- 2013 UC announcements from service providers led with hosted PBX, UCaaS and mobility solutions.
- UC options for SMEs grew as carriers focused on adding BYOD and contact center features to solutions.
U.S. Tier 1 providers AT&T, Sprint and Verizon began launching their Cisco HCS and Microsoft Lync-based solutions for U.S.-based large enterprises and multinationals in 2011, and in 2012, we began to see UC options emerge for U.S. medium businesses and small enterprises (companies with 50-500 employees, defined as ‘mid-market’ for the remainder of this post). While there are many premises-based SIP trunking solutions in the market today, much of the activity in 2013 centered on expansion of hosted UC solutions and the addition of mobility and contact center capabilities.
Predictably, mobility took center stage in 2013. Employee demand to use mobile devices, preferably their own devices, for work-related tasks inspired carriers to add support for mobility to their UC solutions, typically via a downloadable app. 8×8, Broadview, Comcast and Cbeyond are a few of the providers that launched mobile applications in 2013 to support delivery of UCaaS features such as presence/IM, call routing, Outlook integration and extension dialing for employees using Apple and Android mobile devices. XO took things a step further, venturing into the realm of containerization – the segmentation of professional and personal communications on a mobile device – with the launch of XO WorkTime, enabling XO VoIP customers to switch between work and personal personas on their own device.
Cloud and hosted solutions gained attention at the mid-market level, based on the level of customer announcements from cable operators and service providers. This shift can be attributed, at least in part, to marketing and education from service providers and telecom experts: as companies learn about these services and gain an understanding of how the services operate, and the carrier can demonstrate strong service availability metrics, the move to a hosted solution may seem less of a risk and more of a sound business decision. In 2013, FairPoint and TelePacific joined the ranks of carriers offering hosted PBX solutions, while Windstream announced partnerships with Avaya and Mitel to offer UCaaS options to its customers. Contact center features, once limited to large enterprise users, are now being marketed to mid-market customers in a hosted model, alongside hosted PBX solutions. Carriers have partnered with hosted contact center providers such as inContact and LiveOps to create solutions that can be purchased by the seat and easily scaled to meet changing needs.
It’s not exactly going out on a limb to say that mobility and hosted solutions will play a leading role in UC service evolution in 2014. This is not to say that premises-based solutions are not in demand, but for mid-market companies looking for predictable costs along with service flexibility, hosted solutions will often fit the bill. As we move into 2014, mobility and BYOD will be key elements in the growth of UC solutions as carriers find ways to deliver services and features to the mobile workforce. Uptake of hosted contact centers will thrive as companies become more comfortable with a hosted model and find that these solutions may offer substantial benefits in terms of cost savings and flexibility for the small business and enterprise’s requirements. WebRTC is also on the horizon, further expanding communications options.