rolling out new software features for its IPedge communications platform and a new compact server for the small business, IPedge ES. The Toshiba telecom group was also poised to announce a new architecture for its VIPedge cloud telephony service to address geo-redundancy and survivability, along with additional hybrid cloud options and new pricing models. Per a letter to its dealer network, Vice President and General Manager Brian Metherell emphasized at the time that TSD would “continue to support dealers in all warranty and maintenance obligations to customers” and would “waive early termination charges” for customers of its subscription-based cloud service.
In May, however, events changed. Mitel stepped forward, announcing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Toshiba to transfer assets and support obligations, including existing inventory. The asset transfer was completed on schedule and as planned for early summer. Mitel officially announced the acquisition's completion on July 5, 2017.
Graham Bevington, Chief Sales Officer at Mitel, shared more with us about the “next steps” in the acquisition process.
- Asset Review: Now that the sale is complete, Mitel has begun a 60-90 day review process during which Mitel will be evaluating the acquired Toshiba assets. This encompasses all the assets that make up the telephony and unified communications (UC) practice for Toshiba globally, including the inventory and the right to modify products in order to support the installed base.
- Early Promotions: A series of “Switch to Mitel” offers were launched prior to announcing the MoU to help move Toshiba customers to a Mitel solution. These promotions will be adjusted as the product roadmap becomes more defined over the next 90 days.
- Ongoing Support: Mitel will be supporting the Toshiba base in North America with hardware and software. As noted above, Mitel acquired the existing Toshiba telephony and UC inventory along with the right to modify these products as needed. A number of Toshiba sales, support and R&D employees are also joining Mitel in support of existing Toshiba customers and partners.
- Existing Inventory Sales: Mitel will be selling the existing Toshiba inventory, but also gained the right to manufacture more systems if desired/required. These will be offered under the Mitel brand.
- Migration and CloudLink: A big part of the Toshiba customer migration involves Mitel’s new CloudLink technology that connects premises-based telephony systems (Key or PBX systems from Mitel or any other vendor such as Toshiba) to a new series of focused cloud applications that are currently in development by Mitel and that leverage Amazon Web Services (AWS). The Toshiba base can migrate at their own pace since CloudLink enabled on their Strata CIX, IPedge or VIPedge platforms will allow them to take advantage of next-generation applications, including solutions for Internet of Things (IoT). The first application (code-named Bluebird after the first brave bird of the season) will target small businesses in the Americas with a mobile unified communications solution.
The Toshiba Portfolio
Unlike Mitel’s product line which includes its own products along with a number of acquired solutions, Toshiba’s product line is fairly straightforward. All of its telephony systems are based on Toshiba-developed technology with an aim to protect a customer’s investment as they migrate from digital to IP to cloud. Toshiba has a number of deployment options to meet varying business needs.
- Converged Digital/IP Telephony System: Toshiba’s Strata CIX is an option for businesses that use a variety of endpoint types, including analog, digital and/or IP wired or wireless devices. There are five models for differing capacity levels: the Strata CIX40 (40 ports), CIX100 (112 ports), CIX200 (192 ports), CIX670 (672 ports) and CIX1200 (1,152 ports). Strata CIX can be enhanced with Toshiba’s IPedge Application Server to add unified messaging, unified communications (mobile and desktop client software) and meet-me audio conferencing, or with the VIPedge Application Service that makes these applications available “as-a-service” for a monthly subscription fee.
- IP-based Communications Server: Toshiba IPedge is a single server IP communications system that runs multiple applications on one Linux-based server for a more efficient use of hardware and computing resources. This includes call processing, unified messaging, unified communications, mobility and centralized administration, along with optional contact center software and reporting. There are three Linux-based IPedge hardware appliances for differing capacity levels (IPedge EM for up to 1,000 users, IPedge EC for up to 200 users and IPedge EP for up to 40 users), plus the newest compact IPedge ES that handles 24 users per server.
- Virtualized software: Toshiba’s IPedge Virtual Server targets IT-centric environments. IPedge software can be pre-installed on a Toshiba-provided server running VMware or purchased as software-only to run on a customer-provided VMware-certified hardware. IPedge Virtual Server can co-reside with Toshiba’s contact center and reporting software for hardware and operational savings.
- Cloud-based Unified Communications: Toshiba’s VIPedge cloud-based service was introduced back in 2012 as a hosted version of the company’s IPedge IP-based communications system. The cloud service delivers similar IPedge features and functionality, including telephone features, voicemail, unified messaging and Toshiba’s UC application. VIPedge accommodates up to 500 users in a single site or multi-site deployment.
- Hybrid Cloud: Because IPedge software is the base software for Toshiba’s VIPedge hosted/cloud service, customers use the same phones and endpoints, experience the same functionality and access the same administration software whether they deploy the system on-site (IPedge), select the cloud service (VIPedge) or utilize a mix of the two solutions in a hybrid configuration. Toshiba offers what we call a dual hybrid cloud approach since Toshiba has solutions for both hybrid networking and hybrid applications. Specifically, Toshiba supports Hybrid Cloud Networking among the company’s hosted/cloud telephony UC service (VIPedge) and its premises-based business phone systems (IPedge and Strata CIX). The company’s VIPedge Application Service is available to Toshiba customers with premises-based Strata CIX systems (or earlier, upgraded Strata CTX systems) and delivers its Unified Messaging and Unified Communications applications “as-a-service” for a monthly subscription fee.
In recent months, Toshiba also enhanced its UCedge client software that runs on Android and iOS smartphones and tablets, Windows PCs and Mac computers. New capabilities introduced an Essentials mode that is free to all users and added features for contact centers and call recording.
Stay tuned for more on the Mitel-Toshiba strategy as the next 90 days and beyond unfolds.
RingCentral Amplifies Enterprise Focus
We have written before about cloud business communications provider RingCentral and its focus on the enterprise market. The company has continued to develop new features and applications that are important to larger businesses and has been expanding RingCentral Office unified communications as-a-service (UCaaS) into additional countries to meet the needs of a growing base of customers with multi-national operations. Due to the sheer number of announcements by RingCentral so far in 2017, we thought an update was in order.
By way of background, RingCentral began investing in the enterprise in 2014 when the company announced the RingCentral Office Enterprise Edition, along with enterprise-targeted applications for web and video collaboration and mobility. In 2015, RingCentral continued to deliver on services for the enterprise, opening up its Application Programming Interface (API) to customers and partners (RingCentral Connect Platform), creating an Integrations App Gallery, rolling out RingCentral Contact Center (in partnership with inContact) and introducing RingCentral Teams, a team collaboration application acquired from Glip, among other new capabilities and features.
Highlights for 2016 included the launch of RingCentral Global Office for multi-national companies (now available across 32 countries in North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific), a new room-based videoconferencing service called RingCentral Rooms and RingCentral CloudConnect that allows larger customers to opt for a private, dedicated connection to the RingCentral cloud platform instead of using the public internet (addresses quality of service, network performance and security requirements). In December 2016, RingCentral extended the RingCentral Professional Services with premium support services for larger enterprises that have more complex networks. The new support level assigns a technical account manager and customer success manager(s) for each account, along with providing a dedicated support hotline, proactive case management and quarterly network assessments. The program is designed for customers with 500+ seats, but RingCentral will make exceptions on a case by case basis.
All in all, metrics shared by RingCentral continue to show positive momentum in terms of larger enterprise sales. In its Q1 2017 business highlights, RingCentral cited an 86% year-over-year growth in the mid-market and enterprise segment which it says now represents over $150 million of its recurring revenue business. In May, RingCentral reported that more than 700 multinational enterprises are using RingCentral Global Office, a 75% increase over the prior two quarters.
And, RingCentral has been garnering some industry recognition of late, including from market research firm IHS that recognized RingCentral as a leader in its IHS Markit 2017 North American Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) Scorecard. IHS cites RingCentral’s international growth and focus on serving larger enterprises with investments in professional services and customer care among the differentiators. In a report published in June, Synergy Research Group named RingCentral the market leader in UCaaS based on the company’s quarterly revenues and growing market share, citing strength in both retail and wholesale UCaaS.
New in 2017
RingCentral has been steadily rolling out new capabilities and services for enterprise customers in this first half of 2017. Here is a run-down.
RingCentral’s team collaboration application, Glip, added HIPAA compliance for improved security in communication and collaboration among healthcare professionals using Glip’s team messaging, conferencing, file-sharing, and task management capabilities. Glip by RingCentral is included at no additional cost for all RingCentral Office customers.
RingCentral announced 40 new out-of-the-box business application integrations (now over 85 integrations in total) and expanded team messaging APIs, including support for chatbots and artificial intelligence. Two new real-time analytics tools were also introduced: RingCentral Live Reports for department managers and Quality of Service Analytics for administrators (in limited release now and generally available in October).
RingCentral redesigned the user interface for its UCaaS offering, RingCentral Office. The new UI enables access to all communication modes - voice, video, messaging, tasks, fax and SMS - via a single screen (limited release began mid-April 2017).
RingCentral reached out to enterprises in Europe, offering the RingCentral Office service in 13 European countries with an in-country purchasing capability and euro billing (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland). The company also announced plans to open additional European sales offices and to expand channel partnerships across Europe.
RingCentral enhanced its Channel Harmony rewards program for partners. The program now applies to all deals from “one to infinity” (previously, only deals above 50 users qualified). Partners receive 100% commissions on all deals, plus have access to dedicated subject-matter experts. RingCentral currently has 4,000 active channel partners and reported a record quarter in Q1 2017 for new bookings by channel partners, particularly in the mid-market and enterprise space (states that five of its six 7-figure deals were won with channel partner involvement).
RingCentral announced expanded coverage in the Asia Pacific and into Latin America because of demand from enterprise customers. The opening of two new data centers in Japan and Brazil by the end of the year will make RingCentral Global Office available in Japan, Brazil, Argentina and Peru. The new data centers will bring the total to 17 data centers across four regions (North America, Europe, Asia and Latin America).
RingCentral introduced RingCentral Webinar, a new large-scale virtual meeting solution that can host 100-3,000 attendees and up to 200 presenters. The service is available now in the US, Canada and UK, with pricing that starts at $40 per month per host license for up to 100 attendees, and $990 per month per host license for up to 3,000 attendees.
RingCentral released a new tier plan for its RingCentral Connect developer platform. The three new tiers, Authorized, Premier and Elite, offer differing levels of support resources. Premier partners, for example, will have added access to marketing and sales enablement programs, while Elite partners can take part in go-to-market activities. All developer members (5,000 to date) will be able to showcase applications and integrations in RingCentral’s App Gallery.
We can expect a continuation of these enterprise-related activities in the second half of 2017. RingCentral’s Kira Makagon, EVP of Innovation, summarizes: "As we look ahead, we will be continuing to focus on our global expansion, enhancing our multi-language support, amplifying our reporting and analytics capabilities, delivering more open platform integrations including chatbots and AI, as well as further advancing our developer tools and support and bolstering the Glip capabilities and ecosystem." Stay tuned.
Simplifying the On-premises Payment Model
We have all seen the growing appeal for cloud-based business communications and the associated recurring, operational expenditure (OPEX) payment model. The budgetary advantages are clear. With an OPEX model, a business avoids the up-front expense of purchasing and installing on-site equipment, and instead, pays a predictable monthly fee to access the communications solution as-a-service. Additionally, with unified communications “as-a-service” (UCaaS), fewer technical personnel are needed as there is no on-site communications system to manage and maintain. There are strategic benefits too, particularly for multi-site and larger organizations. These include scale, disaster recovery, consistency across a network of locations and the ease of adding innovations and technologies that emerge in the future (more on these here).
Paying a monthly fee is the norm for a hosted/cloud service, but it is not common when it comes to purchasing an on-site telephony system. And, though cloud-based communications is steadily gaining adoption, many businesses today still maintain or require on-site IP-PBX, contact center, messaging, meeting and UC solutions (more here on several new IP-PBXs introduced already this year). With these businesses in mind, traditional telephony equipment vendors are looking at ways to simplify the buying process for customers that opt for an on-site installation. They recognize the appeal of subscription-based pricing and are introducing new payment models that apply to both cloud and premises deployments.
Moreover, most traditional equipment vendors are simultaneously building out a cloud UC portfolio, and thus, are uniquely positioned to offer hybrid arrangements with a mix on-site equipment and cloud-based services - a growing preference, according to recent surveys, and a good migratory step to an all-cloud solution in the future. A consistent cloud and premises payment model will make this inevitable migration to the cloud a smoother process.
Below, we highlight several telephony equipment vendors on our radar that are already offering subscription-based pricing for their premises-based telephony systems similar to the recurring, OPEX payment models of their cloud-based UC alternatives. We can expect to see more of this as 2017 unfolds.
Accent Communication Services
Early in 2017, national telecommunications provider Accent expanded its portfolio with a new premises-based IP-PBX called Accent VoiceONE Onsite. Accent, in a sense, is bucking the trend by introducing new on-site equipment when most providers and vendors are racing to build out their cloud unified communications (UC) offers. Yet, the company, which has been a cloud-only provider of business communications services for years, has found that not every business is ready for the cloud. And so, Accent has designed and developed an on-premises system with the same features and functionality as its cloud counterpart. VoiceONE, whether a cloud or premises implementation, utilizes Zultys call control as the underlying technology, but the solution is completely manufactured, monitored and supported by Accent.
Key to the new on-premises solution is the simple, subscription-based payment model. With VoiceONE Onsite, the customer does not buy, rent or lease the installed IP-PBX equipment, but simply pays a predictable per-user monthly fee – the same monthly fee as the cloud-based alternative. The fee does not fluctuate from month to month, and Accent provides the on-site UC appliance and any gateways required to interface with the customer’s existing PSTN service (typically PRI, POTS lines, or SIP interfaces). The consistent subscription-based pricing is appealing for budgetary reasons, but also makes it easier for a business to move to an all-cloud solution in the future, if desired.
In November 2016, Cisco introduced the new Cisco Spark Flex Plan, a single subscription plan that offers the same pricing for both cloud and on-site Cisco deployments. With the plan, customers that opt to install a telephony system on-site will have no up-front software licensing expenses, and instead will spread this out as a pay-as-you-go monthly subscription fee (customers will still need to purchase the server equipment that will run the software). The consistent cloud and premises pricing also makes it easier to move to an all-cloud solution in the future, if and when this makes sense for their particular business operation.
The new Cisco Spark Flex Plan essentially extends the Spark pricing packages to include premises-based equipment (the initial Spark packages included cloud-only solutions). Now, the Cisco Spark Message and Advanced Meetings package lets customers select either WebEx cloud services or Cisco’s on-site Meeting Server. The Spark Call packages include options for cloud-based or on-premises call control, either Spark Call or Cisco’s Hosted Collaboration Solution cloud-based solutions or Cisco’s on-premises Unified Communications Manager, Business Edition, Unity Connection, Emergency Responder or Expressway products.
In February 2017, NEC introduced UNIVERGE SV9100 BLUE, a complete out-of-the-box, on-premises business phone solution that evolved from the company’s SV9100 Communications Server for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs), but which offers monthly subscription-based billing (an operating expense payment model). Customers will avoid the upfront equipment costs and pay only for capacity needed (determined by the number of subscribers) through a single monthly bill that covers all system hardware, phones and SIP trunk services. The UNIVERGE BLUE Cloud Portal assigns system licensing and trunking for up to 32 desktop phone users, 28 mobile device users and 16 SIP trunks. Customers also select a 3- or 5-year contract which becomes a month-to-month agreement at the end of the contract term.
UNIVERGE SV9100 BLUE enables a subset of the full SV9100 capabilities, including 50 or so essential telephony features along with NEC’s Multi-Line Client (MLC) for iOS and Android devices and NEC’s UC Suite for PC-based or web browser-based call management. The next release due out later this year will enable SV9100 “Premium” license capabilities for all users which adds support for a UC Attendant, CRM integration and ACD. Hybrid networking is also forthcoming and will allow multi-site businesses to configure a unified network across all locations regardless of the deployment type (the cloud-based SV9100 BLUE or the on-premises SV9100 Communications Server). Note: NEC’s UNIVERGE SV9100 was launched in 2014 to replace the earlier SV8100 SMB platform with a simpler, all-in-one solution and embedded applications for unified messaging, mobility and unified communications.
The former Fonality (recently acquired by NetFortris in February 2017) was one of the first to introduce a single pay-as-you-go pricing model that applies to both cloud and on-premises phone solution deployments. Back in 2013, Fonality recognized the appeal of subscription-based pricing to any business, regardless of the deployment model (cloud or premises). For customers that opt for an on-site deployment, the NetFortris/Fonality subscription includes a high-capacity server with the company’s hybrid-hosted technology for administration. The system’s control panel and configuration settings are stored with NetFortris/Fonality (a managed server) and accessed via a web browser; configuration settings are proactively backed up off-site. Customers that opt to have the entire solution hosted in the cloud also receive these proactive services, plus the benefit of having NetFortris/Fonality manage the hardware and network connections in a data center.
The company offers three tiered Editions: Essentials, Professional and Ultimate, with the Professional and Ultimate Editions deployed in the cloud or with a NetFortris/Fonality-provided appliance server on-site (the more basic Essentials Edition is a cloud-only deployment). Pricing varies by the add-ons selected, and there is a built-in discount based on the number of users. (Note that customers still have the option of a one-time payment model for on-site equipment and/or software if desired.)
In recent news:
Accent Communication Services recently expanded its VoiceONE business telephony offering with a more affordable option for small and mid-size businesses in North America, the VoiceONE Business Edition. The new offering is an Asterisk-based solution that supports essential telephony features as either a cloud or on-site deployment. Business Edition joins Accent’s VoiceOne Enterprise offering (based on Zultys call control). The company also announces support for Phonism’s VoIP provisioning and management solution. See the related write-up for more detail.
Amazon updates Amazon Connect, the company’s cloud-based contact center service introduced earlier this year. There is a new real-time performance monitoring dashboard, and coverage is now extended into the Asia Pacific region through a data center in Sydney, Australia. Amazon Connect is already available in the U.S. and 18 countries throughout Europe. New language support includes Spanish, French, Brazilian Portuguese, Korean, German, Simplified Chinese and Japanese. Amazon Connect is a voice-only solution (e.g. for live calls and IVR), but customers can add channels like email, Web chat and social media by combining Connect with Salesforce, Zendesk or other CRM vendors.
Avaya has entered into the open standards SIP phone market, announcing that its SIP-based desktop and conference phones portfolio has been tested for interoperability with the BroadSoft BroadWorks cloud-based unified communications platform. This includes the Avaya J129 IP phone, the Avaya B179 Conference Phone and the new Avaya Vantage desktop endpoint with capacitive touch-screen (the Avaya E129 has been retired). The phones can be customized with co-branding or white labeling with a Service Provider’s name and logo; additional phones will be added over the next year. In other news, Avaya’s Powered by IP Office (the cloud-based version of the IP Office telephony system) will now be available in Ireland through Avaya’s channel partner Damovo. Avaya also introduces Customer Engagement Cloud, a new hybrid architecture for deploying its Oceana contact center solution on a public cloud infrastructure, on-premises or both.
BroadSoft announces the commercial availability of BroadCloud Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), a managed cloud infrastructure (BroadCloud data centers) that can be leveraged by service providers to more quickly bring the BroadSoft Business cloud applications to market. This new option means that service providers (and large enterprises) do not need to deploy and manage their own infrastructure to host the BroadSoft Business portfolio, and thus, can fully focus their resources and budget on business goals and customers. Four seat-level packages are available: SIP Trunk, Business Line, Standard Cloud PBX and Premium Full UC-One. In other news, BroadSoft has introduced the BroadSoft Business BroadCloud managed cloud platform into the Australian market. Its first collaboration is with Optus that will offer a full suite of UC services based on the BroadSoft Business UC-One (telephony and UC suite) to Australian SMBs.
Cisco unveiled a new vision and new intelligent, intent-based networking solutions to help meet the challenges of handling the soon-to-be billions of connected devices driven by the Internet of Things (IoT). Cisco’s new Digital Network Architecture (DNA) technologies and services include Encrypted Traffic Analytics for identifying threats in encrypted traffic (while maintaining privacy) and a new family of Catalyst 9000 Switches that will handle mobility, cloud, IoT and security demands, among other new solutions. Cisco also introduced new capabilities, security solutions and premium services for its Jasper IoT platform (Jasper Control Center 7.0) and announced a new IoT operations platform, Cisco Kinetic. In other news, Apple and Cisco revealed what's next with their partnership, including extending Fast Lane for macOS devices and developers (i.e. optimizing Cisco networks for mac devices and apps) and simplifying the Cisco Spark and WebEx experience on iOS and Safari. On the acquisition front, Cisco purchased MindMeld, an artificial intelligence (AI) company based in San Francisco, CA, as well as SD-WAN Provider Viptela to round out its SD-WAN portfolio.
CoreDial adds a voice-to-text transcription service based on Google technology. With the new solution, voicemails are automatically transcribed and sent to the CoreDial ClickConnex mobile app or as an email notification (currently English and Spanish languages are supported). The new voice-to-text transcription service is available to customers of the company’s SwitchConnex cloud service that offers two options for unified communications, either BroadSoft’s BroadWorks or CoreDial’s in-house call control software rooted in Asterisk (more on that here). CoreDial plans to add transcription for call recordings and redaction services next.
Dialpad has announced a new integration with cloud-based voice assistant Amazon Echo. Dialpad users can “ask Alexa” to make a phone call, record a call, transfer a call, check voicemail and control other functions of the business phone system. This voice control over Diadpad is part of the company’s goal to simplify communications for remote and mobile workers. The Alexa integration eliminates the need to access a physical device (computer, a smartphone, a desk phone or a tablet) to make and receive phone calls or to handle other telephony tasks. Google Home integration is planned for later in 2017.
Fuze has consolidated several legacy user bundles into two UCaaS offers, Fuze Voice and Fuze Collaboration. Fuze also announced expansion into Latin America, opening a new data center in Sao Paulo, Brazil and bringing the total to nine primary data centers across four major regions. Also new is Fuze Connect, the company’s new integration solution that ties together enterprise applications such as CRM or customer service applications with the Fuze UCaaS platform; ten pre-built integrations are currently available. In addition, Fuze recently announced tighter integrations with contact center partner inContact, along with enhancements to call quality and security between Fuze UCaaS and inContact platforms. See the related write-up for more detail. In other news, Fuze moved to a new Boston headquarters “hub” that features flexible, collaborative spaces and which consolidates the company’s operations, management, sales and customer services teams.
Genesys unveiled the next evolution of its omni-channel Customer Experience Platform, dubbed G-NINE. The first of the innovations will include 80+ pre-defined micro-applications for voice and digital self-service, asynchronous messaging through Genesys Hub (includes channels like Facebook Messenger, Slack, Skype and WeChat), third party bot integration with native Genesys artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning systems, and an AI solution for customer service called “Kate” developed around the company’s concept of “blended AI” (combines live agent interactions with AI, bots and machine learning). Genesys also introduced a new logo following its acquisition of Interactive Intelligence (an abstract lowercase “g”) and a new tagline “Moments Connected.” Recently, Genesys aligned the two company's portfolios into three main offers using Interactive Intelligence's "Pure" branding: PureCloud (the Interactive Intelligence multi-tenant cloud service for SMBs), PureConnect (the Interactive Intelligence CIC and CaaS all-in-one solutions for SMEs) and PureEngage (the Genesys Enterprise Edition).
MegaPath has enhanced its MegaPath One all-in-one UC and telephony service with some new features, including SMS texting, screen sharing with external participants, a new tabular view of My Room conference and chat sessions, and a full-screen display for screen sharing. The new features are available now as a free download. MegaPath One leverages BroadSoft’s UC-One portfolio and includes the My Room group collaboration workspace. My Room and other MegaPath One UC features are included with MegaPath’s Premium Business Voice and Enterprise Voice subscription plans (or optional for Business Voice).
Mitel has completed the acquisition of Toshiba’s UC business assets, following a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in May in which the company announced its intent to transfer assets and support obligations, including existing inventory. A number of Toshiba sales, support and R&D employees are also joining Mitel in support of existing Toshiba customers and partners. See the related write-up for more on Mitel’s next steps regarding the Toshiba products and customer base, including its new CloudLink technology that connects premises-based telephony systems (Key or PBX systems from Mitel or any other vendor such as Toshiba) to a new series of focused cloud applications that are currently in development by Mitel and that leverage Amazon Web Services (AWS).
NEC has introduced the SL2100 Smart Communications System for small businesses in North America (up to 128 extensions). The new on-premises system has built-in features over and above those of the earlier SL1100; these include mobile extension, audio and video conferencing, document sharing, presence and instant messaging, ACD and contact center and hotel/motel services. In other news, NEC’s UNIVERGE Blue Business Cloud Services Contact Center (based on the Enghouse CCSP cloud contact center solution) is now available through NEC’s Canadian partners. NEC also launched the NeoFace Express rapid-access biometric solution, a new class of facial recognition system that captures facial images at tight angles and in difficult lighting conditions (targets high-demand, high-traffic areas).
RingCentral has made a series of announcements of late, including expanded coverage in the Asia Pacific and into Latin America due to demand from enterprise customers. The opening of two new data centers in Japan and Brazil will make RingCentral Global Office available soon in Japan, Brazil, Argentina and Peru. The new data centers bring the total to 17 data centers across four regions (North America, Europe, Asia and Latin America). RingCentral Webinar is a new large-scale virtual meeting solution that can host 100-3,000 attendees and up to 200 presenters; the add-on service is available now in the US, Canada and UK for RingCentral Office customers. The RingCentral Connect developer platform has three new tiers, Authorized, Premier and Elite, that offer differing levels of support resources. See the related write-up for more on new services from RingCentral in 2017.
ShoreTel has introduced a new Global Numbers Service that allows multi-national organizations to create a local presence through unique, in-country Direct Inward Dial or International Toll-free Service numbers; the service is initially available to Connect CLOUD customers in the U.S., Canada, U.K. and Australia. ShoreTel has also launched its Connect CLOUD and Connect CLOUD Contact Center solutions in Australia (adding to previous availability in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom). And, ShoreTel recently expanded its partnership with ScanSource Communications, aligning ShoreTel’s U.S. distribution model with the two-tier distribution strategy that ShoreTel utilizes in EMEA and APAC. ShoreTel channel partners can buy ShoreTel’s onsite solutions through ScanSource as of July 1, 2017.
Talkdesk, a cloud-based call center software solution provider headquartered in San Francisco, is targeting the enterprise with a new AppConnect app store where customers can try and buy new contact center related tools and technology. To start, there are solutions from 16 launch partners for workforce management, business and voice analytics, quality assurance and productivity applications. Talkdesk will also be adding two new agent-customer interaction channels to its current voice-based platform, enabling communication via SMS (in beta) and video (later this year). Also, Talkdesk now integrates with the Slack team collaboration solution. This enables conversations within Slack among individuals, team members, supervisors or experts, including contact center supervisors who want to monitor or coach an agent.
Yealink has released several new products lately, including the new T5 Smart Media Phone series with Android operating system for third party app installation, built-in HD cameras and seven-inch screens for video calling. The full series of T5 media phones includes the T58V, T58A, T56A, T54S and T52S models. Yealink also introduced the following new conferencing products: the Meeting Server video conferencing solution for medium-sized and large enterprises that can be deployed locally (on-premises) or via the public cloud, the new VC800 Room System with an all-in-one design (supports a 24-site HD video conferencing capacity and can be divided into two Virtual Meeting Rooms), and a new CP960 Conference Phone for mid and large-sized meeting rooms (5-party conferencing) that features wide-range voice pickup, noise proof technology, 100-hour local call recording, built-in WiFi, Bluetooth and an Android 5.1 operating system.
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