|July-September 2019 Quick Takes|
8x8 made a number of major announcements in third quarter (3Q) 2019. 8x8 Express small business phone service is now generally available for online sign-up in the U.S., with unlimited calling to the U.S. and Canada for $12 per user per month. Express includes the new 8x8 Meetings cloud-based video solution, based on acquired Jitsi open source video communications technology, which delivers HD video and audio conferencing with screen sharing (no software download; can join directly from compatible browsers). 8x8 Meetings is available now at no extra cost for all new 8x8 Express and 8x8 X Series customers on X2 packages and above, as well as for customers on older, legacy plans (a stand-alone version is available as of November 13, 2019). A room-based meeting solution called 8x8 Meeting Rooms will enable hosting and joining 8x8 Video Meetings from a conference or huddle room (GA early 2020). 8x8 Contact Center added a Google AI self-service capability and a new feature called Expert Finder that combines 8x8 Team Messaging and AI to rank message rooms based on previous chats (interoperates with over 24 third-party messaging platforms, including Slack, Webex Teams and Google Hangouts). In other major news, 8x8 entered the Communications Platform-as-a-Service (CPaaS) market by acquiring Wavecell Pte. Ltd., a Singapore-based global CPaaS provider.
Avaya and RingCentral have entered into a strategic partnership. In the first quarter of 2020, Avaya will begin offering the Avaya Cloud Office or “ACO” service that combines the RingCentral Office unified communications as a service (UCaaS) with Avaya technology, services and migration capabilities. Avaya gains a pure cloud UCaaS offering which the company believes will accelerate the transition to the cloud for its global customer base. RingCentral gains access to Avaya’s large installed customer base of over 100 million users and a channel partner community of over 4,700 Avaya partners that will now offer RingCentral’s UCaaS. As part of the agreement, RingCentral also invested $500 million in Avaya which represents a minority stake of 6% in Avaya.
Avaya updated the Avaya IX Contact Center adding the following new capabilities: Avaya IX Teamspace (media chat and messaging capabilities between customers, agents and back-office staff), Avaya IX Dashboard (real-time snapshot/analytics of customer journey and CX performance) and Agent Scripting (browser-based call flow scripting platform re in- and out-bound call flows). Avaya also integrated Koopid’s AI-powered Customer Experience Orchestration platform with Avaya’s contact center solutions, adding customer self-service to live human assistance on chat or voice; agents can view conversational context with a record of current and historical interactions. Avaya’s private cloud solution for enterprises (UC and CC), Avaya ReadyNow, is launching in new Avaya and partner hosted data centers in EMEA (UK and Germany) and APAC (34 countries).
CenturyLink expanded its ‘SIMPLE for Business’ prepaid services with a new bundled service for small businesses called SIMPLE Internet + Digital Phone. Notable capabilities include internet speeds up to 140 Mbps, and digital phone service with unlimited nationwide calling, a range of voice calling features, video calling and some “UC” features like click-to-dial, instant messaging and file sharing. The service is ordered online as a monthly subscription ($90 / month for up to 100 Mbps), with no term commitment required. CenturyLink originally launched the SIMPLE portfolio in November 2018. In other news, CenturyLink acquired privately held Streamroot Inc. and its video streaming technology.
Cisco introduced a new option for large businesses, Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM) Cloud, that will be hosted in Cisco’s Webex data centers. This creates an alternative to the existing CUCM hosted offering from Cisco HCS partners that host the software in their own data centers. Cisco states there is some overlap between CUCM Cloud and HCS, but the company purports that CUCM Cloud is not a replacement for HCS. Both hosted offers will remain available. Cisco also updated its cloud-based Webex Contact Center (formerly called Cisco Customer Journey Platform based on the acquired BroadSoft's CC-One solution). New capabilities include Webex Calling integration, increased scale to 3,000 agents per tenant with unlimited tenants per system, a new conversational IVR self-service, new email and chat capabilities for interactions between agents and customers using Webex Teams, and a redesigned Webex Contact Center agent desktop. There are new data centers for Webex Contact Center in the UK and Australia and manageability via the platform’s Control Hub, alongside all other Webex products. On the M&A front in 3Q 2019, Cisco announced it will acquire the following: CloudCherry (open API platform to augment Cisco’s contact center portfolio with predictive analytics, customer journey mapping and survey capabilities), Voicea (transcription service that blends AI and Automated Speech Recognition), and optical component maker Acacia Communications.
Grandstream introduced several new IP phones in 3Q 2019, including two new models within its GRP series of Carrier-Grade IP Phones: the GRP2615 ($175 USD) and the GRP2612W ($119 USD). GRP models support the Grandstream Device Management System (GDMS) for centralized provisioning and deployment. Notable features include dual-band Wi-Fi support, integrated Bluetooth and swappable faceplates for easy logo customization. Also new is Grandstream’s GXV3380 smart video phone, a multi-platform video collaboration device with a 16-line IP phone and the functionality of an Android tablet. GXV3380 has an 8-inch touch screen, 2-megapixel camera, support for 1080p HD video, integrated dual-band Wi-Fi, built-in Bluetooth and HDMI input/output ($499USD).
Intermedia acquires Telax, a Toronto-based cloud contact center as a service (CCaaS) software provider, adding a CCaaS solution to its UCaaS software for managed service providers (MSPs). Intermedia partners will be able to offer an integrated UCaaS/CCaaS solution or sell CCaaS a standalone service. Telax's CCaaS supports omni-channel communications between agents and customers, including voice calls, SMS messages, emails and social media interactions. Other notable features include skills-based and context-based routing, enhanced IVR with embedded text-to-speech, agent scheduling and quality assurance techniques.
LogMeIn has expanded the availability of its GoToConnect (UCC) and GoToRoom (video conferencing) services to the United Kingdom, Ireland and Germany (previously available in the U.S. and Latin America). In addition, GoToMeeting now supports new meeting “experiences,” including for Pre-Meeting (The Hub workspace, Easier Scheduling, Faster Join, More Meeting Host Options); In-Meeting (Clearer Audio, Real-time Note Taking -- coming soon), and Post-Meeting (Meeting Transcripts, Video to Slides in PDF, Content Sharing, Meeting Diagnostics, Poly and Dolby Room Solutions, Improved Security). A new UC service for small businesses, called Grasshopper Connect, combines business phone service with email as a single business workflow; texts, voicemails, and emails are organized, accessed and managed in a single view. (In 2016, LogMeIn purchased Citrix Systems' GoTo online collaboration portfolio, which includes GoToMeeting, GoToAssist, GoToMyPC, Grasshopper and OpenVoice.)
Microsoft announced new features for Microsoft Teams in 3Q 2019, including priority notifications, channel moderation (moderators can create posts in a channel and control who can reply), new filters in Chat and Teams, muting a conversation in a channel, transfer to Cloud Voicemail, Meet Now feature, Missed Meeting Add Notification and Lightweight Meeting Join. A new Calling, Meeting and Live events feature is in preview. On the M&A front in 3Q, Microsoft is set to acquire PromoteIQ (marketing tech for online retailers) and Movere (a Microsoft cloud partner with tools to complement Microsoft's Azure Migrate service). Microsoft also announced integration of the Five9 Cloud Contact Center platform with Microsoft Teams; initial capabilities will allow agents access to subject matter experts using Teams and a consolidated directory that allows Five9 agents to see the presence of Teams users, grouped by expertise, in their Agent Desktop application.
NEC has enhanced its UNIVERGE SV9000 series of communications platforms for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) and large enterprises, available in on-premises, cloud or hybrid deployments. The UNIVERGE SV9100, all-in-one UC platform for SMBs (10-900 users), adds a more powerful processor, more memory for future built-in, license-activated applications (InApps) and enhanced security. The UNIVERGE SV9500 for larger and geographically distributed organizations (to 192,000 users in a networked system) has a simplified user licensing structure and now comes in a new SV9500SE model for smaller sized organizations. New desktop telephones, UNIVERGE DT500 and DT900, are also available.
Panasonic is launching UC-Line, a cloud-based unified communications (UC) offering for its European partners and customers. The new service is powered by the multi-tenant, fully hosted cloud telephony UC service from Blueface and integrates with Panasonic technology, including Panasonic SIP telephones, video conferencing and UC applications. UC-Line, which targets small, medium and larger enterprises, is available today in France and Spain, with other European markets to follow in early 2020. A similar UCaaS offering is already available in North America. Star2Star Communications and European UCaaS provider Blueface merged in early 2018, but continue to operate in their respective markets under their current names, Star2Star in the United States and Blueface in EMEA.
Poly (formerly Plantronics and Polycom) launched a number of new products in 3Q 2019, including the new VVX D230 wireless IP-based phone system which marks Poly’s re-entry into the DECT phone system market, seven years after Polycom sold the Spectralink business. Also new are the Trio 8300 audio conferencing unit and enhanced Savi 8200 Office and UC Series enterprise wireless headsets that add more wearing styles and features to address noisy office environments. The company also expanded its Device as-a-Service (DaaS) program in North America to include the company’s line-up of headsets, as well as all VVX, Trio and Soundstation IP phones and the Poly Calisto speakerphone.
Snom introduced a new DECT system with three new DECT handsets (M70, M80, M90) and a base station (M900). The company recommends M70 for office environments, M80 for indoor and outdoor use, and M90 for hospitals and nursing homes as it has a special antibacterial housing. All three M Series handsets have a multi-colored, backlit screen, large navigation key, integrated Bluetooth, headphone jack for corded headsets, and an integrated alarm button for emergency situations. Up to 4,000 registered base stations, 16,000 handsets and 100 repeaters can combine in a multi-cell arrangement.
Talkdesk has updated its Enterprise Cloud Contact Center, with new and enhanced integrations, AI-driven analytics, self-administration tools, and improved security and mobility. Product enhancements include: Talkdesk for Salesforce, Talkdesk Explore (to create/manage custom reports and dashboards), Talkdesk Mobile (supports iOS or Android app), Talkdesk Studio (a drag-and-drop flow builder), Talkdesk for Microsoft Dynamics, and Talkdesk for Microsoft Teams. A new offering called Talkdesk Boost augments an on-premises ACD with Talkdesk cloud-based contact center applications. These new apps are designed to “boost” agent and supervisor productivity, operational efficiency and the customer experience without forcing a business to replace their existing call/contact center system. Boost applications include Talkdesk’s Agent Assist, Omnichannel, Workforce Management, Speech Analytics, Chatbots and access to Talkdesk’s AppConnect Ecosystem, among a number of others.
Twilio is introducing new capabilities based on email technology from SendGrid, a company Twilio acquired in fourth quarter 2018. A new SendGrid’s Email Validation API, generally available to customers with Pro and Premier Email API plans, is aimed at catching potential typos, inactive email addresses, shared email accounts and other anomalies that can prevent emails from reaching a target’s inbox. Automation and Email Testing tools within SendGrid Marketing Campaign platform introduce new features to help marketers better manage marketing mailings and messages for consistency, content control and deliverability. Twilio has also opened its own office in Japan, though the company has already been active in Japan for six years through partners.
Unify, the Atos brand for communication and collaboration solutions, is now offering NICE inContact’s CXone omnichannel contact center as-a-service (CCaaS) to its installed base and new customers. CXone is integrated with Atos Unify’s Circuit team collaboration application and sold by Atos under the name “Cloud Contact Center - powered by CXone.” Unify also offers the voice-only OpenScape Contact Center for on-premises or hosted deployments: Agile (single site deployment, 100 concurrent agents) and Enterprise (multi-site networking, 1,500 concurrent agents per system or 7,500 agents per cluster). Unify also resells Genesys Pure Engage for very large and complex contact centers.
Vertical Communications, in partnership with Ericsson-LG, has rolled out iPECS Cloud 3.0 in support of legacy customers with premises-based systems and digital phones. The new release supports digital phones in the cloud through an iPECS digital telephone adapter which eliminates the need for any phone rewiring. Vertical customers and premises users can retain their digital handsets, while transitioning to a cloud-based solution. R3.0 also adds new features, including new audio conference bridge options for 8, 25 or 100 participants and attendee or host PINs for security. iPECS Cloud Contact Center adds a wallboard and reports for supervisors, integration with 40+ CRM packages, and advanced IVR routing (skills-based and scenario routing). iPECS Cloud 3.0 is part of the One Vertical concept that highlights Vertical as a single vendor for all telecom needs - premise and cloud solutions, phones, internet connections, applications, and more.
Vonage acquires certain assets from Over.ai, a Tel Aviv-based Voice and Conversational AI provider for enterprise communications. The acquisition includes Over.ai's technical team and an artificial intelligence (AI) technology platform. Vonage plans to leverage Over.ai's proprietary speech-to-text and Natural Language Understanding (NLU) algorithms with its Vonage Business Cloud (VBC) unified communications solution and the NewVoiceMedia contact center solutions. The Over.ai technology will also augment Vonage’s API Platform with so-called 'Voice over AI' functionality to improve customer engagement with AI, such as enabling virtual assistant functionality (enhanced IVR with real-time human-like interactions).
Windstream Enterprise has added Avaya IP Office to its UCaaS managed services offerings as a new customer offer, but also a migration option for Avaya premises-based IP Office systems and older, unsupported Nortel phone systems. Windstream also upgraded its OfficeSuite UC platform to support companies with up to 20,000 users (Windstream acquired Broadview Networks and its suite of SMB cloud-based UC services called OfficeSuite UC in 2017).
Zoom has improved the features and functionality of its Zoom Phone cloud phone service, adding multi-language prompt support, Office 365 and Gmail integrations, multitasking on mobile phones, on-hold music management, and other new capabilities. The company is also working with Slack on integrations that make it possible to join Zoom meetings from Slack and to make phone calls in Slack using the Zoom Phone cloud calling service. Zoom Phone service became available to North American customers in January 2019, followed by the United Kingdom and Australia in July 2019. Zoom Phone is an add-on to Zoom’s paid web conferencing platform for an additional $10/user/month.
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