Tag Archive | UC

WebRTC Expo – Google Media (GIPS) Stack FTW!

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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.

Headsets: Cool, Ergonomic, Effective

Headsets. You probably don’t think of them as a particularly exciting conversation topic for a high-tech cocktail party. But they are quickly becoming a key integral part of a knowledge worker’s communications endpoint set. The newest models look snazzy and they help users work in an ergonomic way, while being more efficient and taking better advantage of their communications tools.

I cannot imagine my life without a headset. I think, going forward, as we become an increasingly services-based society with a larger portion of the workforce spending significant amounts of time communicating and collaborating using various forms of voice communication (desktop phones, web-based or thick clients, mobile devices, etc.), headsets will gain even greater popularity.

Frost & Sullivan’s Alaa Saayed and Francisco Rizzo just finished a study titled World Professional Headset Markets. They found out that the contact center (CC) and office (O) headset market bounced back in 2010 after a few years of negative growth. Global revenue in 2010 was $788.9 million, an impressive 19.5 percent increase from 2009.  They are projecting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for professional headset revenues over the forecast period (2011-2017) of 10.7 percent. 

It appears that the increasing adoption of Unified Communications (UC) solutions is the main growth driver for headsets in the enterprise space. Headset vendors are beginning to differentiate UC headset sales from traditional headset sales. Frost & Sullivan estimates that approximately 10 percent of contact center and office (CC&O) headset revenue in 2010 came from UC headset sales.

You are probably wondering what a UC headset is. Even the authors of the study admit that “Unified Communications (UC)-enabled headsets are an emerging and evolving type of devices and, with some ambiguity surrounding UC itself, it’s easy to confuse what these devices are really offering to the end user “. Here is how they defined UC headsets:

“Simply put, UC headsets expand the communication eco-system, permitting remote work groups to efficiently collaborate in real time. Also, UC headsets are usually described as advanced endpoints that are used across devices, platforms and applications. Frost & Sullivan believes that these headsets are both fueling growth in the UC market as well as benefiting from the strong adoption of UC in the enterprise space (snow-ball effect). For a headset to be considered UC it must be able to:

·               Interact with a PC via USB dongle, USB adapter or base station.

·               Integrate with different UC communications servers (e.g. Microsoft, IBM, Cisco, Avaya, among others)

While many UC headsets offer superior sound quality, smart sensor technology, battery status notifications, and many other advanced features, these should not to be confused as being UC-only features. For a headset to be considered UC it must include the two aforementioned attributes.

A third criterion, headset-user presence, is also beginning to appear on the newest headset models. While not all UC headsets today include presence, Frost & Sullivan considers that this will become a standard in all UC headsets moving forward.”

The majority of headset vendors have picked up on the UC trend and are developing partnerships with UC solution providers such as Avaya, Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, among others.  They are launching UC-certified headsets that integrate directly into certain UC platforms and offer advanced functionality such as presence. 

First-generation UC deployments tend to use corded headsets and not wireless. The trend, however, has been to purchase wireless headsets once the corded headsets have completed their life cycle.

The UC opportunity is also changing the channel, with system integrators taking a more prominent role. Frost & Sullivan believes that system integrators have the largest future CC&O headset growth potential.

Overall, Frost & Sullivan believes that the UC opportunity is one of the most significant opportunities in the headset market’s history and expects this trend to significantly boost headset sales going forward.

Plantronics’ Savi Office and the newly launched Savi 440 and Savi 700, Voyager PRO UC, as well as their Blackwire 200, 420 and 600 series are examples of advanced, UC headsets, interoperable with various UC technologies.

Look at the Voyager PRO UC.  It’s a Bluetooth headset, which automatically answers calls, transfers calls between the mobile phone and the headset, and when the user is on a mobile or PC call, softphone presence is automatically updated. It also eliminates accidental dialing by locking the call button when the headset is not worn. Users also get voice alerts about remaining talk time, connection status, battery level and mute.

Source: Plantronics: http://www.plantronics.com/us/product/voyager-pro

GN Netcom’s portfolio also features a number of UC headsets in the BIZ, GN, Go and PRO series. Let’s take the Jabra Go 6470 Bluetooth Wireless headset system as an example. It is a multi-purpose headset that works with desktop, mobile and PC phones. It also features a touch screen with a smart setup wizard, automatic microphone tuning and phone compatibility settings, wideband sound (150–6,800 Hz), and the dual-microphone Noise Blackout system.

Source: Jabra: http://www.jabra.com/na-us/headsetsolutions/pages/jabrago6400.aspx

As communications tools proliferate in the workplace, users will be increasingly tempted to seek to consolidate their communications endpoints. Headsets are becoming increasingly intelligent, providing some basic call-control capabilities and a single access to multiple communications devices (desktop, PC and mobile phones). As IT looks to consolidate systems at the back end, users will increasingly demand some consolidation at the front end. And who doesn’t want to be able to communicate hands-free – not just when driving, but also while in the office? Multi-tasking is the knowledge worker’s most common MO (modus operandi) and we are no strangers to typing, filing, viewing web pages or even handling some household chores while on hours-long conference calls. I believe, in the future, headsets will become the most common device among office workers.

Is IP Communications Really for Me?

I know. You have heard enough about IP communications, unified communications, cloud communications, and any other fancy communications the industry pundits choose to talk about. But it’s still hard to make the right decisions. Vendors are sending confusing messages. Your internal stakeholders are not agreeing on what is best for your business. It may be worth for you (IT or telecom person) to sit down and think really hard (again) about your specific challenges and objectives and then make some better informed and more confident decision about your infrastructure evolution.

IP communications, VoIP, UC, etc. mean different things to different people. Benefits vary from business to business. Deployment methods vary from business to business. The more technology evolution accelerates and the more complex communications architectures become, the more important it is to go through a proper assessment and discovery process prior to make radical, or even incremental, technology changes.

But you are always too busy to strategize. There is always too much on your plate – and everything needs to be handled right here, right now. And that’s how you get trapped in a vicious cycle – having to make rash decisions to only partially resolve major operational or strategic issues.

It’s hard to do, but you need to take the time and launch a structured initiative, with all key stakeholders on board, to properly analyze your challenges and recommend sustainable, long-term solutions. This is the only way you can make your infrastructure work for you – make you more efficient and a more valuable asset within the organization.

I will be talking about the benefits of IP communications, the evolving value proposition of IP telephony and the key elements of a proper assessment and discovery process at this free webinar on June 14, at 11 am ET. To register, please follow this link. A recording will be available if you are unable to attend.

The PBX is Dead! Long Live the PBX!

Well, maybe the PBX term is dead. Maybe, going forward, we will be referring to the platforms delivering PBX functionality as “communications systems” or “UC solutions” or something else.  But it is just funny how industry pundits frequently seek a sensational effect by using strong terms like “death” and “extinction” to refer to certain aspects of technology evolution. The reality is – market trends take a long time to mature and legacy technologies just don’t disappear over night. We were quick to “bury” the TDM PBX some ten years ago, but TDM line shipments, lo and behold, account for an impressive 25% of total line shipments today.

I was reading my colleague Alaa Saayed’s upcoming study World Enterprise Telephony Platform and Endpoint Markets and the following excerpt made me smile so I thought I would share it here.

•Just like in 2009 many observers prematurely pronounced the death of IP desktop phones, today, the same group of people is predicting the impending death of premises-based telephony platforms.

•Our findings show that the premises-based telephony platform market is still very much alive and displaying sizeable growth rates in terms of both shipments and revenue across the world.

•Although Frost & Sullivan recognizes the relentless advancements in communication technologies that are, today, allowing businesses to choose from multiple deployment and architectural options for enterprise telephony, including hosted and cloud-based technologies, premises-based solutions are still the most popular and dominant type of architecture among businesses of all sizes and verticals. The unfamiliarity with other technologies, the uncertainty about the benefits offered by the new delivery models, and the potential risks associated with decommissioning and/or replacing existing solutions are some of the main reasons why businesses continue to choose premises-based systems.

•Instead of the death of the premises-based telephony platform market, Frost & Sullivan prefers to talk about the death of the “PBX” terminology and the continuous transformation of communications architectures. In fact, since the introduction of enterprise IP telephony technologies around a decade ago, the traditional PBX platform has been completely re-designed, enhanced and re-purposed for the ultimate benefit of the customer. The multiple “boxes” required to support an enterprise-grade communications architecture in the past have been condensed into a smaller number of multi-purpose servers. The market has shifted from hardware-centric solutions to software-based, application-centric solutions. The call-control component of the PBX (practically, the heart of the PBX) has been extracted, in many cases,  and modified into a software application that can run on any third-party standard servers or treated as a virtualized application in a virtualized data-center environment. Finally, the IP PBX functionality is increasingly becoming just one of several applications in a comprehensive unified communications solution/bundle.

•While all these technological advancements have certainly transformed the communications marketplace, from large, isolated, proprietary cabinets to easily distributable low-cost, space-efficient, rack-mountable chassis equipment (servers for call control and media gateways for port interfaces), this evolution should not be misconstrued as the death of enterprise premises-based telephony.

The study will be published within the next few weeks on Frost & Sullivan’s Enterprise Communications portal.

Microsoft & Skype – What's Behind the Obvious?

The acquisition of Skype could have enormous implications for Microsoft. If everything works out well, Microsoft gains access to about 600 million potential users globally. What it can do with those users is up to Microsoft, but the possibilities are almost infinite.

Even without any integration or service adjustments, Skype brings close to $860 million in revenues, even though they come at a loss. With the recent service enhancements (for instance, multi-party video, enterprise voice functionality) the existing (and rapidly growing) customer base can be further monetized for revenue growth and greater profitability.

But no one expects Microsoft to pay a premium (which the $8.5 billion appears to be) to just leverage the status quo. Microsoft is likely to seek to connect businesses using its own business software and services (from Office to Outlook, Lync, SharePoint, Office 365, etc.) to all the consumers and businesses using Skype’s VoIP and collaboration services. With Microsoft’s big push into enterprise communications and collaboration with the OCS and Lync platforms, Skype nicely complements its portfolio with cloud communications capabilities – including the app, the network, DIDs, mobility, and federation with other apps and networks. Potentially, this could help Microsoft customers enhance sales and marketing reach or create new options for economic and effective collaboration between office locations and teleworkers. 

Skype’s capabilities can help Microsoft re-enter the SMB voice space, which it pretty much deserted after it chose to discontinue Response Point. OCS and Lync are fairly expensive for this customer segment. Skype can also help add inexpensive VoIP alternatives for Microsoft’s cloud-based Office 365 packages.

Certainly, Microsoft can leverage this acquisition in the consumer space by linking the Skype customer base with its Windows Mobile and Xbox 360 and Kinect users or simply integrating Skype services into its gaming and mobile products. But the bigger opportunity is in bridging the consumer and business worlds. The lines between the two are blurring as the prosumer segment grows both in number of users and in terms of application and devices used for both personal and business purposes, leading to increasing consumerization of enterprise IT. Prosumers expect familiar, intuitive interfaces in their business environments and access to inexpensive communications and collaboration tools anywhere, anytime. Skype can help Microsoft deliver some of these capabilities to its business customers.

This is also a big defensive move for Microsoft – against Google as well as against the enterprise communications vendors. It is not clear how Skype’s partnerships with enterprise vendors will fare after the acquisition, but regardless of whether they survive or not, Microsoft will limit the options for others, while expanding its own.  If Microsoft pushes for greater federation, this will be beneficial to everyone, both on the supply and demand side. But it will mostly help Microsoft, the new kid on the block, make friends with the existing leaders, to be able to survive and thrive. It is a little hard to believe, but it is possible that Microsoft can use Skype as the common network for all its business customers (not just those using OCS or Lync for voice) to communicate and collaborate “on-net” among each other. Imagine free calls with your suppliers, partners and customers. Of course, businesses can use Skype to do that today, but having Skype integrated into Microsoft applications is going to make the value proposition a lot more compelling.  The ability to get its foot in the door with businesses using competitors’ communications systems with a service that provides clear benefits and does not require a significant capital outlay, can open tremendous opportunities for Microsoft. It will have the disruptive impact that other communications solutions and cloud-based communications services have not been able to accomplish yet.

One of the biggest questions is how Microsoft will deal with the various challenges that the merger presents. Certainly, the two cultures are very different. Also, as an Internet-based, primarily consumer service, Skype does not offer the type of SLAs businesses require.  The quality of Skype communications is only as good as the available bandwidth, the quality of the access network and the processing power of the devices it’s running on. If Microsoft plans to penetrate the enterprise space with Skype communications and collaboration capabilities, it will have to make sure it only promises what it can deliver or else customer disappointment will have an irreversible negative impact on future adoption. Also, Microsoft will need to learn about managing phone numbers and handling regulatory issues related to voice services in various countries. So the bottom-line question is – with all its ambitions to leverage the cloud and to grow its real-time communications business, is Microsoft prepared to be a voice services provider?

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

Siemens (Finally) Launches a Cloud UC Service

 Siemens Enterprise Communications has launched a new cloud communications solution. Leveraging SIP, open standards and its highly scalable softswitch-based OpenScape suite, it is looking to provide partners and customers with more flexible deployment options. The cloud solution includes virtualized, multi-tenant versions of Siemens’ OpenScape Voice, OpenScape UC and OpenScape Web Collaboration software, hosted in four geo-redundant data centers. The service features top-notch availability, survivability, governance and data privacy features, including:

  • Highest availability, TIA-942 class data center, voice redundancy, secure endpoints
  • Edge survivability option, local trunking, IPSec VPN, local firewalls, SBC and media server
  • Multi-tier role-based access management, automated management and provisioning, application-level data center protection
  • End-to-end encryption in the cloud, local country data storage, multitenant capability, data protection audits

Cloud-based voice and UC services will be available only through partners, who will handle customer needs assessment, CPE installation, billing, 1st and 2nd level tech support and ongoing equipment maintenance. The service will be first launched in the U.S., Germany and the Netherlands. Initial partners include Black Box in the U.S., mr.net and Telefonbau Schneider in Germany, and Televersal, ICT Trends Group and onecentral in the Netherlands.

The cloud solution is considered optimal for organizations with about 350 to 1,000 users, with a need for highly packaged, tightly integrated solutions. Users can choose from a variety of features and capabilities grouped in Base Packs and Booster Packs. The estimated end-user list pricing ranges between $5 and $30 per seat per month, based on required functionality.

What I like about this announcement:

Siemens has finally launched a cloud solution – something it started exploring about two years ago by demonstrating a proof of concept with Amazon’s EC infrastructure. With the incredible (I think, almost unreasonable) amount of hype surrounding cloud technologies and the cloud business model, it was about time for Siemens to finally bring this effort to fruition. I have to agree that there is a group of customers out there that would indeed appreciate the opportunity to outsource its communications infrastructure to avoid CAPEX, focus on core competencies or gain access to superior technologies and expertise. This customer segment would remain out of reach for Siemens, unless it finds an appropriate role for itself in the hosted/cloud-based communications marketplace.

It should be noted that Siemens has had a multi-tenant voice platform for years and some service providers such as Postrack and Engage have been using it to deliver services to end users just like others use BroadSoft’s or Metaswitch’s platforms. Other vendors such as Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco and Mitel have also deployed multi-tenant communication managers with service provider partners.

The new approach has significant advantages, however. It gives Siemens continued control over the platform and its capabilities. But more importantly, it empowers partners that cannot or do not wish to manage their own data centers to deliver services using Siemens’ feature-rich and highly scalable platform. Siemens allows partners to use its brand, co-market or white label their cloud services. This is an opportunity for them to gain differentiation as well as new recurring revenue streams. This model provides a fast and economical entry point for small MSPs and VARs to become hosted service providers. It is noteworthy that Siemens announces the new solution along with six partners already lined up.

Issues that Siemens will need to address:

Siemens is not alone in this market. Other telephony vendors are experimenting with new delivery models as well. For example, Mitel offers the Mitel Anywhere service, which it sells directly to business customers. Now it is exploring opportunities with data center providers such as Host.net and Hosting.com, which can host the platform on behalf of small MSPs and VARs. Siemens and other vendors will need to find ways to differentiate or be fast to market with the right partnerships while the market is still nascent and untapped.

 More importantly, this new delivery model is still unproven and it is not clear how all market participants in the value chain will reposition themselves for competition in the evolving marketplace. Will the MSPs and VARs be successful in penetrating the CPE customer base? Will the vendors be able to successfully manage their channels to ensure customer satisfaction and optimal benefits from the cloud services? How will carriers be involved to ensure proper bandwidth and QoS management – critical elements for real-time communications services delivered over the WAN? Who will manage the carrier relationship? How will the hosted IP PBX and UC solutions be aligned with SIP trunking and IP VPN services to provide superior benefits to multi-site organizations?

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