At WebRTC Expo, watching a great closing panel on “where we go from here”. Craig Walker of Firespotter / Uberconference makes some great points. If Google had not open sourced the GIPs media engine, none of this would have happened in the time frame it has, it has made this technology accessible not only for browsers vendors but for the independent developer.
Great show, the next one will be even better.
Global Crossing announced Global Crossing® Communications as a Service (CaaS), which it refers to as “the first phase of its network-centric, cloud-based solution set.” It is positioned as combining Global Crossing IP Virtual Private Network (IP VPN), Session Initiated Protocol (SIP) Trunking, and Global Crossing Ready Access® hosted audio conferencing services to provide “a tailor-made collaboration experience”. These combined capabilities also support the functionality of Global Crossing Connect Mobile, which enables users to join or host an audio conference from popular mobile devices by clicking on an icon and also syncs meetings with users’ calendars.
What I like about the new offering:
Global Crossing has a long and successful track record in network management and delivering network-based services to both service provider partners (using a wholesale business model) and directly to enterprise customers. Its expertise in IP VPN and SIP trunking technologies offers a solid foundation for the delivery of cloud-based communications applications. Also, the new shared-seat billing model (with monthly fees replacing per-minute plans) is likely to appeal to customers as it makes communications costs more predictable and easier to manage. Finally, the offering is integrated with the uCommand customer portal, which empowers in-house IT staff to closely monitor and manage the organization’s use of cloud services.
What begs further investigation:
It is not clear from the press release exactly how Global Crossing’s IP VPN, SIP Trunking and hosted audio conferencing services are coming together. Since these services have been around for a while, it is not clear what has changed, except for the new billing model. I am intrigued by the pending addition of telephony, video, messaging and presence services to the CaaS suite, which will mark Global Crossing’s foray into the world of cloud-based Unified Communications (UC). What makes this potential move especially interesting is the fact that Global Crossing’s customer base consists of mostly large enterprises. Since, so far, most hosted telephony and UC services have been targeted at SMBs, Global Crossing has an opportunity to differentiate and offer unique value in an untapped (from a CaaS point of view) market segment.
On February 10th, Avaya launched a new on-demand, cloud-based option of its immersive web collaboration platform Avaya web.alive. The platform is available both as a premises-based solution and a SaaS offering, the latter being the focus of the new announcement, along with some new features and capabilities.
This new solution presents a virtual reality, which, in some ways, resembles the virtual event platforms (such as those offered by ON24, InXpo and Unisfair) but uses avatars and game-like tools and experiences, more similar to Second Life. I’ve heard some define the “traditional” (only in the context of this fast-evolving space) virtual platforms as virtual events and the likes of Second Life – as virtual environments. The monikers don’t matter much, but there are some differences, which we intend to tackle in more detail in a forthcoming study.
It’s great that Avaya is offering a free web-based demo. Anyone can try the environment at http://avayalive.com/tryit. It will be beneficial for end users to experience this unique, advanced technology first-hand before considering a full-fledged deployment or even a serious pilot. As an analyst, I was privileged to have several sessions with the Avaya team, but I am hearing that there is almost always someone in there who can help random visitors find their way through the different tools and functionalities.
For me, who’s never (NEVER) played any computer games or experienced 3D, doesn’t like Sci-Fi (didn’t even fully appreciate Avatar or The Matrix),… (the list goes on, but you get the idea) … this was both a thrilling and somewhat distracting experience. I did not take the time to test the environment before the pre-launch and ventured into it with a male avatar. Of course, I heard little from the presentation in the first few minutes because I was busy changing my gender and choosing my facial features and clothes to wear.
The next challenge was finding my way around the environment and learning how to control my avatar using the mouse and keypad. Eventually, I found myself standing all by myself in front of the speaker with my head spinning in different directions trying to find the best viewpoint. Somehow, using a 3-rd person view, with my avatar still proudly standing in front of the whole crowd, I managed to get my eyesight so low that I was staring upwards into people’s … well, lower backs. Toward the end of the event, though, I was boldly strolling around the environment, magically walking through people and furniture. And shouting. Until I realized it was not a good idea, because others could hear me without me noticing they were there.
I’ll end the story here and just briefly summarize what I liked and what I would wish to see improved going forward.
The things I liked:
- Such virtual environments are fun! It makes you giddy to design your persona (without the help of cosmetic surgery) and watch yourself from a third person point of view (there must be a split-personality tendency in all of us).
- You do get the impression that you are “meeting” with people in a quasi-realistic social environment, unlike the sensation one gets using more “traditional” conferencing tools.
- I liked seeing the pictures of the people I was close by or talking to, in addition to their oversexed avatars.
- I really liked the presentation and collaboration capabilities. I was able to easily share my desktop and saw demonstrations of video feeds and slide presentations.
- I like the fact that there are private rooms and people can have meetings behind closed doors. Only authenticated users have access to these rooms, but they can authenticate others. Once you are inside the room and the door is closed, no one else can hear the conversation OR see into the room.
- Also, a group engaged in a more private conversation in the public area can use a whisper mode, which is not audible to those at a greater distance but does not degrade the quality of the conversation for the main parties.
- Regardless of my “mishaps” facetiously recounted above, the environment is fairly intuitive and does not take a whole lot of learning to be able to navigate through it.
- I have to give credit to the Avaya people, too – they offered help and were prepared to patiently address all kinds of questions.
- From a business point of view, this solution has tremendous advantages as a web-based, on-demand platform. It is easy to deploy and use, even for small businesses, and is quite cost-effective at $49/month for a single account holder and up to 8 people attending at any given time.
- The platform also offers analytics tools that can help businesses assess the value they are receiving from enhanced collaboration.
What I would want to see improved:
- These visual environments can be very distracting. I heard people saying the virtual experience helped them avoid multi-tasking. In fact, I noticed I was more focused on what was taking place on the screen, but was it really the RIGHT thing on the screen I was watching/doing? I found myself checking people out (some were wearing funky outfits), rather than watching the slides. Maybe there should be a way for the speaker or person managing the event to help/force attendees to focus on the presentation screens whenever appropriate? I would not propose a dress code – that would be taking it too far J
- There need to be some additional privacy options. I discussed the private rooms in the section above, but I believe there should be a way to “encapsulate” people who wish to have a more private conversation in the public area. I imagine, visually it could be something like the Avaya Flare spotlight. In a real-life environment, such as in a typical conference facility, people always complain there aren’t enough meeting rooms and end up looking for these two-armchairs-and-a-table isolated areas in the hotel corridors to have a private chat. At a cocktail party, people use facial expressions and body language to keep unwanted parties out of their private conversation. But the virtual environment needs different tools. I am told that users can see who’s within listening area by watching the number next to an ear icon at the bottom of the screen. But people tend to get distracted or too engaged in a conversation to pay attention. So they need to be able to take precautions.
- Changing your voice, gesturing and other functions are only a right-click away. But I would want to see them in a menu bar – similar to a browser or Microsoft Office experience. It’s all about familiar, user-friendly interfaces, right?
- There needs to be an option to mute everybody (for both the organizers and the attendees), except the speaker. It is distracting when people are chatting around you. Is it like real life? Yes, but we always try to improve real life, don’t we?
- You have to hit Escape to be able to use some of the Options and to do other things on your desktop. It becomes bothersome, if you still want to do some multi-tasking.
- If you have a slow DSL or cable connection, the audio can get garbled. (I had the rare luck to have my Internet service switched to a new provider right in the middle of the launch!)
- Training, training, training!! Yes, it is intuitive; yes, younger generations will figure it out quickly and enjoy it. But for effective business use across different generations and types of users, organizations adopting this tool will need to strongly encourage employees to attend demos and brief training sessions. I have been told that Avaya does offer training. I think customers should not underestimate the value of a proper introduction to the new tool and ensure employees become familiar with key features and functionalities to avoid disappointment and misuse.
Go ahead and try it and let me know what you think. But don’t forget to mute yourself (press M on your keyboard) as you enter the environment or else someone can overhear your business conversations, kids shouting or dogs barking.
Are there other similar platforms you like better? Why?
Rise of the Virtual Organization
Today, we are witnessing a powerful transformation in the business space. The very nature of the workplace is changing, as more and more people are working in locations that are different from those of their colleagues, managers and direct reports. It’s no longer the case that road warriors—sales people, service personnel and executive management—are the only people who routinely work outside the office. These days, everyone from contact-center agents to HR managers to general knowledge workers are likely to spend at least some of their time working from a remote or home-based location, and as the lines between home life and work life continue to blur, many employee find themselves “on the job” even as they watch their kids’ soccer games or commute on the train to the work.
One key factor driving organizational sprawl is the globalization of business. As businesses tap into new markets looking to expand customer reach and grow revenues, they also acquire local talent and maintain local presence through a growing number of branch offices and remote sites. As a result, functional teams increasingly span multiple, geographically dispersed locations.
But there is also a growing tendency to offer employees a better, more balanced life style. Many businesses today are creating flexible work programs – with flexibility extending to both employee workplace and working hours. Such programs enable businesses to accomplish three key objectives:
- Reduce facilities costs (including real estate, utilities, equipment, furniture, etc.),
- Reduce employee commuting costs and improve employee satisfaction and retention (and possibly productivity),
- Spare the environment by reducing fuel emissions.
Some refer to these benefits as the Triple Bottom Line. There’s no doubt that the virtual workplace offers significant advantages to companies and their employees. Myriad third-party research supports the benefits. For instance, in a 2009 study, the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) reports that 84% of companies believe that flexible work arrangements in their organization boost employee morale. That’s up from 76% over 2008. And 78% of polled companies say flexwork options bolster retention rates, up from 64% the previous year.”
Meanwhile, a 2008 report from Corporate Voices for Working Families notes that in a 2007 survey of senior-level executives at large corporations, respondents reported an overwhelmingly positive experience with flexible work strategies. By a ratio of 9-to-1, respondents reported that flexible work strategies have a positive effect on helping organizations reach business goals.
Mobility and Mobile Communications Drive a Paradigm Shift
Mobile communications have brought down the walls of the confined business space and the physical establishment. Individuals can now communicate and do business from their homes, cars, airports and hotel rooms, virtually anywhere.
Today’s employees are much more tech-savvy than they have ever been before. They have access to various high-end communications and collaboration tools as consumers and they demand the same tools and capabilities in the workplace as well. We acknowledge a growing trend of “consumerization” in the enterprise, which manifests itself in the increasing use of consumer devices, applications and tools for business purposes, with or without the official support of the IT department. This trend is most evident in the use of mobile devices – smart phones, tablets, and so on. A 2010 Frost & Sullivan survey of 200 North America-based C-level executives and IT managers revealed that 70% of the respondents used mobile devices for business purposes, and 49% claimed that mobile devices represented the primary communications endpoints used by the majority of users in the organization.
Consumerization is having a significant impact on technology investment decisions in the enterprise. Business IT and telecom managers have been somewhat reluctant to support all these consumer devices and applications, mostly due to cost, interoperability and security concerns. In fact, only 50% of the respondents in our survey reported that their mobile devices were integrated with the corporate communications systems and applications. Yet, 91% of those respondents reported that mobile extensions of corporate communications were either very important (61%) or somewhat important (30%) to their daily operations.
Discussions with CTO and CIO professionals reveal that technology investment decisions now involve a variety of stakeholders. Line-of-business (LOB) managers and even end users are forcing IT to take into account their preferences and needs when deploying new technologies and solutions. In fact, end users are the primary driving force behind the adoption of advanced mobile devices in the workplace. Going forward, as the workforce becomes increasingly mobile, IT will need to support the right set of mobile communications tools to enable employees to communicate and collaborate more effectively.
So What Can you Do? Gain a Competitive Advantage through Advanced Communications Solutions
The changing nature of today’s dispersed and diverse workforce demands employees be able to access a wide array of collaborative communications tools, regardless of the de-vices they’re using, or where they’re using them. Mobile workers, teleworkers, “corridor” warriors and the so-called “digital generation” have varied needs, but they all share several things in common:
- They require an “in-office” communications experience regardless of where they are based;
- They use a diverse set of software tools and devices to communicate (ranging from, but not limited to, instant messaging, web and video conferencing, soft and hard phones, social media, Blackberries, Android phones, iPads and iPhones, and even lowly PCs.).
- Users and business managers wish to be able to present a uniform public identity – a single number and a single mail box where users can be reached by customers, partners and co-workers.
Companies must embrace the virtual workplace, but as they do so, they must deploy technology that supports this new way of working. Communications solutions must conform to the needs of individuals and to specific job functions, not the other way around.
How do you Chose the Right Solution for your Organization?
I was recently on a panel with Jim Davies, Mitel’s CTO, discussing evolving business needs and changing requirements for communications solutions. Jim talked about the founding principles of Mitel’s Freedom Architecture and I found those in line with key market trends. Mitel’s next-generation architecture is based on the following building blocks:
- Flexible, software-based solutions that allow integration with other vendors’ best-of-breed technologies,
- Support for a broad range of endpoints, including UC application support on a variety of mobile devices such as Nokia, Windows Mobile, Blackberry, Android and iPhone smartphones,
- Alternative deployment models including on-premises virtualization, Mitel-hosted cloud (Mitel AnyWare) or carrier-hosted solutions (Multi-instance MCD).
Fred Crespo, VP of Information Technologies at Rosewood Hotels and Resorts, who was also on the panel, affirmed, that the walled-garden approach is no longer acceptable to end users. He also gave examples of employees demanding support for the mobile devices of their choice and the resulting need for proper integration with the rest of the company’s communications infrastructure.
Businesses looking to future-proof their investments need to develop their next-generation architectures taking the above factors into consideration. A business’ communications infrastructure must support a single user identity and integrated access to a variety of communications software and devices for a user without adding cost and complexity. That technology should be open and flexible, software-based, and be able to run on any device and accessed from anywhere.
After several months of hard work, we have now completed the update of our World Unified Communications (UC) Markets study. The reason why I feel like celebrating (more so than after any other study) is because this market presents some unique challenges. Typically, we discuss and analyze markets by product or service category – e.g. the enterprise telephony platforms market, the enterprise media gateway market, the videoconferencing endpoint market, etc. But unified communications is all about … well, unification … that is, application integration. At the risk of repeating myself and stating what may be the obvious for some, here is how we define UC:
“Frost & Sullivan defines a unified communications application as an integrated set of voice, data and video communications, all of which leverage PC- and telephony-based presence information. UC applications are meant to simplify communications for the end user by making it easy to “click to communicate.” A unified communications application must contain the following:
- PC-based presence (online or offline)
- Telephony presence (on the phone or available for a call)
- Point-to-point voice calling
- Chat (i.e., instant messaging)
- Audio conferencing
- Web collaboration (application, file, and desktop sharing)
- PC-based video
- Find-me/Follow-me capabilities (for call routing)
- Unified messaging
A unified communications application may include the following:
- Mobile client
- APIs for easy integration with other applications
- Social networking capabilities
- Integration with room-based video conferencing
- GPS or other location information”
The past couple of years were challenging for communications vendors as the recession forced many businesses to suspend or delay investments in communications technologies. Tighter budgets limited the penetration of most UC applications. The telephony market was one of the hardest hit, as most vendors experienced double-digit year-over-year revenue declines. Conferencing applications and services fared better, as they allowed businesses to reduce travel costs while enabling virtual workers to communicate and collaborate more efficiently. Even conferencing markets, however, experienced increased price pressures, with the impact of the recession being most severe in conferencing endpoint markets and in the more mature audio conferencing services markets.
In 2009, UC vendors focused primarily on penetrating the market with advanced UC clients. IM and email vendors aggressively upgraded their customers to UC-capable IM clients and architectures. Similarly, telephony vendors bundled advanced softphones capable of integrating with IM clients and conferencing platforms with the rest of their telephony solutions to encourage adoption. While these vendor strategies help increase user familiarity with software-centric communications and their benefits, they are not strongly correlated with investments in the rest of the infrastructure required for a complete UC implementation. Customers deploying softphones from their telephony vendors did not always purchase the conferencing and/or IM/presence servers. Similarly, many customers who purchased Microsoft’s OCS Enterprise CALs did not choose to use OCS voice or to integrate OCS with the corporate telephony system.
Overall, we do not believe UC will be a big revenue source for the vendors (which is great news for customers!) That said, we believe it is here to stay. Vendors will give away UC clients to drive adoption of various advanced communications solutions – conferencing, collaboration, mobility – as well as telephony and IM infrastructure refresh. As business users become increasingly used to the convenience of certain UC capabilities such as soft clients, conferencing capabilities that are only a click away, affordable video, and so on, it will be difficult to take those away from them.
But who should customers turn to for their UC capabilities? There is no single right answer, of course. Two distinct business models have emerged: on-stop shops and best-of-breed integrations.
For SMBs, all-in-one appliances or application stacks are probably most appealing. However, few vendors are capable of offering, on their own, all the required functionality and features in the UC stack. Either the telephony component is still missing critical elements (such as E911), or the IM clients are not very feature-rich, or some other capability is lacking.
Larger customers with multi-vendor environments are better off selecting the specific applications that best meet their needs and then engaging their own (typically more extensive) internal staff or outsourcing the professional services expertise to integrate those capabilities in an end-to-end UC environment. Limited vendor interoperability along with scarce UC expertise will present some serious challenges to this approach in the near term but will become less of a concern in the future. Growing adoption of SIP and SOA and application enablement technologies, and vendor strategies focused on contextually-rich communications and communications-enabled business processes will have a major impact on vendor interoperability and will eliminate a great portion of the hassle and cost related to application integration and UC implementation.
Generally, UC adoption may remain limited to specific user groups (e.g. knowledge workers, marketing and sales people) for the next few years, until business models make it compelling for the average communications user to own a UC solution even if they are not using all of its capabilities and not benefiting as much as the early adopters.
Here are some recommendations to end users considering UC:
- Businesses should leverage their communications investment to gain a competitive advantage and should make new technology acquisitions with their key strategic objectives in mind.
- Vendors are engaged in a more fierce competition than ever before. Customers can exploit this opportunity to require exceptional value for their money.
- Customers need to future-proof their investment. They should seek to deploy open and flexible standards-based technologies. Further, they should demand extensive education and training on features and integration capabilities to ensure that they can easily switch among or integrate multi-vendor solutions.
- Customers should pay attention to their vendors’ and channel partners’ overall financial stability. The recession has weakened a lot of market participants and growing competition will further jeopardize their viability.
- Customers need to restructure internally to ensure they gain maximum value from their IT and telecom investments. They must ensure cooperation between the telecom and IT teams so they can effectively coordinate new investments and ongoing infrastructure management.
- Finally, customers should explore alternative delivery models (e.g. managed services, hosted solutions, etc.).
For more information on our study, please contact me at email@example.com or review related material on our web site at http://www.frost.com/srch/content-search.do?srchid=194001017.
Most small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), of 500 employees or less, are just emerging from the turbulent waters of the 2008-2009 recession. Many of them have never been able to afford advanced communication solutions, but over the past year, they put all IT and communications spending on hold. With the first signs of economic recovery, these SMBs will start evaluating growth opportunities and looking for tools, including communications infrastructure and applications that can help them enhance their competitive advantage. Most likely, many SMB executives have heard about Unified Communications by now, but more likely than not, are still confused about what exactly it means and are even at a greater loss when it comes to figuring out whether they need it and how it can help them accomplish their goals.
That is why I decided to put some thoughts together hoping to help these SMB decision makers in the process of evaluating UC solutions going forward. By no means is this a comprehensive analysis of the UC market and all the solutions available today; rather, it is a brief overview of most feasible options.
1. Defining UC and Identifying its Benefits to the SMB
What is UC and does it offer any value to SMBs? Though definitions vary, UC is defined by most (including myself) as an integrated set of voice, data and video applications such as: telephony, instant messaging, voice/unified messaging, audio, web and videoconferencing, email, collaboration, mobility, etc. The key components, however, are the integrated (telephony and PC/online) presence and a unified client that allows users to click to communicate in various modes.
Application integration with presence capabilities and a unified client helps users communicate and collaborate more effectively. For a small business, however, the benefits are somewhat different from those UC presents to large, geographically dispersed organizations. The benefits to the latter have been widely discussed, so I will just reiterate a few: more cost-efficient conferencing (i.e. premises-based apps vs hosted services) helps virtual teams stay in touch, while reducing travel costs; video adds a new dimension to business communications; mobile and laptop soft clients reduce mobile communication costs and improve employee accessibility and efficiency.
The same benefits certainly apply to SMBs as well, however, the greatest value of UC for this segment lies in its ability to help users multi-task more efficiently. In a small business, most employees wear multiple hats (e.g. HR+accounting; business development+marketing+PR, etc.) and they need access to their business communications capabilities anywhere, anytime. The same UC features – mobility, presence, ability to switch communication modes (e.g. from IM to voice calls, etc.) – allow SMB employees to more easily move from one task to another, and from one role to another.
Another key benefit of UC for SMBs lies in its ability to improve customer service and brand reputation. Integrated auto attendant, IVR or basic ACD capabilities could enable a very small business that cannot afford an extensive contact center infrastructure to provide better customer service and also appear much more professional in its interactions with clients. Similarly, presence, mobility and various integrated collaboration tools can extend this business’s customer reach and improve lead generation as well as closing rates.
2. Needs Assessment
A key consideration for a small business, or any organization for that matter, is whether it truly requires all of the capabilities in a UC suite or it would derive significant value from just a couple of advanced communications applications. Depending on what the business’ current infrastructure is and what specific benefits executives are looking to accomplish, there may not be a need for a full-fledged UC environment. Maybe a simple IP telephony platform with a soft client and mobile extensions can help reduce communication costs and improve productivity at the same time. Alternatively, one of the more advanced IM/presence platforms with audio and web conferencing (maybe also video) capabilities can improve internal collaboration as well as external communications.
The first step in this process is, therefore, a careful evaluation of existing assets – age and residual value of the telephony platform and endpoints or remaining duration of a hosted services contract; availability of any IM capabilities, current use of conferencing solutions (applications or services), etc. Then pain points and areas of potential improvement need to be identified – e.g. high mobile costs due to frequent travel, high PBX maintenance costs, etc. Based on the findings from this process, decision makers can move onto evaluating specific UC solutions or individual communications applications.
3. Evaluating Options
While it is common knowledge that most vendors typically go after larger businesses for a higher return on their investment, there has been a major shift in vendor attention toward the SMB segment. As competition intensifies and most large businesses become saturated with advanced communications technologies, the SMB market becomes the next battleground for communications vendors and service providers as they seek new growth opportunities.
It would be logical and completely justified for an SMB looking to upgrade its communications infrastructure to first approach its existing vendor(s) or service provider(s). Most likely, such a business is running a platform by an SMB-focused vendor such as (in alphabetical order) Aastra, Interactive Intelligence, Mitel, NEC, Panasonic, ShoreTel or Toshiba. All these vendors have significantly enhanced their platforms over the past couple of years and most can offer an end-to-end UC solution with telephony, conferencing, IM/presence, mobility etc. Their solutions are typically very cost-effective by virtue of delivering all UC applications on a single appliance or in a single software stack and are also easy to implement and manage as they were developed with the SMB in mind.
Businesses should, however, look at some new entrants as well. Open-source telephony vendors such as Digium and Fonality do not only promote free code for those capable of putting together their own solutions, but have some turn-key UC platforms that offer advanced features and capabilities comparable to those of the incumbent vendors.
Microsoft’s OCS architecture is not (yet) suitable for very small businesses, but can provide significant benefits to a medium-sized business. It could represent a cost-effective alternative to existing disparate communications capabilities such as telephony, conferencing and IM as it offers all these capabilities in a single, tightly integrated, entirely software-based solution.
IBM, on the other hand, has chosen to partner with telephony vendors to be able to deliver an end-to-end UC solution to SMBs. Its Lotus Foundations platform enhanced with telephony capabilities from NEC, Mitel and ShoreTel is a viable UC solution for businesses looking to deploy a complete UC stack in a cost-effective manner.
Large vendors such as (in alphabetical order) Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya, Cisco and Siemens have recently invested a significant amount of effort in enhancing their SMB solutions. They have developed appliances and/or software solutions that combine various UC capabilities and are designed specifically for SMBs, eliminating the complexity and cost of large-business platforms.
Last, but not least, small businesses in search of new communication alternatives should consider hosted/SaaS/cloud UC services. There aren’t many complete network-based UC offerings (yet), but many service providers are considering the possibility of becoming one-stop shops for the entire UC stack. A handful of service providers including Apptix, CallTower, Cypress Communications, LightEdge, Verizon and USA.Net currently offer integrated IM/presence, telephony and some conferencing to their customers. The value of such services is primarily in eliminating all the hassles related to implementing and integrating advanced applications and then managing the entire solution on behalf of customers so they can focus on their core business. Such services also provide better business continuity and disaster recovery capabilities.
SMBs may also wish to keep a close eye on Skype and Google. They are mostly known for their consumer applications, but both are intent on penetrating the business space with bundles of UC applications. It is most likely that these two providers will offer some of the most compelling pricing and will also seek to leverage the cloud for delivering a completely new value proposition to their business customers – extending and federating communication and collaboration capabilities across organizations, integrating more freely and extensively with applications delivered by other service providers, etc.
UC options for SMB have increased over the past year and continue to proliferate. With vendors and service providers struggling for revenues and new competitive advantages, customers currently have the upper hand. In a UC procurement process, SMBs should first require as much information as possible from an extended set of vendors, encourage competitive bids, and boldly negotiate for large-enterprise features at affordable prices. Vendor or partner customer service throughout the process could be a good indicator of that party’s commitment to customer success. SMBs should also consider vendor/provider viability as a major criterion in selecting a new communications solution. However, since a vendor’s financial health is not always obvious, SMBs can ensure investment protection by looking to deploy solutions and applications based on open standards, SIP and SOA so that they can eventually integrate with or switch to other UC solutions.
The one thing I might say to Ike is, "you're right, in more ways than one". VoIP has not really come all that far and sometime it complicates life more than it needs to. I think I can help you in one way though Ike, check back in a week and you will see what I mean.
Garrett mentions "Lypp appears to be a solution for mobile professionals that aggregates AIM / AOL, Google Talk / Jabber, iChat MSN and Yahoo! Messenger contacts and allows for group or conference calling via your cellular handset. It also does not leverage the IP network, in favor of the wireless network and or PSTN." I can see why Garrett would think that, the current site says nothing about our Next Generation Conference Calling service, VoIP API or Rails plugin. Keep your ear to the Rails Garrett, that is soon to change 🙂
As a developer Garrett had some comments on the APIs. Garrett mentions that he could not really use either API which I found a little disconcerting. Our goal is to make sure that anyone who understands XML or Rails can use this API. The Lypp API is published here: lypp.com/api and can be accessed by simply sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org requesting a key.
Luca makes a good point here about the importance of differentiation.
Yes, you are correct Moshe. We are bootstrapping this venture and our poultry investment over the pat year is lunch money when compared to what Ribbit has raised but I think I would still prefer to be driving a Chevy 🙂
Thomas is a smart guy and I have a great of respect for what he is doing in the voip mashup space and what he has done in the past. His comments on my initial post are well taken. On the last comment, I am not opposed to softphones, not at all. It's just that I have seen softphones deployed in almost every scenario imaginable and the take rate in the business community has been low. Mostly due to technical network issues like double firewalls and zero-tolerance VPNs. All that aside, I am very positive about the future of softphones and firmly believe you will see one in the Lypp lign-up, when the time is right.
UPDATE: Andy chimes in by ringing the bell. <ugh>
I think Andy might have slightly missinterpreted my intentions when writing this post but hey, a little spice never hurt anyone 😉
First let me begin by saying I know Ted Griggs and I respect him greatly, he has a great track record for building innovative companies that push the boundaries of technology and communications.
I was the initial designer, sales guy, visionary, president, co-founder and COO at Xten (Counterpath) which since inception has dominated the SIP softphone SDK space. In other words, I think I may know a thing or two about building softphones.
Fyi, Ted and I will be presenting on behalf of our respective companies at Wireless Innovations in April.
With that out of the way, here is why, when I started down this path, I did not choose to reinvent the softphone at the edge of the network.
The edge of the network is a nasty place. Bandwidth issues, carrier packet shaping, lack of end user control and costly redundancy solutions make it nearly impossible to deliver a predictable and reliable telephony service.
Much like turning on the lights when you get to your office, that phone on your desk had better work as expected.
In saying that many professionals use Skype and other softphones, like X-PRO, X-Lite, eyeBeam etc to make calls over the net everyday. But you can bet when it comes time to make the calls that really matter they are not using a softphone on the open Internet, at least not after it suffers major packet loss more than once during a call of significance.
This is also why traditional telephony will be around for decades to come. The PSTN still rules the roost. Setting aside for a moment the unwillingness of the carriers to allow other providers to simply stand up a service that will cannibalize their revenues, reliability and Quality of Service (QoS) is still a major issue.
At Gaboogie we steered away from the softphone or using any VoIP at the edge of the network in our initial plans. We made that decision early on because we believe VoIP at the edge is still not ready for prime time. If you don’t believe you obviously have not tried a best efforts VoIP service in Canada. I have not found a single best efforts offering that does not drops calls, drop packets and well… just generally suck.
So what is Lypp then?
The Lypp API was built to support advanced conferencing and was meant for critical calls for companies that require a dependable service. That does not mean a developer could not use it for more typcial telephony integration, which in fact some are already doing. Using the API directly via XML or by way of the Ruby on Rails plugin developers can add traditinoal telephony and/or conferencing capabilities to their apps in as little as a couple of hours.
We have constructed a very robust network that is redundant and dynamically scalable to handle billions of minutes of call volume per month. Our call back methodology (been around forever) keeps the VoIP in the core of the network. If your landline or cell phone is on, so is our service. Our customers do not suffer from call quality or reliability issues in the same way best effort VoIP service users might.
Developers leveraging the Lypp API can expect a higher degree of call reliability and call quality, more of the time, than any other best efforts VoIP service in North America, period.
Best efforts VoIP, whether you are using a Polycom VoIP handset and an Asterisk PBX or you are using a Ribbit inspired softphone, will likely not match up with the reliability you have come to expect from the legacy telephone networks. However the feature set of POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) pales in comparison to what VoIP can offer.
Some day we will have the kind of IP infrastructure that will make the edge of the network near bullet proof, but in my humble opinion, we are still a ways off. When we do get there Gaboogie will be ready to leverage its SIP network to the absolute maximum.