UC was certainly the telecom buzz word of 2008. Suddenly no self respecting VoIP company could be without some sort of a product offering that gave users access to a bunch of communications applications and modes in a single interface—or something along those lines.
But there has been nothing resembling general agreement on what the core components of useful unified communications ought to be. Moreover, as a phenomenon, UC tends to mean one thing in the large enterprise world, where the need to preserve enormous infrastructure investments promotes an integration approach, and another in smaller organizations, where a built-from-the-ground-up solution tends to make more sense.
In the coming year, Enterprise VoIPplanet would expect a consensus definition of UC to begin to gel—probably including most or all of the following: voice, voice messaging (in its various guises), multiple modes of text messaging (e-mail, SMS, instant messaging), presence/availability information, and conferencing/collaboration tools.
We will certainly see more clever, innovative approaches to delivering these services, as the overall technology matures and is tested by the rigors of the marketplace.
However, we do not see 2009 as the year of widespread UC adoption—for two reasons.
First, there’s still a healthy dose of skepticism in the IT management community about the need for this technology. Unified communications is getting a lot of press, but the RoI story is only beginning to be studied and discussed.
Second, given the likely state of the economy, enterprise budgets are not likely to have a lot of leeway for investing in ‘unproven’ technology. Skepticism will be reinforced by economic reality.
The VoIP market’s view of low hanging fruit has changed dramatically. In the early days, the environment in which VoIP took root was REALLY BIG ORGANIZATIONS that had the IT staff needed to run REALLY BIG SYSTEMS, and could reap BIG BENEFITS in cost savings.
If 2008 is anything to go by, software and infrastructure vendors now see the tens of millions of smaller businesses (estimated at some 25 million in the U.S. alone) as a vast market ripe for cultivation. And they’ve had to reinvent the technology and the business model to reach these customers.
The result will be the appearance of more and more on-premise VoIP and UC systems simple enough to be deployed and maintained by small companies that don’t have much if anything in the way of IT staff. In 2008, we saw Microsoft Response Point begin to get a foothold in the market, along with updated offerings from older players like Fonality, Switchvox, and 3CX, all pushing the envelope for self-configuring systems.
In other cases, vendors just concentrated on making the technology easier to buy—packaging components into standardized, one-stop-shopping bundles. Zultys did this last year with its ONE systems. Others are sure to follow.
Increased partnering between service providers and infrastructure providers is another trend that will surely grow in 2009. In the old VoIP business model, finding and choosing an equipment provider—and successfully deploying the network still left SMBs with the task of finding an ITSP and configuring their new equipment to work with that service.
In the year past, PBX system vendors began to certify VoIP service providers that worked with their equipment. Microsoft, for example, certified Junction Networks, Cbeyond, and New Global Telecom as plug-and-play providers for its Response Point PBXs. Hosted VoIP provider 8×8 also partnered with Microsoft, going beyond just being an ITSP, and contributing to the overall system functionality with NAT traversal and QoS monitoring.
The demand for IP telephone systems for SMBs will explode in 2009, and equipment vendors and service providers will increasingly use mass-market outlets to meet those needs.
ITSPs like Bandwidth.com have had reseller relationships with technology providers like CDW and CompUSA, but the trend is shifting to office supply and general merchandise outlets.
Today, you can walk in to Staples and buy hosted VoIP service from providers Toktumi, and 8×8, who feel they’ve made their products so foolproof that just about anyone can successfully set them up.
COSTCO members can also pick up their VoIP at the big box store. For aficionados of hosted service, AccessLine is offering two different versions of its AccessLine Digital Phone Service—a home office version with two lines, and a small office system, that will support up to 24 phone stations—available exclusively at COSTCO.
Those looking for an on-premise PBX can call on COSTCO as well. The wholesale outlet is offering Syspine’s Digital Operator System, a Microsoft Response Point solution.
We predict more VoIP vendors and more retail outlets will swell this tide.
It feels like it’s taken a long time already, but we see business communications finally loosing its moorings from the PC and desk phone, so to speak, and sailing into—well, wherever people need to be to do their work.
The first attempts to connect corporate IP networks to public cellular phone systems—what came to be known as fixed/mobile convergence (F/MC)—were engineered to be implemented in the service providers’ networks. This has not, to date, gotten off the ground, as cellular providers have apparently not seen the benefits to their bottom line.
In the past year, several viable enterprise-centric solutions have shed their training wheels and provided the ability to pipe a full complement of corporate unified communications services to mobile phones in the field.
DiVitas Networks and Agito Networks have won awards, and deployed systems. edgeBOX recently announced a rich suite of mobile services.
We know of one company that will soon be announcing mobility platforms for both models, service provider and enterprise.
While we don’t expect that mobility solutions will sell like hotcakes in 2009—due in part to the trying economic conditions we face—VoIPplanet predict that mobilized corporate communications will find customers and applications in significant numbers in the year to come.
Extending Telephony with IP
Finally, we’re looking forward to all the hitherto-unimagined ways that telephony and other communications modes will be stretched to fit tasks and circumstances where they’ve not been used before.
In 2008, we saw the birth of the “disposable” calling service with virtual phone numbers (http://www.voipplanet.com/solutions/article.php/3724756Vumber), one-to-many voice broadcasting services (Phonevite, Tatango), the widespread availability of affordable voice recording (Trisys, Telrex), the embedding of telephone widgets in social networks and other Web-based applications, and just last month, the official release of fonolo, an application that maps corporate IVR trees, letting member/callers navigate straight to the extension they need to reach without a lot of ‘press 1 for this’ ‘press 2 for that.’
This article was first published on VoIPPlanet.com.