Tag Archive | Hosted VoIP

WebRTC is live. Flash, take cover!

Update 2: To the hundreds/thousands of repetitive spam tweets / twits, “Will WebRTC replace / kill Skype”, the answer is NO!! It will not. WebRTC is using broken Jingle in the browser, it does not support chat and can only make and receive calls., there is no buddy / contact list to speak of etc etc. NO it will not replace Skype. Stop with the spam tweets already, please!

Update: It seems to me that until all the browsers are on board, native clients will be required to make this go. Which is not outside the realm of possibility, considering Google has open sourced the GIPS audio and video engine along with WebRTC.

Something to remember, WebRTC is not RTCWEB! It may sound silly but it’s true. WebRTC is a Google-centric project using Google code etc.  RTCWEB is essentially an IETF effort, a working group driving towards open real-time communications on the web. They are not the same, which can be rather confusing.

— Original Post —

Google has been busy it would seem, last night WebRTC appeared to the public for the first time. This has some pretty serious implications for Flash, which was the de-facto technology one had to use to get real-time communications in a browser, that has now been circumvented, at least to a certain degree.

The sessions are not run by a signaling protocol per se, not Jingle, no XMPP, not SIP not anything we have seen before. All the session management looks to be coming from libjingle. Which, to me means Jingle is in the browser.

A few early comments:

1. Where does Google stand on websockets? Google have said they will block it if an exploit emerges.

2. Chrome, Opera & Firefox are the supported browsers. Where does Safari and IE land? My guess is that Microsoft will not be in any hurry to implement this considering their recent Skype acquisition.

3. Web-cam captures from HTM5 has not been ratified, although this is likely not as serious as the former points.

So it begins. Skype for Asterisk falls.

It looks like the first victim in the Microsoft acquisition of Skype is Digium and the open source PBX – Asterisk. The following is an email sent to existing Skype for Asterisk users…

Skype for Asterisk will not be available for sale or activation after July 26, 2011.

Skype for Asterisk was developed by Digium in cooperation with Skype. It includes proprietary software from Skype that allows Asterisk to join the Skype network as a native client. Skype has decided not to renew the agreement that permits us to package this proprietary software. Therefore Skype for Asterisk sales and activations will cease on July 26, 2011.

This change should not affect any existing users of Skype for Asterisk. Representatives of Skype have assured us that they will continue to support and maintain the Skype for Asterisk software for a period of two years thereafter, as specified in the agreement with Digium. We expect that users of Skype for Asterisk will be able to continue using their Asterisk systems on the Skype network until at least July 26, 2013. Skype may extend this at their discretion.

Skype for Asterisk remains for sale and activation until July 26, 2011. Please complete any purchases and activations before that date.

Thank you for your business.

Digium Product Management

One has to wonder what will become of Skype Connect, Skype’s answer to SIP Trunking. Will Microsoft shut off the Skype Connect vendors (Cisco, Avaya, Grandstream, etc.) as well?

Original forum post here.

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
  • Pricing
  • 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

New Business Models Emerge in Hosted/Cloud Communications

I have written some earlier posts on Mitel’s and Siemens’ strategies for the hosted IP telephony/cloud UC market. But  there are others that have tapped into this space previously reserved for the telcos (ILECs, CLECs), MSOs, ISPs and some ASPs. I get a lot of questions about BroadSoft, Cisco, Microsoft, IBM, etc. I have now completed my study on North American hosted IP telephony and UC services markets and have some new insights to share. Unfortunately, the individual vendor analysis is too lengthy to post here, but I will share excerpts that more broadly discuss the value proposition of these new business models.

A key new development in the hosted IP telephony and UC services market is the entry of PBX vendors with their own multi-tenant or virtualized (multi-instance) solutions designed specifically for carriers and partners or intended for service delivery out of their own data centers. Cisco’s Hosted Collaboration Solution (HCS) architecture, Mitel’s various hosted/cloud solutions and Siemens’ OpenScape cloud architecture are some examples of these new business models. These platforms are typically more feature-rich than the carrier softswitches and application servers traditionally utilized to deliver multi-tenant business telephony services, but they also offer some additional benefits. For example, Verizon’s UCaaS services based on Cisco’s HCS are positioned as most suitable for the highly demanding large enterprises who wish to integrate the hosted service with their existing Cisco premises-based infrastructure. Also, most of these new architectures are not truly multi-tenant, but are instead using shared hardware and dedicated software, thus addressing some security concerns associated with hosted services.

The new business models are likely to cause some re-alignment in the value chain, with potential advantages and disadvantages for all market participants. Their impact on end users, however, is going to be mostly beneficial as they will be able to choose from a larger number of alternative solutions. For the supply side, the key benefit is ability to focus on core competencies – vendors will be able to leverage their software expertise, data center providers will deliver the most cost-effective server hosting and management, and the diverse range of service providers will focus on customer acquisition and ongoing management, as well as the integration of typical carrier services such as SIP trunking.

  • PBX vendors: PBX vendors are likely to benefit from gaining access to a customer base looking to outsource both infrastructure and infrastructure management from a third party. They will also be able to deliver greater value to their channel partners by enabling them to generate recurring revenues by either hosting the platforms themselves or reselling services hosted in a third-party data center. Potential pitfalls for PBX vendors include channel conflicts, if the vendors are also selling hosted/cloud services directly; customer mismanagement, if tiers of support and responsibilities are not clearly defined; and some loss of professional and managed services revenues. Also, customer churn is likely to be greater compared to that experienced in the premises-based business.
  •  Telcos: Service providers stand to benefit from the opportunity to deliver hosted/cloud services to more demanding customers using advanced telephony and UC platforms previously only available as premises-based solutions. Also, they can realize cost savings and reduce time to market, if the solution is hosted in a third-party data center, as the deployment and integration of multiple servers and software stacks is typically costly and time consuming. Virtualized solutions such as Mitel’s Virtual MCD and Cisco’s HCS also enable them to provide more secure hosted services to customers requiring their own dedicated software while leveraging the benefits of shared hardware and a hosted model. Potential challenges for service providers include the need to maintain multiple versions of vendors’ software stacks (as in the case of Verizon’s implementation of Cisco HCS), and more limited ability to customize the solution when hosted in a third-party data center. Furthermore, the new business model lowers barriers to entry thus potentially leading to increased competition.
  • VARs, SIs and MSPs: For VARs, SIs, MSPs and smaller LECs this is an excellent opportunity to expand their portfolio and generate recurring revenues by introducing hosted/cloud-based services without the cost and hassle of acquiring, integrating and running the systems in their own data centers. The cost and complexity of next-generation architectures has prevented this group of market participants from exploring hosted services in earnest. Now they can more successfully compete against larger telcos and premises-based solution vendors by presenting several alternatives to their customers – from premises-based systems, managed in house, to provider-managed on-premises solutions and fully hosted services. With their strong expertise in CPE installation, integration and management and typically better customer service and support, smaller, regional interconnects will now be able to serve their customers even more effectively.
  • Business customers: Business customers will benefit from increased availability and diversity of hosted/cloud solutions. As more service providers introduce hosted IP telephony or UC solutions, businesses will be able to choose a partner from a broad range of providers – from large telcos with a substantial brand-name reputation to trusted local system resellers with whom they have long-standing relationships. The increasing competition is likely to result in more competitive prices and better customer service. Also, service offerings now include a large spectrum of alternatives – from low-end basic telephony offerings to comprehensive UC bundles and packages of tightly integrated communications and business applications (e.g. CRM). Furthermore, along with the cost-effective multi-tenant services, providers are now able to address the needs of businesses with high security requirements by using virtualized solutions based on shared hardware but dedicated software.

Hosted Communications Gaining Traction in North America

Vanessa Alvarez and I just completed the update of our North American Hosted IP Telephony and UC Services Markets study. Here is a summary of our findings:

In 2009, the economic crisis continued to plague enterprises, particularly in the small and medium business segment, which is the target market for hosted IP telephony.  Many service providers suffered customer retention issues as SMBs downsized and some even went under and couldn’t pay their bills.  Customer acquisition was even more difficult as many enterprises held back on making communications decisions or made other IT technology investments a priority. 

Yet, 2009 was a relatively successful year for hosted IP telephony. The installed base grew by close to 30 percent with new adds compensating for losses due to workforce reduction in customer organizations.

Although the concept of unified communications continued to make inroads into enterprises, it did not gain as much traction as originally anticipated.  As a result, although many hosted service providers took 2008 to retrench and include more UC offerings into their portfolio, the market segment targeted by hosted services was not ready for unified communications, and UC adoption rates and revenue impact were minimal.

Frost & Sullivan estimates about 1.4 million installed hosted IP telephony lines as of the end of 2009 and expects the installed base to reach between 7.5 and 8 million lines in 2015. Revenues, estimated based on an average bundle of features and capabilities, reached about $700 million in 2009 and are expected to reach $3.8 billion in 2015.

Many factors will contribute to growth going forward.  The macroeconomic situation forces enterprises to reconsider maintaining their own infrastructure as opposed to using hosted services.  Enterprises today want to focus on driving their business, not managing their IT environments. 

Parallel to this, hosted IP telephony, and hosted services in general, have evolved in terms of features and functionality.  Underlying technologies are also evolving, allowing service providers to upgrade and enhance their own networks and data centers, making the delivery of IP telephony easier and more cost-effective.

The market remained fragmented with over 50 providers, each offering varying bundles of communications applications typically including local and long-distance voice, voicemail or unified messaging, auto attendant, conferencing, contact center and CRM applications, frequently also packaged with an access line and an Internet service. Frost & Sullivan predicts that consolidation in this market will accelerate, as large IT service providers look to bundle communications services into their overall IT hosted services offerings.  As cloud computing begins to evolve in service providers’ data centers, it will become easier to deliver compelling cloud-based communications services.  Also, within the next two to three years, some PBX vendors will look to develop their own solutions, in the form of virtual appliances hosted in their own data centers or the public cloud, and deliver services more directly to end users, bypassing the traditional telcos.  

Enterprises today must consider what delivers greater value to their business.  Many are finding that managing their own IP telephony systems, or any IT for that matter, just doesn’t make economic sense.  It is best to focus their IT and communications management resources on delivering superior products/services to their customers as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Counterpoint

The counterpoint to what? Good question. I wanted to talk about some personal experiences with communications technologies. Since the sentiments in this article may appear to contradict ideas I have shared previously – taking more of an analyst, rather than a consumer point of view – I thought I would present them as a “counterpoint”.

Frequently, nascent technologies promise to improve the way we live and work. But at the early stages, both businesses and individuals tend to experience more challenges than benefits.

I work out of a home office, like many other professionals today. Organizations are becoming increasingly virtual and IT managers are struggling to deliver reliable, secure and cost-effective communications to their growing remote workforce. In fact, many technological advancements – such as enterprise mobility, unified communications and SaaS/cloud-based communications, to name a few – are touted as particularly appropriate for mobile and geographically dispersed users. But remote workers frequently face issues that negatively impact their ability to leverage the full potential of these advanced technologies.

Here follow some quick references to popular marketing pitches and my counterpoints as an end user:

UC and software-based communications provide a cost-effective and convenient communications solution for remote workers.

COUNTERPOINT: At home, I have a regular POTS line, as well as a Cisco IP Communicator client on my laptop. I am glad I have the Cisco client because it allows me to call home when travelling or call an international number from home – free of charge to me. However, the few times I have tried to use it to attend an audio conference or make a critical business call, the quality turned out to be so poor that I had to switch to the POTS line or my cell phone.

There are several “weak links” in this scenario and the soft client is just one. It may be the quality of my Internet connection. I have a DSL line (I believe 4 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream) and I frequently have quality problems (breaking voice or slow website upload) when using various web applications or soft clients. It may be my wireless router – which is integrated with the DSL modem. It may be my laptop RAM or processing power. It could also be an issue with my VPN, the size of my Lotus Notes mail box, or any other application I access on my laptop. It may be some cookies or software bugs on my home network.

So it could be anything! But my point is, I am not ready to dump my TDM line OR my desktop phone for a PC-based soft client any time soon. Though my experience is that of a home worker, I think business environments are not immune to such challenges. If you really believe PC-based clients are ready to replace desktop phones, maybe you need to make sure the money you save from eliminating desktop phones is properly invested in assessing and upgrading LAN and WAN connections, PC processing power, RAM and hard drivers, etc. In my opinion, soft clients make a great adjunct to desktop phones, but not a viable replacement alternative … yet.

SaaS and cloud-based communications enable convenient self service for SMBs and remote workers.

COUNTERPOINT: I strongly believe in the value of hosted/cloud-based communications for businesses with limited in-house resources. But I have an issue with the claims around self service. I suppose, self service makes sense at the very initial stages of service selection and provisioning. Certainly, IP telephony – hosted or premises-based – also enables self-service moves, adds and changes (MACs), which provides substantial cost savings. IP telephony also enables IT managers as well as end users to manipulate settings through software/Web-based interfaces – providing flexibility and cost efficiencies.

However, self service only goes so far. In fact, hosted IP telephony and other ASP services never gained much traction exactly because service providers were not able to provide sufficient network implementation and management support required for mission-critical, real-time communications.

Inevitably, hosted services involve some customer premises equipment (CPE). To begin with, LAN and WAN reliability and security are top concerns with both hosted and premises-based IP communications. Therefore, router and switch selection, proper configuration and management are critical. Further, telephony endpoints and the respective wiring still require someone to literally crawl under people’s desks. Small business and remote workers should not be left entirely on their own when implementing or managing hosted IP communications.

Most of the time, a remote worker, similar to a residential user, uses… well, “cloud” or hosted communications. The Internet service, the POTS line – it is all managed by a service provider. And remote workers frequently face some common challenges. For example, my intermittent Internet connection has been an issue for a while. Having to spend hours on the phone with a customer service rep and stick pins into the router to restart and reconfigure it could be immensely frustrating. My phone company, on the other hand, has so far left me without a phone service only once (for about 24 hours). But even that one time, the warning that if they come to my house and it turns out to be a problem with my internal wiring or phones, they’ll charge me whatever it is they charge, etc., etc. … well, it leaves a bitter after-taste.

So, my point is, small business, remote workers, even medium and large businesses – they all want to feel taken care of. They’ll expect someone to come in and install or fix things for them as part of the monthly service charges and will not be too thrilled about self service.

I hope my thoughts make sense. Let me know what you think.

Communications on the Premises or in the Cloud: How do you Make the Choice?

As promised, I continue to share my thoughts on the dichotomy of hosted/cloud communications and premises-based infrastructure. Eventually, I will have to deal with the differentiation (if any) between cloud and hosted, but for now, I am not yet sure where to draw the line.  Although some tend to believe that these are two completely different animals, I believe the two have one major element in common: businesses adopting hosted or cloud communications should be willing to outsource all or most of their communications infrastructure and infrastructure management from a third party. Therefore, in discussing the potential for cloud communications, it seems imperative that we look at how the market has evolved over the past decade and what have been some of the factors determining customers’ choice for hosted or premises-based communications.

Historically, businesses around the world have favored premises-based implementations. The U.S. and Canada boast some of the highest adoption rates for hosted telephony, and yet the segment represents around 15 percent of installed business lines in those markets. Several factors have contributed to this uneven distribution and will continue to play a role in the future; the move to IP telephony and UC will, however, change the nature of these factors and their impact on communications investment decisions.

a) Supply-Side Factors

Functionality: Historically, hosted services have offered more limited functionality compared with premises-based solutions. Although TDM Centrex supports most key PBX features, such as abbreviated dialing, call forward, call park, call transfer, DID, DOD and music-on-hold, businesses are frequently drawn to PBXs for their superior functionality. With the advent of hosted IP telephony, however, more comprehensive service bundles (including messaging, presence, conferencing and other applications) are making the hosted offerings more appealing than alternative premises-based solutions.

Contract Terms: Centrex and other hosted services deliver greater flexibility, especially in terms of capacity adjustments at times of downsizing or rapid growth. Centrex contracts typically last two years, allowing customers to more frequently change solutions or providers based on new requirements.

Marketing and Awareness: The advent of IP telephony has further boosted PBX penetration as PBX vendors have been faster to market with advanced IP telephony platforms and have marketed them more aggressively than hosted services providers. Incumbent service providers have been slow to upgrade their communications infrastructure to VoIP and have only cautiously pursued IP communications offerings for fear of cannibalizing their existing Centrex and other legacy services. Service providers are, however, becoming more confident in marketing their next-generation services as they ramp up their cloud architectures and IP communications capabilities.

b) Demand-Side Factors

Security: Historically, telecom managers have considered multi-tenant, outsourced platforms to be less secure than premises-based systems, and IP telephony has raised even more concerns in that area. As security technologies rapidly improve for hosted solutions, we expect this concern to dissipate.

Control: Similarly, concerns about control continue to favor PBX implementations, in spite of the fact that advanced, hosted IP telephony offerings provide in-house staff with greater control than traditional Centrex services. For example, graphical management interfaces allow IT/telecom managers to perform moves, adds, and changes (MACs) quickly and conveniently without having to contact the service provider or pay for a technician to visit the site. These interfaces also allow managers to configure some features and settings on the go, based on user needs.

Businesses also tend to believe that they have greater flexibility and control over features and capabilities with a premises-based solution, since they can purchase or develop those internally as the need arises. In reality, the increasing complexity of communications architectures favors an outsourced solution, since a service provider is motivated to more rapidly upgrade and enhance the service offering.

TCO Analysis: The most compelling factor in choosing hosted or premises-based communications is the total cost of ownership (TCO) for the two scenarios. Of course, TCO varies widely, depending on a company’s existing infrastructure, number of sites, number of users (total and per site), specific application requirements, and available telecom staff.

For enterprises with a few larger sites, a premises-based solution typically offers a better TCO over a longer period of time. To a large degree, that’s because businesses often extend the life of their communications solutions well beyond the amortization period, at which point the asset has no book value – and therefore, no associated cost. Furthermore, with only a break-fix maintenance contract in place, support costs can also be reduced. Of course, this approach involves a significant amount of risk and can prove quite costly if an outdated solution begins to malfunction on a regular or system-wide basis.

Alternatively, Centrex and hosted IP telephony have been adopted by businesses that choose not to maintain in-house support staff and instead outsource their communications. Staff reductions, therefore, result in immediate and ongoing cost savings for these customers. It should be noted that TDM Centrex scenarios may involve some additional costs if a technician needs to be dispatched to the site on occasion; however, hosted IP telephony eliminates this cost burden as well due to more flexible network monitoring and management solutions.

Further, hosted services, and especially hosted IP telephony, provide significant TCO benefits to small branches and small sites within large organizations. Businesses choose hosted services for their remote locations in order to lower the costs of adding incremental capacity and to deliver uniform capabilities across geographically dispersed users.

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