Accent Evolves with VoiceONE Connect
Accent Communication Services, an Ohio-based national provider of telecommunications services and solutions, recently launched VoiceONE Connect, a new cloud-based telephony and unified communications (UC) service that represents an evolution of the company’s VoiceONE Business Edition introduced in 2017 for small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) in North America.
VoiceONE Connect builds on Business Edition’s essential telephony feature set to add more advanced capabilities like a mobile application with integrated audio and video calling, chat, file sharing and business text messaging. Chris Cameron, President of Accent, explains that these types of collaborative features are no longer seen as options for larger enterprises, but are required – and even expected – by today’s businesses of all sizes. For this reason, the R&D team at Accent began developing the next generation of the Business Edition product, building in a more advanced feature set, but maintaining the same competitive price point.
The new VoiceONE Connect and earlier VoiceONE Business Edition solutions are both based on Asterisk technology, and use the same Grandstream phones, which makes for a smooth transition for Business Edition customers to Connect, if desired. Accent tells us, however, that Business Edition will remain available (though not advertised) for on-site deployments should that be a customer requirement. Business Edition supports both cloud and on-site deployments, while VoiceONE Connect is a fully cloud-based offering. Accent also offers the internally-developed, Zultys-based VoiceONE Enterprise (also with cloud or on-premises deployment) for even more sophisticated telephony, UC and contact center capabilities.
With VoiceONE Connect, Accent hits on a key trend by offering a simple 3-step online ordering process that eliminates the need for a partner or any in-house IT resources to assist with set-up and management. There is no seat limit at this time. To set-up, customers can select “Do It Yourself” or opt for an Accent support specialist to assist (“Agent Guided”). Either way, the remote set-up and configuration is complimentary, and Accent promises processing and provisioning within 60 minutes of order placement for orders placed during regular business hours, Monday through Friday (otherwise, processing occurs on the next business day). Accent also provisions and ships the Grandstream IP desk phones if selected, and will help set up any customer-provided SIP phones.
VoiceONE Connect customers can choose from three user plans, priced month-to-month or in a less costly 36-month contract; each plan provides one cloud telephony extension.
- Virtual User ($14.99 per user per month for a 36-month contract) is an all software option for business users that don’t want any hardware on-site. With this plan, there are no physical desk phones. Rather, users communicate through Accent’s desktop softphone (Connect Desktop App) with headset or a mobile device (iOS or Android) running Accent’s Connect Mobile App. These Connect Apps also enable group voice/video calling, presence, chat, desktop and file sharing. A range of popular business telephony features, plus voicemail-to-email delivery, multi-party and meet-me conferencing, call recording, unlimited business text messaging (SMS) and voicemail transcription, round out the standard capabilities. The plan comes with unlimited local/long distance calling in the U.S. and Canada.
- Standard User ($18.99 per user per month for a 36-month contract) has the same Virtual plan capabilities, but adds IP desk phone support. Accent offers three Grandstream models: the GXP2170 for higher call volumes, the mid-range GXP2135 and the more basic GXP1635. Or customers can bring their own third party SIP phones (from Cisco, Grandstream, Panasonic, Yealink or Zultys). Analog devices require an analog telephone adaptor or ATA.
- Premier User ($23.99 per user per month for a 36-month contract) is Accent’s most popular bundle. It includes all Virtual and Standard features, but also includes a Grandstream GXP2135 IP desk phone as part of the monthly price.
Several other capabilities are available as add-on options for any of the plans. These include an operator console, web-based click-to-call, web services API integration and basic call center capabilities like ACD agent groups (call queuing and distribution), queue announcements and queue reports.
Layering Contact Center
Aside from the ACD add-ons noted above, VoiceONE Connect customers also have the option to “layer on” the more sophisticated suite of cloud contact center capabilities available with Accent’s VoiceONE Enterprise Edition offering. Accent’s Chris Cameron describes a recent customer that purchased 100 seats of Connect, but also has a 15-agent call center that requires more functionality than Connect’s ACD option. These 15 users will utilize the Enterprise Edition feature set and Enterprise Edition’s Cloud Contact Center, creating a unified UC and contact center system for these specific users.
VoiceONE’s Cloud Contact Center is based on technology from Zultys (Integrated Contact Center or Zultys ICC) and enables intelligent call queuing and routing, real-time agent, queue and performance monitoring, automated call back, web chat, customizable screen pops, call scripts and reporting. With the custom reporting tool (MXreport), contact center managers can create a variety of reports that provide insights and intelligence around call handling and agent performance.
Optional web-based API integration with external customer relationship management (CRM), workforce management applications and other third-party tools can help streamline processes and get information to users more efficiently. Further, used in conjunction with Connect’s WebRTC features, businesses can capitalize on customer engagement by setting up web-based click-to-call buttons that make it easy for potential customers to contact sales and support teams directly from the company’s website.
Big Enough to Deliver, Small Enough to Care
This is an apt description of Accent (in its own words), a company that strives to meet their customers where they are, whether they need a simple, traditional business phone installation or are looking for a solution with more advanced, collaborative capabilities and secure, managed service delivery options.
Accent is in-sync with current trends around cloud-based business communications, delivering on today’s business desires for integrated team collaboration, online self-service, contact center-as-a-service and WebRTC. Businesses can also take advantage of Accent’s real-time performance tools, VoIP Test and Cloud Status, that assess a customer’s network connection and give subscribers confidence in the performance of Accent’s VoiceONE services and uptime. Additionally, Accent’s Cloud SDN (Software-defined Wide Area Networking or SD-WAN) solution brings benefits in terms of network simplification, performance improvements, failover and cost savings versus traditional VPN or MPLS techniques (which are also available).
Though a smaller firm, Accent is high-touch when it comes to customer support and is intent on never leaving any customer behind. Accent prides itself on customer service which it describes as the driving force of its success since the company’s founding in 1991. Technical support and moves/adds/changes are a standard part of every VoiceONE cloud plan. And while Accent is developing and delivering on trending cloud communications, Accent continues to support traditional premises-based deployments, if desired/required, based on its hybrid Business Edition and Enterprise offerings (even earlier ShoreTel (now Mitel) on-site installations which the company has long supported).
In 2019, customers will remain front and center with some new initiatives on the way, including the launch of live weekly user training webinars and further automation of the online ordering process. Accent will also be enhancing Connect’s WebRTC capabilities with support for threaded SMS conversations and an intelligent automated SMS response engine that will utilize bots and pre-built actions/responses based on customer input. Stay tuned.
Nextiva, Competing Around the Customer Experience
Nextiva has crossed our research radar lately, not only because it’s listed among the top 10 largest Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) providers in North America (per IHS Infonetics’ 2018 UCaaS North America Vendor Scorecard), but more so because of some differentiators that caught our attention.
First, Nextiva offers an all-in-one communication software bundle which combines business phone service, a range of built-in customer relationship management (CRM) features and some impressive leading-edge analytics that make use of Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Machine Learning (ML), along with additional Nextiva patented technologies.
Secondly – and perhaps more importantly – Nextiva’s customer service, which the company refers to as “amazing,” seems to be a stand-out versus competitors in the UCaaS space. Nextiva prides itself on 100% in-house customer service. Of its 1,000 employees, 400 focus solely on customer experience. We can attest to Nextiva’s attentiveness since every time we visited the website, we were greeted (via chat, then email) by multiple representatives who were friendly, knowledgeable and very open with sharing content and materials to help with our inquiries. This level of openness is always refreshing to those of us in the analyst community, and no doubt much appreciated by potential customers seeking information about the Nextiva services.
Nextiva is on to something. Technology and products no longer seem to be the “silver bullet” when it comes to winning new business. Competition now centers on the customer experience.
Nextiva, based in Scottsdale, AZ, has been offering business communications services to businesses in the United States since 2008. The company started as a hosted telephony provider, but has evolved to offer a suite of business management services that now includes multi-channel customer support software (CRM), live customer chat software, online survey software, business intelligence software (analytics), email marketing automation, cloud virtual fax software and cloud storage/backup.
The underlying voice call control platform is based on BroadSoft (now Cisco) technology, which Nextiva explains allows them to focus development efforts beyond telecommunications and toward developing their own advanced solutions, particularly in the area of analytics. This includes sentiment analysis, customer journey tracking, predictive actions, customer benchmarking and even gamification to motivate employees. Nextiva continues to offer its voice and non-voice services as standalone plans, but in spring of 2018, Nextiva rolled out the NextOS all-in-one software that bundles its communications related services – Business Phone Service, CRM features, Chat, Survey and Analytics – for a single per-user monthly fee.
Nextiva highlights enterprise-grade reliability for its cloud-based services and highly secured data centers located across North America, including seven Points of Presence (POPs) that are geographically-dispersed and located on multiple power grids for protection against natural disasters. Nextiva cites 99.999% uptime for its services for the last ﬁve years.
Nextiva is growing and now delivers services to more than 150,000 businesses nationwide (up from 100,000 in 2016), including some well-known brands such as Nissan, Burger King, Delta, Target, Acura, IBM, All State and Papa Johns. The company has also doubled its staff from 500 in 2016 to now 1,000 employees.
Nextiva introduced its NextOS (Nextiva Operating System) all-in-one platform in May 2018 to offer businesses a unified solution, rather than purchasing its communications related services a la carte. NextOS has three main components: NextDB (a single database to capture and store customer and employee data), NextIQ (technology for learning, adapting and predicting customer behavior; uses ML and NLP) and NextStep (automates the next steps to take based on information from NextDB and NextIQ). Nextiva’s newly developed Analytics provides users with a single dashboard and a suite of trend analysis tools for a “holistic” view of the customer journey and smarter decision-making.
Users will have just one screen for all communications, with easy access to a centralized database and a unified dashboard/overview for a comprehensive view and management of all customer interactions, across all channels. Users can communicate with colleagues and customers using voice, email and chat, with support for social media (initially Facebook) and Short Message Service (SMS) channels coming next.
With NextOS, business users can select from three bundles (Basic, Pro and Enterprise), each with a varying level of business phone features (Nextiva Office), Nextiva’s CRM, Chat, Surveys and Analytics capabilities. Package pricing is per user, per month and billed annually: Nextiva Bundle Basic ($35), Nextiva Bundle Pro ($45) and Nextiva Bundle Enterprise ($55).
- Business Phone
As mentioned above, the underlying voice call control is based on BroadSoft (now Cisco) technology. Cloud telephony features, voicemail-to-email forwarding, virtual fax and other popular voice features are included across all user plans. Some capabilities like conference bridging, call recording and mobile applications are bundled into the higher-level user plans (Pro and Enterprise).
- CRM + Chat + Surveys
All user plans include capabilities for managing customer relationships and accounts categorized under Productivity (call pops, task scheduling, automated email notification, etc.), Case Management (priority management, watch notifications, escalations triggers, etc.), Account Management (histories, notes, analytics, etc.) and Collaboration (calendar integration, internal team chat). All communications, whether voice, email or chat, are converted automatically into cases and tied to an account or contact. The Basic bundle includes a good complement of CRM, Chat and Survey features, while a few of the more advanced capabilities require the Pro and Enterprise plans.
Analytics are built-in and provide insights around data collected not only from voice, but also from CRM and customer survey interactions. Nextiva’s NextIQ analytics includes the company’s patented SmartTopics technology (all plans) for categorizing case subjects and automatically calculating changes in customer experience scores. A number of advanced analytics are in development and listed as “coming soon” for Pro and Enterprise user plans, namely Customer Journey Tracking, Customer Health Score Analysis, Sentiment Analysis, Predictive Actions, Customer Benchmarking and Proactive Next Issue Resolution.
The Ultimate bundle is a current promotional offer that deserves special mention because of its value for the price. For as low as $24.95 per user, per month, this bundle includes the full Nextiva Pro Plus Office business phone feature set, Chat, Call Recording and Analytics, plus a free Polycom VVX phone and access to the company’s new CoSpace team collaboration application.
What’s Next from Nextiva?
Additional functionality around improving customer relationships and customer service is in development, including two new channels for customers who prefer to communicate via social media (Facebook coming first) and SMS text messaging. New marketing automation software will add drag-and-drop email and campaign builders, templates, reports and management. Additional advanced analytics for NextOS Pro and Enterprise user plans will make use of machine learning and natural language processing technologies for solutions like customer journey tracking, sentiment analysis and predictive actions. Stay tuned.
UCaaS: Measuring White-label Success
Cloud-based telephony and unified communications as-a-service (UCaaS) is seeing rapid adoption among all size businesses. Many UCaaS providers offer hosted telephony and UC based upon their own proprietary call control (8x8 and RingCentral, for example), selling services directly or indirectly through channel partners in a “retail” model.
Other cloud software and services solutions providers are “wholesalers” that offer cloud services based on a third-party service provider’s communications technology. Hosted solutions for telephony, UC, contact center, mobility, collaboration and SIP trunking are offered through a private-label or white-label program to reseller partners that, in turn, resell the services under their own brand. These partners are able to build their own service plans and bundles which they can price according to local market economics and local competition. Typically, the wholesaler also offers a proprietary billing platform that handles invoicing, taxes, surcharges and FCC regulation requirements - all with a goal of making it easy for reseller partners to start-up and operate their own profitable cloud UC business.
Two UCaaS wholesalers on our radar, CoreDial and Reinvent Telecom, are reporting strong momentum with their white-label programs, measuring their success in terms of a growing customer base, a steady increase in the number of reseller partners, high gross margins and low churn rates.
Each company also touts “technology brand recognition” as an important influencer over a customer’s UCaaS buying decision, with CoreDial resellers pointing to underlying technology based on the well-established Asterisk open source software (CoreDial offers its own call control rooted in Asterisk), or optionally, market-leading technology from BroadSoft (now Cisco). BroadSoft had nearly half the total market in terms of installed base (45%) as measured by Synergy Research this time last year, just prior to the Cisco acquisition. Reinvent Telecom’s services are based on Metaswitch technology which is also recognized as a top vendor of business communications solutions, ranking second in terms of new UCaaS seat subscribers in the latest Wainhouse Research UC Shipments and Cloud Sizing SpotCheck quarterly market research report.
More below about these two national wholesalers and how they measure their white-label success.
CoreDial is a PA-based cloud software and services solutions provider that offers its cloud services, including hosted PBX solutions, VoIP, SIP Trunking, UC and contact center services, to Managed Service Providers (MSPs), Interconnects and Carriers in the Mid-Atlantic and other regions of the U.S. through a private label program. CoreDial became its own entity in 2005 after it spun off from a hosted PBX/VoIP provider called Service Provider where it had been a VoIP division for three years. Initially, CoreDial sold hosted PBX and other VoIP services directly to end-customers, but the company later transitioned to an all-channel model and currently offers a wholesale reseller program in which resellers leverage CoreDial's infrastructure and engineering team and a private-labeled portal for delivering/managing hosted PBX and VoIP service based on CoreDial’s own call control (rooted in Asterisk) or Cisco BroadSoft’s BroadWorks (an option added in 2017; more on that here). Partners can also take advantage of CoreDial’s billing solution for credit card or invoice paying.
CoreDial differentiates from other cloud UC competitors by offering its resellers a choice of two different call control options (Asterisk or BroadSoft BroadWorks), along with a growing number of “bi-modal” applications that will work with either platform. This includes a UC client, Android and iOS mobile applications, voice transcription with redaction and an audio and desktop call recording solution. Common applications across platforms is a significant advantage for channel partners in terms of training, sales and support, as well as to end users that can continue to use the same applications should they migrate in the future to the alternate call control platform.
In early 2018, CoreDial expanded its portfolio even further with the acquisition of Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) provider Voice4Net, adding a suite of cloud-based contact center and customer engagement solutions to CoreDial’s existing UCaaS offerings. The newly branded CoreNexa Contact Center integrates with CoreDial’s UCaaS (either the Asterisk or BroadSoft technology) or deploys as an Over-the-Top (OTT) service compatible with other vendor’s voice and UC platforms, broadening the opportunities for resellers. According to CoreDial, there can be a two- or three-fold increase in average selling price per sale when UCaaS and CCaaS are purchased together.
Measuring Success: CoreDial reports steady growth, with dozens of new channel partners and thousands of new seat licenses added each month. Currently, CoreDial has over 800 channel partners, supporting more than 23,000 businesses and more than 320,000 seats nationwide. CoreDial touts a “considerably high” renewal rate among partners, due in part to gross margins that can be as much as 40-70% from recurring revenue streams.
Reinvent Telecom is an Arizona-based cloud software and services solutions provider that offers Metaswitch-based cloud services, including hosted solutions for telephony, unified communications (UC), contact center, mobility, collaboration and SIP trunking, to Managed Service Providers (MSPs) in the United States, U.S. territories and Canada through a private label program. Reinvent Telecom is a wholly owned subsidiary of Saddleback Communications originally founded in 1997 by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community to provide telephone, data and Internet services for the residents and businesses located there. Saddleback subsequently extended services to all businesses and residents in the surrounding Scottsdale 101 Highway corridor, and in 2008, the company launched a new distribution model that would reach beyond this Scottsdale footprint. A new (or “re-invented”) division “Reinvent Telecom” emerged in 2009 as a provider of wholesale business UC services nationwide leveraging Metaswitch technology (more on this here).
Reinvent offers all services enabled by the Metaswitch technology, including UCaaS, applications for mobility and collaboration, plus add-on services from Metaswitch and third-party vendors. These include ancillary services for specialized needs such as for contact center environments, multi-media call recording, team meetings and fraud protection, to name a few. An integrated cloud contact center platform (powered by Telax) enables multimedia queues for voice, email, social media and chat, customizable reporting and workforce management, among other features. A Meeting Webinar service supports up to 100 speakers and up to 10,000 view-only attendees, as well as options for registration, chat, Q&A, polls and reporting.
Partners can take advantage of Reinvent’s proprietary billing platform that handles all invoicing, taxes, surcharges and FCC regulation requirements. And, by sharing network, switching and personnel assets with its parent company and operating Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier or iLEC, Saddleback, Reinvent saves on operating costs and passes these savings onto its partners. Saddleback’s experience in 911 services, Local Number Porting (LNP), Line Information Databases and Line Validation Administration Systems also provides an advantage over competing UCaaS vendors that may have to rely on third parties to handle these functions.
Measuring Success: Participation in Reinvent’s partner program is showing strong momentum, with the number of reseller partners up 125% over the last two years and expected to nearly double again this year. The number of endpoints in production is also on the rise and on track to increase by more than 60% in 2018, according to the company. Most importantly, Reinvent looks at the rate that partners and hosted seats are added monthly. If the rate is increasing, that’s true success. Reinvent also tracks seat turnover or “churn” as a good measure of how satisfied customers are with their services; the company reports the percentage of turnover has been very low.
While enjoying the success of their white-label model, each provider is also looking ahead to further improve their partner offerings. CoreDial’s newly launched CoreNexa Contact Center is a primary focus and opens up new sales opportunities for partners, but the company is also getting ready to roll out a new Master Agent program that will bring the CoreNexa brand to thousands of sub-agents, with all business being conducted on CoreDial’s existing channel partner platform (more details coming soon).
Already this year, Reinvent Telecom unveiled a number of new services related to security, compliance and service quality. The new Cloud2Edge (C2E) Complete cloud service powered by Ribbon Communications was recently released to Reinvent partners as an innovative and cost-effective way of delivering network management to their customers as a subscription-based service (typically, network management has been sold per channel and with significant up-front hardware costs). The new service, which involves the EdgeView Service Control Center (deployed in Reinvent’s network operations center) and an EdgeMarc Intelligent edge device (deployed at the customer location), gives the partner visibility into their customer’s network, end-to-end, for better control of the customer’s experience.
Stay tuned for updates on these two cloud solutions providers, new programs designed to attract and retain partners, and the momentum of the UCaaS/CCaaS wholesale model going forward.
In recent news:
8x8 acquired Atlassian’s Jitsi open source video communications technology, a set of modular open-source projects for developers to build secure video communication solutions around the Jitsi Videobridge conferencing server and Jitsi Meet conferencing and collaboration application. 8x8 plans to integrate the Jitsi technology into its own Meetings online audio/video conferencing solution, along with developing additional dedicated conferencing applications and WebRTC-based solutions. The Jitsi technology from BlueJimp was acquired by Atlassian in 2015 and has been used for video calling within Atlassian’s Stride workflow productivity application which was recently sold to Slack. In other news, 8x8 extended its new internally developed Team Messaging capability to all existing 8x8 UCaaS customers. This includes new X Series customers, but also those already subscribing to earlier 8x8 Virtual Office services that can now take advantage of Team Messaging collaborative features like persistent private and public chat rooms, presence, avatars and file sharing at no extra cost (requires the later version of 8x8 desktop and mobile applications). For a limited time, 8x8’s Sameroom interoperability platform is also available to all customers at no extra charge. Also, 8×8 announced a partnership with Dublin-based Workair to offer the 8x8 X Series cloud communications to businesses across Ireland.
Accent Communications recently released the new VoiceONE Connect cloud-based telephony and unified communications (UC) service that represents an evolution of the company’s VoiceONE Business Edition introduced in 2017 for small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) in North America. VoiceONE Connect builds on Business Edition’s essential telephony feature set to add more advanced capabilities like a mobile application with integrated audio and video calling, chat, file sharing and business text messaging. The new VoiceONE Connect and earlier VoiceONE Business Edition solutions are both based on Asterisk technology, and use the same Grandstream phones. Customers can layer on advanced contact center from the company’s VoiceONE Enterprise offering (based on Zultys technology). See the related write-up for more detail.
Amazon’s Connect cloud-based contact center offering now integrates with Aspect Workforce Management for staff forecasting, scheduling, performance tracking and reporting. The Aspect application operates seamlessly with Amazon Connect as an on-premises solution, privately hosted or running on Amazon Web Services (AWS). Callstats.io also announced an integration with Amazon Connect that embeds monitoring and analysis capabilities into the Amazon Connect agent endpoint for increased visibility into the customer’s communications experience. In other news, Amazon Web Services has launched AWS IoT SiteWise, a new IoT offering and managed service that collects, structures and searches IoT data from industrial facility devices and uses it to analyze equipment and process performance data.
Avaya Communications Cloud (formerly Zang Unified Communications as a Service or UCaaS) is available in Germany as of November 1, 2018 to small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs), marking Avaya’s first public cloud offering in Europe. Per Avaya, Germany was selected as it is currently their largest market in Europe, and they already have a data center and carrier license in that region. The company also offers its “Powered by Avaya IP Office” services which are hosted and branded by Avaya partners in the Americas, Europe and Asia. It remains to be seen how and where Avaya will rollout these two SME-focused solutions next. In other news, Avaya is investing in Cogito (a founding member of Avaya’s A.I.Connect developer initiative) to accelerate joint development of solutions around artificial intelligence in the contact center; Cogito’s software evaluates behavioral signals through voice to provide live conversation coaching for agents and a real-time measure of customer experience during a call. Avaya will also be updating the Avaya Edge partner program in 2019 related to easing the rollout of cloud products, offering holistic solutions through Avaya DevConnect and Avaya AI Connect programs and advancing its API ecosystem with new tools and APIs.
Avaya announced a new online storefront for purchasing its Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) and Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) solutions for small to medium businesses (SMBs) and mid-market organizations. The CCaaS solution is based on the multi-tenant, fully cloud-based contact center offering from Spoken acquired by Avaya in early 2018; the UCaaS solution is a container version of IP Office service (telephony, conferencing and collaboration) that runs on Google Cloud, with three user seats (Essential, Business, Power). The new portal is for sales agents to use and quote, after which end customers enter their payment information to complete the transaction. Customers can select a month-to-month option or commit to 1-, 3- or 5-year plans. This online ordering is available now in the U.S. and will be expanding to other world regions beginning in early 2019. In related news, Avaya has introduced a new Device as a Service (DaaS) offering for purchasing Avaya’s Vantage desktop devices (K155/165/175), J100 Series IP phones and B109/179/189 conferencing devices. Customers now have three ways to pay: up front, financed, or by subscription.
Avaya is expanding its SIP phone portfolio with 13 new models that are compatible with Avaya and non-Avaya UCaaS platforms, including desk phones, conference room phones, wireless handsets, new Avaya Vantage models and new hotel phones. Additionally, a new CPaaS portal for customers and partners is now available. The first API launched in the environment “Avaya Communication Intelligence” allows information like live transcriptions, customer sentiment, and conversation analytics to be extracted from voice conversations on Avaya’s platforms. In corporate news, Avaya's redesigned website changes the focus from products to solutions, and introduces a new mission statement and a new tagline “Experiences That Matter.”
CafeX introduced the CafeX Engagement Platform, a cloud-based communications platform as a service (CPaaS) for developers and customers. General availability is set for April 2019. The new platform aims to reduce the coding and development effort required to embed communications into websites and apps. Within the new platform, developers will use a single REST API instead of separate APIs for voice, video, co-browsing, recording and other services, as well as pre-built design templates and a single software development kit (SDK) with reusable HTML tags that are easily embedded into websites and mobile applications. A number of packaged applications will also be accessible, including CafeX Live Assist for Microsoft Dynamics 365, CafeX Meetings for online conferencing and CafeX Spaces for team collaboration.
Cisco continues its efforts to integrate the BroadSoft portfolio (formally acquired in February 2018), recently introducing Cisco BroadCloud Calling (cloud PBX) as a new calling option within Cisco’s Collaboration Flex subscription plan. BroadCloud Calling is included with Webex Teams, bringing cloud-based calling functionality to Cisco’s team collaboration application (formerly Cisco Spark). BroadCloud Calling within Webex Teams is initially available through six service providers in the U.S., with expansion to 19 countries by the end of 2018 and more in 2019 and beyond. A new Cisco Calling App (soft client) for desktop and mobile devices can be private labeled by Service Providers who sell BroadCloud Calling while using the Flex Plan. In other news, Cisco introduced several new huddle room solutions: the Webex Room Kit Mini for huddle spaces up to five people, the Webex Board 55-inch all-in-one whiteboard/video system, and the new Webex Share palm-size adapter that transforms any TV or screen into a presentation device. Cisco also recently updated its on-premises platforms, including a new R12.5 (FCS December 2018, GA January 2019) for the Cisco Unified Communications Manager (UCM) that adds a cluster-wide upgrade process, security features, multi-fork recording, Extension Mobility enhancements, and more. Cisco’s new brand campaign, the “Bridge to Possible,” aims to link and highlight the positive global impacts that Cisco technology enables.
Dialpad launched Dialpad Support, a new AI-powered call center product designed for today’s customer support teams. The new service enables call center features, as well as VoiceAI-powered real-time call transcription, sentiment analysis and coaching capabilities aimed at enhancing the customer experience. Dialpad Support is available now starting at $75 per user per month for Pro plans and $100 per user per month for Enterprise plans. Both tiers include unlimited inbound and outbound calling, group lines, group coaching tools, group VoiceAI, administrator controls and analytics and agent provisioning.
Fuze released a major update to its Fuze Rooms meeting solution, with new features designed to simplify the meeting experience. This includes one-touch, in-room controls, tighter integration with Google and Microsoft calendars, content sharing via HDMI or Wi-Fi, automatic configuration per the displays (single or dual) and room size, and interoperability with legacy H.323 and SIP video conference room systems. For mobile workers, Fuze has improved its Car Mode capabilities, adding voice command functionality, along with enhancing the smartphone and tablet user experience and improving the transition between audio/video calls, meetings and content sharing. Fuze also introduced Fuze Discover, a communications and collaboration analytics tool that builds on Fuze View (formerly Fuze Data) to enable detailed activity visualization, trends analysis and in-depth customized reports (generally available in Q1 2019). In other news, Fuze expanded its Global Partner Program to allow select partners to deliver Fuze professional services and cross-sell their services as part of a Fuze deployment.
Grandstream introduced the new WP820 portable WiFi phone, the company’s first portable (cordless) WiFi IP phone for enterprises such as offices, stores, warehouses, hospitals, construction sites and other business locations that require voice mobility and roaming throughout a WiFi environment. The Android-based phone supports popular telephony features and has dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi support, an advanced antenna and roaming capability and integrated Bluetooth for syncing headsets and mobile devices (contacts and call transferring). Other notable features include a customizable button for push-to-talk and panic calling, a rechargeable battery with 7.5 hours of talk time and 150-hour standby and support for custom Android apps that fit the phone’s screen and key structure. The portable WP820 can be paired with other Grandstream solutions such as the GDS3710 IP Video Door System for real-time video streaming, 2-way full duplex audio intercom and door control via the mobile handset (also works with Grandstream’s GDS3705 audio-only door system). The WP820, generally available as of October 2018, lists for $219USD.
Microsoft’s Skype for Business Server 2019 is now generally available. This latest on-site server version adds cloud-based capabilities, including support for Cloud Voicemail and Cloud Call Data Connector (online tools to monitor users call quality). Coming next are Cloud Auto Attendant and Meetings First (Microsoft Teams cloud-based meetings). Administration for moving from an on-premises environment to Microsoft Teams has been simplified, and Microsoft continues to address interoperability for organizations using both Teams and Skype for Business concurrently, most recently adding Presence Support for Coexistence Modes in Teams and Skype for Business. Microsoft Teams is also enhanced with new capabilities for the application running on Android and iOS mobile devices (drive mode, quiet hours, who’s calling and scheduling meetings), as well as new admin controls and four IT administrator roles (Service Administrator, Communication Administrator, Communications Support Engineering and Communications Support Specialist). In M&A news, Microsoft-owned LinkedIn is acquiring Glint and its employee engagement platform, and Microsoft is acquiring chatbot company XOXCO that developed the Howdy bot for Slack and more general chatbot coding tools that work with other services like Facebook Messenger.
Momentum Telecom announced it will acquire CloudNet Group, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications provider that specializes in cloud voice, mobility, SD-WAN, contact center and unified communications solutions (built on Metaswitch technology and infrastructure). With the acquisition, Momentum will incorporate CloudNet’s vertical go-to-market strategies and new service offerings such as CloudNet’s SD-WAN. Momentum Telecom acquired Alteva in 2015 which utilizes the BroadSoft (now Cisco) BroadWorks switch for call control.
Nextiva continues to enhance its NextOS (Nextiva Operating System) all-in-one platform introduced in May 2018 to offer businesses a unified solution, rather than purchasing its communications related services a la carte. With NextOS, business users can select from three user bundles (Basic, Pro and Enterprise), each with a varying level of business phone features (Nextiva Office), Nextiva’s CRM, Chat, Surveys and Analytics capabilities. Package pricing is per user, per month and billed annually: Nextiva Bundle Basic ($35), Nextiva Bundle Pro ($45) and Nextiva Bundle Enterprise ($55). Additional advanced analytics (such as Customer Journey Tracking and Sentiment Analysis) are in development for NextOS Pro and Enterprise user plans and will make use of emerging technologies like machine learning and natural language processing. See the related write-up for more detail.
Panasonic System Solutions Company of North America released the new Panasonic Mobile Softphone, a smartphone application running on iOS or Android devices that supports audio calling in or out of the office network, as well as video calling with other Mobile Softphone users and users with a Panasonic KX-HDV430 SIP phone (can receive a conference call from the KX-HDV430). The app can also conduct video calls with Panasonic’s KX-NTV door entry camera. A push notification feature alerts users to incoming voice calls even if the application is closed. Mobile Softphone registers as a company extension on any of the following Panasonic telephony systems sold in the US: KX-NS700, KX-NS1000 and KX-NSX2000. No additional server equipment is required. Panasonic also introduced two new IP phones, the KX-NT680 and KX-NT630, with intuitive, color LCD screen and icons. The KX-NT680 model supports customizable, corporate branding on the phone’s display. These new models operate with Panasonic’s KX-NS700/NS1000/NS700G communications platforms (V7.0) and the soon to be released KX-NSX2000 (V4.0).
Pexip (a software-based meeting platform provider) and Videxio (a cloud video conferencing provider) and announced a merger expected to be complete by the end of 2018. Both companies are relatively young, with Videxio founded in 2011 and Pexip in 2012, and have been technology partners for the past five years. Pexip’s Infinity cloud-based enterprise application connects incompatible video and audio technologies such as Microsoft’s Skype for Business, Google Hangouts Meet and WebRTC platforms and supports cloud-based deployments (Microsoft Azure, AWS, or Google Cloud) or on-premises data center deployments. Videxio offers cloud-based solutions for video meetings, video calling, live streaming and recording, and has specific integrations with hardware from Polycom, Huawei, Cisco, Yealink and Logitech and Microsoft Skype for Business and Google Hangouts solutions. Recently, Videxio introduced a "Scan to Join" meeting feature called MeetingConnect whereby users scan a QR code (upon entering the meeting room) to join meetings hosted on Google, Microsoft, Zoom, Cisco, BlueJeans and other services (requires is a video system registered to Videxio's network and a mobile phone with the My Meeting Video app). The combined company, to be called Pexip, will have 300 partners globally with users in over 195 countries and will continue to offer and develop the existing product portfolio of each, while innovating around their combined and complementary technologies.
Polycom (Plantronics) new VVX X50 Series business IP phones are now orderable with OBi software pre-loaded to the handset (can alternatively order with Polycom UC software for Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams support). The OBi software supports most major open SIP call control platforms such as BroadSoft (Cisco), Metaswitch, Netsapiens, Skyswitch, Ribbon, Asterisk, 3CX, Bicom, FreeSWITCH, Kamailio and FreePBX. The phones and software are generally available in the U.S., Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand, with additional markets in the coming months. (Polycom acquired Obihai Technology earlier in 2018, a California-based developer of software and hardware for Voice over IP (VoIP) enabled devices). In other news, the Polycom Trio conference device (8800 or 8500 model) for small, mid-size or large rooms now supports Cisco Webex (already supported other major cloud-based VaaS providers such as Zoom, Microsoft, and BlueJeans); a hybrid registration feature supports multiple platforms simultaneously.
Reinvent Telecom recently released the new Cloud2Edge (C2E) Complete cloud service powered by Ribbon Communications to its partners as an innovative and cost-effective way of delivering network management to their customers as a subscription-based service (typically, network management has been sold per channel and with significant up-front hardware costs). The new service, which involves the EdgeView Service Control Center (deployed in Reinvent’s network operations center) and an EdgeMarc Intelligent edge device (deployed at the customer location), gives the partner visibility into their customer’s network, end-to-end, for better control of the customer’s experience. Reinvent also introduced the Wildix White-label Support Package that makes the Wildix on-premises PBX platform available as a subscription-based service or in a hybrid deployment via certified SIP trunking services and Reinvent’s private-label billing and taxation services. Read more here about how this national wholesaler measures its white-label success.
RingCentral completed the acquisition in October of Paris-based Dimelo and its customer engagement platform that manages digital channel interactions such as from in-app messaging, social media, live chats, email and online community forums. RingCentral has already begun integrating the Dimelo technology into its own portfolio, recently branding and rolling out the Dimelo solution as RingCentral Engage. Integration with RingCentral’s team messaging and video solutions is planned for the first half of 2019. RingCentral also introduced a new unified mobile application that combines its team messaging, video meetings and enterprise telephony into a single user interface. The new app became generally available for download in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, Cantonese, Mandarin and Korean in November 2018. In other news, Gong.io, ThetaLake and Velvetech are using RingCentral’s open APIs to develop real-time and post-call voice analytics services that integrate with RingCentral’s cloud communications solutions.
Sangoma announced the next major releases of its open source communications projects, Asterisk 16 (formerly of Digium) and Sangoma’s FreePBX 15. Asterisk 16 improves video conferencing and SIP call handling performance and introduces new text messaging capabilities for client-based applications. FreePBX 15 adds a new built-in API, powered by GraphQL, that aims to ease the integration of FreePBX with third-party applications for more efficient business workflows and processes. A new backup process simplifies system management through custom backups, cross-version backup and restore and additional data security options. In August 2018, Sangoma purchased Digium and its Asterisk open source communications development platform. Sangoma’s FreePBX is an open-source PBX built on Asterisk.
Spectralink announced the general availability of its new Versity enterprise smartphone that combines enterprise capabilities, including reliable performance, durability and security, with a consumer-style, lightweight, user-friendly smartphone design. The phone’s features and apps are designed for mission-critical workflows in healthcare, retail, manufacturing and hospitality industries. This includes innovative voice optimization features (noise suppression, echo cancellation), dual Wi-Fi and LTE connectivity and a built-in industrial barcode scanner. Versity is generally available now in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, the Middle East and Africa in four varieties: Wi-Fi only, Wi-Fi and LTE, with built-in scanner, without scanner. SpectraLink was acquired by Polycom back in 2007, and Polycom is now part of Plantronics.
Talkdesk released a new AI platform called Talkdesk iQ that runs in the background of the company’s Enterprise Contact Center Platform, collecting, compiling and analyzing data from customer interactions with an aim to improve customer engagement and optimize agent and contact center efficiency. Talkdesk iQ powers Talkdesk Live, an API-based, customizable dashboard that displays real-time reports and key metrics to help identify performance issues. Talkdesk also announced a new 100% uptime SLA for enterprise calling and additionally expanded its AppConnect ecosystem to include solutions from ScoreData. Customers and partners can now integrate ScoreData’s ScoreFast capabilities to their contact center platform, including customer experience and business outcome solutions that leverage AI and Machine Learning technologies.
Twilio's new Flex contact center solution is now generally available, representing the company’s entry into the contact center space with its own programmable and customizable contact center as a service (CCaaS) application (Twilio has been in the contact center market since 2008, providing communications APIs for other vendors to build customized contact center solutions). Developers can build and test around Flex for free with 5,000 active user hours available prior to purchase, then select from two pricing models: $1 per active contact center agent hour or $150 per user per month. Advanced capabilities like speech analytics are an extra fee. In other news, Twilio is acquiring email technology firm SendGrid, extending the Twilio development platform to now include an email application programming interface (API) in addition to other available APIs for voice, video, SMS, chat, smart speakers like Alexa and messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, and other communications channels. The combined company will offer developers a single platform to manage all of their communication channels — voice, messaging, video, and now email. The acquisition is expected to close in the first half of 2019. Also, Twilio is partnering with payments platform Stripe to create Pay, a new API that allows developers to set up payments via interactive voice response (IVR). The Pay API is currently in beta and will be available in the first half of 2019 in the US and select markets.
Vonage introduced two new APIs, the Messages API and Dispatch API, which are available through its Nexmo API Platform. The new APIs address the need for engaging customers via multiple and preferred channels. The Messages API is a single API that provides access to social chat applications like Facebook Messenger and WhatsAPP, but also traditional channels like MMS or SMS (messages can include images, audio, video, files and location). The Dispatch API focuses on reliable message delivery by providing automatic failover to an alternate channel when a message is undeliverable via the customer’s selected channel (an unread or undelivered message will automatically retry on another channel). Vonage subsequently leveraged the Messages API, integrating its Business Inbox service with Facebook Messenger. Now Vonage Business Cloud (VBC) customers can send and receive messages via Facebook in addition to using SMS.
Yealink released the new CP930W DECT Conference phone equipped with Yealink Noise Proof Technology (eliminates possible noise when the speaker’s voice is detected and automatically mutes the microphone when no human voice is detected). The conference phone can be paired with Yealink W60B DECT base station for wireless coverage that extends up to 50 meters indoors and 300 meters outdoors. Yealink also announced that its video conferencing room systems (VC200/500/800/880) now integrate with Videxio’s cloud video conferencing platform for one tap-to-join meetings, including meetings hosted on Microsoft, Google Hangouts Meet, Cisco WebEx, Zoom and BlueJeans.
Zendesk is further entering the contact center space with some new CRM-related solutions, including the Sunshine CRM platform built on Amazon Web Services (AWS), touted as a differentiator from many legacy, proprietary CRM services since developers can use the AWS open platform to build and customize applications. Zendesk Sunshine is bundled with Zendesk’s Enterprise plan at no extra cost. Zendesk also introduced two other new products: Zendesk Sell, a new sales tool ($19 per user per month) based on a product called Base from its acquisition of FutureSimple in September, and the Zendesk Explore data analytics tool.
Zoom is set to release a new, internally-developed cloud PBX service called “Zoom Voice” in first quarter 2019 in North America for Zoom’s web conferencing customers only. Zoom is well-known for its software-based conference room solution, Zoom Rooms, for video and audio conferencing, collaboration, chat and webinars, so Zoom Voice marks the cloud video conferencing provider’s entry into a new space - the unified communications as a service (UCaaS) market. Calling support will be in 16 countries initially, with further expansion throughout 2019. Zoom also announced a series of enhancements to the Zoom Room user experience, including increased video participant capacity (200), an improved virtual background feature and headset meeting control. Zoom continues to expand its App Marketplace with new integrations built by Zoom and third-party developers, as well as new hardware device partners that are co-developing and integrating with Zoom Rooms.
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