A Strong Consolidation Wave Sweeping the Next-Gen Services Market
Today’s announcement of TelePacific’s Acquisition of Telekenex provides another boost to a strong consolidation wave that started some time back in 2009, but gained more power in 2010. This acquisition enhanced TelePacific’s CLEC portfolio, which includes next-gen trunking services, with a set of additional capabilities, such as:
- A robust hosted PBX platform with nationwide voice capabilities
- A nationwide PCI-compliant MPLS backbone
- A fiber network in the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area
- Managed network services providing advanced configuration and support for complex network deployments and
- Managed security services through a cloud-based firewall
According to my estimates, Telekenex is adding between 15,000 and 20,000 hosted telephony seats (mostly multi-site SMBs) and about $30 million to $50 million in annual revenues to TelePacific’s portfolio.
As the market becomes increasingly competitive, it becomes compelling for LEC organizations with managed network services to merge with hosted/cloud applications providers so they can diversify their portfolios and offer customers a broader set of communications solutions and capabilities. Examples of similar developments over the past year include:
- Comcast acquired NGT
- Covad and MegaPath merged
- Cypress Communications acquired Reignmaker Communications and merged with Broadvox
- M5 Networks acquired Geckotech
- Paetec acquired Cavalier Telephone
- Vantage Communications acquired Digital Ingenuity
- West Corporation acquired Smoothstone
Further M&A activity is expected over the next couple of years. With over 60 providers in the North American hosted telephony market, there is plenty of room for providers to join their forces for healthier competition going forward. As businesses look for a trunking or hosted communications provider, they need to take the following factors into consideration in order to make a good choice:
- Network reach
- Service management and demark: does the provider manage the service all the way to the desktop
- SLAs on network reliability, availability, quality
- Failover, redundancy and disaster recovery capabilities
- Channel partnerships
- Knowledgeable sales force
- Customer service and tech support
- Depth & breadth of product portfolio (access network, UC, CEBP, hosted email & IM, contact center, managed data & security)
- Simple, transparent and efficient billing and service provisioning
Co-opetition – a Healthy Approach in Rapidly Growing and Fragmented Markets
Today, a group of hosted communications companies formed an alliance, which they named the Cloud Communications Alliance (refer to the press release here). The following summarizes the objectives of the Alliance and lists the founding members:
About Cloud Communications Alliance
The Cloud Communications Alliance brings together leading Cloud Communications providers Alteva, Broadcore, Callis Communications, Consolidated Technologies Inc., IPFone, SimpleSignal, Stage 2 Networks and Telesphere to promote development of the Cloud Communications category. The Alliance is aggressively pursuing new technical standards, capabilities and applications. The Alliance harnesses the power of each member’s individual networks and systems to create a seamless, nationwide HD voice network that delivers outstanding voice quality, apps, features and cost savings. For more information about the Cloud Communications Alliance, visit www.cloudcommunicationsalliance.com.
Why these eight companies? These service providers have several things in common: they all use BroadSoft’s BroadWorks platform for the delivery of hosted communications; they have all been recognized as being among the fastest growing BroadSoft customers; they are all relatively small (30 to 50 employees) with mostly local or regional focus and limited geographic reach; and they all face similar challenges.
When did it all start? About a couple of years ago, this group of eight decided to collaborate and pool their resources together in order to become more successful and accelerate growth. Since then, these companies have been having regular meetings, at which they would exchange knowledge and best practices and discuss opportunities to leverage each other’s strengths for mutual benefits.
Why does it make sense for hosted IP communications providers to join efforts? Interestingly enough, I recently heard about what seems to be a common practice among cable companies. They would get together and openly discuss challenges and best practices and try to help each other grow in their respective areas. The cable industry is more mature than hosted IP telephony, but similarities include somewhat clearly defined territories of influence and a fairly large market potential that offers opportunities for everybody. Oh, and a common enemy – the incumbent telcos!
As I have discussed in previous posts, the hosted IP telephony market is very fragmented, and small service providers (some LECs, some next-gens founded specifically for the delivery of VoIP services) have been among the most innovative and committed to advanced hosted communications, but have had limited resources to promote and support their services on a large scale. While hosted IP communications eliminate a significant portion of the CPE and the need to dispatch technicians to the customer’s site, frequently, service providers have to ensure that the LAN is properly configured and literally crawl under people’s desks to adjust the wiring. This kind of tasks require local support staff and small market participants can greatly benefit from an alliance that helps them more effective serve larger, multi-site businesses.
Further, market awareness for hosted communications is still fairly limited. Service providers with small marketing budgets typically count on online resources, word of mouth and personal contacts to promote their services. By pooling marketing resources together, Alliance members can more effectively use market intelligence, more confidently market the capabilities of a more powerful entity, and provide customers with a “disaster recovery” option – the ability to easily port the service to another service provider if the original one goes out of business.
I asked the Alliance members about some of the additional challenges they have been facing, and they mentioned the following:
- Backoffice operations: accounting and provisioning could be slow and complex; integration with other software platforms is challenging;
- Customer acquisition is costly and difficult to scale;
- Individual providers have limited ability to come up with new ideas for apps and new sources of revenue;
- They are all looking to make their services more cloud-like.
Since the new formation is being marketed as a “Cloud” Communications Alliance, I inquired about how members saw the difference between cloud and hosted. We did not get into all the details on the call and I have promised to tackle this issue separately, so I will just highlight a few key points:
- Some member organizations have already deployed some of their capabilities (such as voice messaging, for example) on Amazon’s and other public clouds for cost efficiencies and plan to move more infrastructure elements into the cloud (maybe storage first, call control much later).
- The members plan to enable integrations with a growing number of cloud applications (such as www.salesforce.com, for instance) to help facilitate specific business processes for their customers.
- As businesses increasingly adopt mobile communications, Alliance members plan to be able to manage the fixed-mobile integration from the Cloud.
- Finally, the Cloud offers a great sandbox and a fertile ground for more rapid and more prolific application development. As Alliance members and other parties increasingly develop Cloud applications, the ability to integrate those and properly package and position them to end users will be key for their success.
I believe the formation of the Cloud Communications Alliance is a positive development. It is part of a consolidation trend in the communications market that is likely to accelerate over the next couple of years and will impact fragmented markets more so than the more concentrated ones (such as the PBX market, for example). Consolidation at this stage is healthy; I have, in fact, been recommending co-opetition as a viable approach in hosted IP telephony for some time now.
Siemens Demos A Potential Cloud-Based UC Offering
Are you at VoiceCon? If you are, make sure you visit Siemens’ booth for a demo of a potential CaaS offering residing in Amazon’s EC2 environment. Unfortunately, I cannot make it to Orlando this year, but I can’t wait to hear/see more details. (And no, the picture above is not part of the demo :))
Not only does this eventual partnership bring Siemens to the forefront of UC innovation once again, but it can also give a boost to hosted UC and Communications as a Service (CaaS), as well as to UC, in general. Such a partnership marks a trend that will grow over the next few years and will be eagerly pursued by all leading communication and business application vendors. Time to market is a critical factor, though, and the trend-setters can both gain a competitive advantage and/or suffer the consequences of market immaturity. For the sake of Siemens, their customers and even their competitors, I hope they do it right from the start!
A potential OpenScape deployment in the Amazon cloud is significant, because it opens up a whole new growth opportunity for UC. As a hosted (CaaS, cloud) offering, it provides flexibility and a less risky entry point for customers that are willing to trial UC but have limited capital budgets. By leveraging a partner that already has an enormous brand recognition and marketing abilities, Siemens has just created a channel for its UC solution, that expands its addressable market well beyond the reach of its direct sales force.
It is too early to predict exactly how successful this partnership is going to be, but we can speculate. Although demand for CaaS and UC in general is growing, even a joint endeavor of this magnitude cannot overcome the numerous barriers to adoption including the general economic climate, availability of legacy infrastructure and customer hesitation about which vendors and platforms to choose. Further, while this partnership creates marketing and sales opportunities, how will services be handled? Which party will businesses turn to for CPE (phones, gateways, etc.) installation, maintenance and evolution/migration? If the entire premise-based infrastructure is up-to-date and all that’s needed is a hosted presence component, it may be a favorable scenario for this kind of solution. But if the CPE needs to be upgraded, will customers handle the migration and the new integration with the hosted service or will they call someone and who would that be?
There are a lot of further implications from that announcement. For example, this CaaS solution threatens hosted UC providers that are dependent upon their hosted telephony business to grow. Given the larger CPE base, a hosted UC platform that integrates with premise-based solutions has a greater potential than end-to-end hosted services. With Siemens’ superior OpenScape voice capabilities, a fully hosted package, if properly delivered (from sales to installation to management) can dramatically impact the hosted telephony and hosted UC markets, which are currently very fragmented and populated by multiple small providers with limited technology capabilities and sales resources.
Overall, a potential OpenScape UC in the cloud is good news for the industry and worth monitoring closely going forward. The concept is great, but let’s see how Siemens handles the execution.
Do you think soon we will be shopping for communication services like we do for books and CDs? Will we trust what we see on the Internet? Won’t businesses still look for a more direct touch, e.g. a call/visit by a knowledgeable consultant? Is the Amazon brand as popular with businesses for business solution shopping as it is with consumers? I have many questions. Let me know if you have the answers.