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Friday, 16 November 2007

For once, an article that is 'right on the money'...

As a sometime journalist myself, I read a lot of articles on IP telephony and unified communications. Often they are less than informative, mainly because a lot of people just repeat what they have read in other articles. This isn't wrong as such, as not everyone reads all the online magazines and blogs, so there is a demand for 'multiple messaging media' - i.e. regurgitation.

But it makes a nice change to see a well written and truly informative article on one of my favourite subjects: IP telephony, hence my outrageous and blatant reproduction of this article which was just published on the IP Business site:


"Half of SMEs Want Managed IP Communications

A new survey of small and medium-sized business executives by The Yankee Group suggests there is increasing interest in managed IP telephony services.

Apparently buyers recognize that an IP phone system isn’t as easy to manage as a legacy phone system. About 47 percent of very small businesses, 53 percent of small businesses and 52 percent of medium businesses will outsource some or all of their IP telephony management, the survey suggests.

Also, 44 percent of very small businesses, 54 percent of small businesses and 56 percent of medium businesses are willing to consider a mix of on-premises and hosted solutions.

Fully 72 percent of very small businesses, 69 percent of small businesses, and 77 percent of medium businesses feel that they are only minimally or somewhat capable of supporting IP telephony within their organizations.

And though the survey confirms the continuing importance of price motivators for choosing hosted solutions over premises solutions, the survey also suggests that SMEs that outsource don’t do so for purely cost reasons.Lack of internal support staff and disaster recovery preparedness are issues that contribute meaningfully to the choice of a hosted solution.

In fact, the survey indicates that only 21 percent to 25 percent of SMEs feel fully capable of supporting IP telephony. As a result, most SMEs who buy IP phone systems appear open to management services, either fully or in part.

Security and end-user training appear high on the list of needs. About 42 percent of very small businesses, 43 percent of small businesses, and 41 percent of medium businesses responded that security skills were one of their most lacking skills in order to deploy IP telephony.

Significantly, telecommunications companies still are viewed as an important channel for IP telephony, particularly for very small businesses. About 64 percent of medium businesses and 58 percent of small businesses indicate that it is somewhat or very important to buy data and voice solutions from the same vendor.

That tends to explain why suppliers such as Cbeyond have had such success in the small business market, while providers such as M5 Networks have been getting traction in the medium business segment. More than half (51 percent) of very small businesses worked with or plan to work with their telecommunications provider for the deployment of their IP telephony systems, the survey shows.

The survey also suggests that voice-over-broadband applications and services such as Skype are getting traction as well. Web and audio conferencing are seen as highly valuable applications, followed by unified messaging and soft phones for very small businesses.

At least so far, advanced applications still have limited rollouts and are not available to the majority of users, says Gary Chen, Yankee Group senior analyst. Somewhat oddly, very small and small business users actually have better access than medium business users to IP telephony applications, the study suggests.

The survey also suggests buyers have bought the productivity message promised by unified messaging. Fully 70 percent of very small businesses, 80 percent of small businesses and 86 percent of medium businesses think that IP telephony will make it easier to deliver services to telecommuters and road warriors.

And 40 percent of very small businesses, 38 percent of small businesses and 35 percent of medium businesses believe that unified messaging will provide the biggest productivity improvement.

One aspect of user behavior seems not to have changed, though. Most end users are not taking advantage of all the features of their IP telephony system, as SME respondents say end-user training still hasn’t motivated people to exploit all the new features. About five percent of very small businesses, 46 percent of small businesses and 46 percent of medium businesses say end-user training issues are the biggest barrier to benefiting from IP telephony and unified communications.

The survey suggests that SMEs still are primarily driven to adopt IP telephony for cost savings. But the respondents also overwhelmingly view IP communications as a strategic move. Some 66 percent of very small businesses, 72 percent of small businesses and 76 percent of medium businesses say that IP telephony is or will be strategic to their business.

Nor have voice quality concerns lessened completely. About 49 percent of very small businesses, 48 percent of small businesses and 47 percent of medium businesses say voice quality is their top technical concern.

So far, it appears that hosted IP telephony providers have been unable to raise penetration levels beyond what Centrex had achieved in the market. Less than 10 percent of surveyed SMEs say they have definite plans to adopt IP Centrex at this time.

The survey also suggests potential SME buyers are not convinced hosted providers can provide better or cheaper service than would be possible using an IP phone system. About 39 percent of very small businesses, 44 percent of small businesses and 51 percent of medium businesses believe they can do a better job of managing IP telephony than a hosted provider.

Part of the reason may simply be that providers of hosted services are confusing the market with too many different messages.

Some 44 percent of very small businesses and 48 percent of small and medium businesses will only consider IP Centrex if it is cheaper than on-premises solutions. On the other hand, 34 percent of very small businesses and 48 percent of small and medium businesses believe that hosted IP communications services can offer better uptime and disaster recovery than an on-premises phone system."

The only changes I would have made, had I written the article, is to not use the phrase "the survey also suggests" quite so often... but maybe I am just being picky!.

Best regards,


Monday, 5 November 2007

Prescient, or what…?

There I was, analysing this and analysing that for a news article which appeared on the Comms Business web site last week and is reproduced in my previous blog (see below) when blow me down but my old employers make my words about vendors moving into managed services come true sooner rather than later!

I take my hat off to Cisco… they don’t half move fast when I suggest a course of action for them..8-)

For more information on what the San Jose networking company is up to, check out their blog on managed services: http://blogs.cisco.com/news/2007/10/ciscos_new_managed_services_ch.html

This blog has links to the relevant Cisco Online pages, but you need to be about to make a significant sum of money from MSP to give you the will to read all the blurb on these pages. And a degree in Cisco Speak to make sense of it. So I take my hat of to fellow blogger Brad Reese, who has encapsulated Cisco’s MSP play in a concise, easy to read article. Take a look at http://www.networkworld.com/community/node/21464 to see what I mean.

Cisco haven’t yet gone the whole hog and started their own managed services offering across the board (though of course they continue to offer the Webex managed service, ‘just to keep Webex’s old customers happy’) but in this MSP play they are supporting, with targeted partner marketing and discounted equipment pricing - though probably not in Brazil, just at this moment in time… a range of managed service offerings from service providers and channel partners.

Call me an old cynic if you will, but I would venture the following supposition: that Cisco will support others in testing the market for a variety of MS’s and then, when it becomes clear which particular MS packages the customers are going for in droves, will then pile in with their own home-grown offering. This will of course be sold via their large channel base, but the bulk of the profit will be made, as always, by Cisco. And why not!

Disclosure: I hold stock in Cisco. Unfortunately most of it was bought at a higher price than it has been for some while...8-(

Monday, 29 October 2007

It's been a busy month...

October was a busy month for the IP telephony and UC community. It has been for me too, hence the lack of a blog since the beginning of the month. The key happenings were two trade shows - Convergence Summit South at Sandown, organised by my friends at Comms Business, and IP 07 at Earls Court, put on by the good folks at Imago. There were two other trade events organised by CRN and Comms Dealer but as I didn't attend either of those I can't comment on them.

The Convergence Summit South is a channel-focussed event held this year on October 9th and 10th. As well as an exhibition featuring equipment vendors and service providers looking for channel partners, there was also an educational seminar series. I was honoured to be asked to host two of the panel debates on Next Generation Networking and Unified Communications. The whole event, together with the gala dinner held on the Tuesday evening, was very well attended. This has, over the 6 or so years it has been run, become a 'must attend' channel event in the calendar. So much so that this year, for the first time, Comms Business ran a Northern event in Manchester's Deans Gate Hilton Hotel in early May. Another one is scheduled for May 2008, in the same place.

The week after the Summit, the end-users got a chance to catch up on what is happening in the IP world at IP 07 at Earls Court. Run by the same people who put on the VoIP for Business show in the spring, this event has the usual collection of manufacturers and service providers touting for business, but it has a more extensive seminar series than the summit, with 4 seminar theatres versus the two at Sandown. I wasn't speaking at any of the seminars this year, as I had a lot of meetings to attend with clients and other people.

Whilst at Earls Court I attended the official Microsoft UK launch of Office Communications Server 2007, their Office Roundtable video conferencing system (a cool bit of kit described in more detail in my August blog: see archives) and associated software. I have to say it was a bit of an anti-climax for me, but that is because Mark Deakin, Microsoft's UK product manager for their UC products, has very kindly acceded to my every demand for information on and demonstrations of his wares over the last few months, so I was somewhat ahead of the game.

Having said that, no one should underestimate the importance of the Microsoft launch. As can be seen in the reams of press and analyst articles, not to mention the countless blogs on the subject, the IPT and UC game has changed - and it will continue to change as Microsoft and other software vendors such as IBM and Oracle move into a market place traditionally dominated by the PABX companies and latterly disrupted by Cisco and other networking vendors moving into their space.

I have written an article for Comms Business on the coming battle for the IPT and UC markets which appeared in the on-line edition of Comms Business today. You can read it below. As it happens, I also spotted another article written by Lee Pinder of the Redmond Channel Partner Online which contains similar opinions to mine. Lee has the luxury of a 3000 word count for his article, though. My one, written and submitted before I saw his, is constrained by an 800 word limit! Oh well. You can see Lee's article here:


Here's the article I refer to above:

"Analysis: Convergence 3.0. The True ICT Age is Upon Us at Last

Maren Bennette of CQC Consulting says, if it weren’t the registered name of an obscure software package I‘m sure the vendors would have grabbed the term Convergence 3.0 for their marketing campaigns by now.

'I am getting tired of the expression Web 3.0 and its like, not least because it’s misleading: we’re on Web 7.0 by my count! But Convergence 3.0 would at least be a more accurate definition of where we are when it comes to bring computing and communications together. '

First the two ‘converged’ on digital electronics hardware, though of course they were separated by the user department responsible for the equipment and even by legislation: there were never any regulations about who could install a computer, unlike telecommunications devices.

A long while later voice, data and video network traffic converged. LAN switches, routers and gateways now all use IP to transport packets regardless of what those packets are filled with. A certain networking company called Cisco can claim the lion’s share of the kudos for this, though they were by no means the first to market with their products.

And now we are at the start of the third phase of convergence: when business and consumer applications such as word processing, spreadsheets, e-mail, v-mail, IM, web collaboration and web pages will all have standards-based multi-modal text, voice and video communications capabilities embedded within them. All this ICT power will be available to the user on just one device if he or she so wishes. That’s what I mean by Convergence 3.0. And UC? Well, that’s the name the industry is giving it.

The Clash of the Titans: let battle commence.

This new age of information and communications technology is going to be a golden one, at least for some. Indeed it so rich in opportunity two companies have tried to monopolise the term ‘Unified Communications’: the aforementioned Cisco and software giant Microsoft. Both are after their ‘fair share’ of a market variously estimated between £17.5 and £23.5 billion, by 2010.

But there are rough times ahead for some vendors and by extension, their channel partners. Because of its complexity, because of the strategic importance of UC to the customer - if a unified communications system goes down, so does the company using it - and because of the sheer magnitude of the task of implementing it, UC will sort the wheat from the chaff like no other communications technology has done before. In three years time the ICT landscape will have changed dramatically with some major vendors and partners disappearing altogether and many others forced to change their business models almost beyond recognition.

Out of this maelstrom, it’s my opinion that Microsoft is best placed to become the leading UC vendor, with Cisco and others such as Avaya and Mitel playing a supporting role. On the channel side, I believe that the traditional resellers selling hardware, software and services will be marginalised. We are finally seeing the dawning of the age of the application service provider; be they traditional carriers, companies offering hosted IPT and UC, or maybe even vendors moving into the ‘communications software as a service’ space, such Cisco is doing with its Webex acquisition. This move to applications plays right to Microsoft’ strengths.

Am I biased?

You may be forming the opinion I am somewhat biased in favour of Microsoft here. Not so. I have never worked for them in any capacity and don’t hold any MSFT shares. The same can’t be said of Cisco, for which I worked for 10 years and whose stock I still own. So why is it that I think the Washington software company will ultimately win the unified communications war with the Californian networking giant and the other major communications vendors?

Well, it is simple. Whilst Cisco ‘owns’ the network and has a significant (but not overwhelming) share of the IP telephony market, it doesn’t ‘own’ the data centre or the desktop, as Microsoft does. Also, though Cisco has a very impressive quantity of partners in both its channel and ecosystem, Microsoft’s reseller and ISV base is almost ten times as large - which means a massive footprint of financially motivated companies pitching the Microsoft line.

Last but not least, Microsoft has managed to make most of its enemies into allies, albeit uneasy ones: every single major vendor of UC and IP telephony products including Alcatel-Lucent; Avaya; Cisco themselves; Ericsson; Mitel; NEC Phillips, Nortel (more than any other) and Siemens either has or is actively developing products that work with Microsoft UC products.

And by the way, those other companies all see Cisco as their major competitor and would happily help to pull them down. It’s hard to lose a war when even your competitors are actively supporting you against your main enemy. "

As always, your opinions and comments would be appreciated... even if you disagree with me.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Musings on UC

This is an article I wrote for the CMA's e-newsletter in mid September, published this week. I have made a few minor changes to make it suitable for this blog. Enjoy!

August is normally a somewhat languorous month in the calendar for most hi-tech markets: the users, channel partners, service providers and manufacturers are all away on holiday, so not much happens. But not this August, at least not in unified communications…

Here's what has been happening…

Mitel’s acquisition of Inter-tel.

There was a real edge-of-the-seat feel to the successful acquisition of Inter-tel by Mitel in mid August. After an attempt by Steve Mihaylo, founder and former CEO of Inter-tel, to counter bid for his old company came to naught, another share holder lawsuit to prevent the acquisition was denied and the deal went ahead. The significance for the UK telecommunications market is this: Mitel held a significant share of the IP telephony market in its own right, second only to Cisco in system shipments according to MZA. Inter-tel, whilst a relatively small player in its own name, also owned Lake, the Irish-based company that supplies BT with its Versatility ISDN phone system. When all the system shipments are added together, the newly enlarged Mitel is now the number 1 communications vendor in the country. That has to be good news for Sir Terry Matthews, Mitel’s founder and majority shareholder. And worrying news for the other vendors.

Gartner’s Magic Quadrant Report on Unified Communications.

There were ructions in the UC vendor community when Gartner, the respected information technology research and advisory company, issued its latest Magic Quadrant report on Unified Communications on August 20th. Some of the vendors, whose position in the quadrant had moved since the last report was issued a year before, felt that their capabilities were not fairly represented. Others thought that Microsoft’s position (up and to the right) was not warranted because the Redmond software giant’s UC offerings are new, and thus untried. All the manufacturers I have spoken to thought that Gartner was overly pessimistic in its market overview - but they would, wouldn’t they. Here is what Gartner wrote:

“Market Overview

The UC market and its technologies are maturing, but, overall, the market remains at an early stage of maturity, and the adoption of converged solutions remains slow. The slow adoption is the result of multiple technical and organisational issues, including:

· Some new technologies, such as presence, are not fully understood.

· Best practices around the use of UC are not well-defined or -developed.

· Many products are still at an early stage and lack functionality.

· Enterprises have large investments in existing communication infrastructures that must
be preserved; this lead to a slower evolutionary approach, rather than to the faster,
revolutionary "rip and replace" approach.

· Some applications and products can be complex to deploy.

· The business case frequently is based on a soft return on investment (ROI), such as
productivity improvements, rather than on hard ROIs, such as cost savings.

Gartner expects many barriers to slowly be resolved and that, in 2008, UC will enter an early mainstream adoption phase globally. UC offers multiple capabilities and is useful in different ways, depending on the function and users supported. Gartner research (see "Discovering the Value of Unified Communications") suggests that enterprises define their business cases depending on the problems and audiences addressed. Some UC investments are justified in personal-productivity improvements; other investments are geared toward workgroup improvements and should be justified at that level. Still other functions are geared toward broad enterprise workflow improvements and are justified at an enterprise-wide productivity level.

According to Gartner, UC solutions often appear to take one of three general approaches:

· One is to bundle most functionality tightly in a single solution; examples of this include
Nortel's Multimedia Communication Server (MCS) 5100, Siemens' OpenScape, and
Interactive Intelligence's Customer Interaction Center (CIC) products.

· A second approach is to take a broad portfolio of separate communication functions and
tie them together through shared services, such as presence, administration and
directories. Examples of this include Cisco and Microsoft solutions.

· A third approach is to offer a common communication framework, or middleware, that
can be used by unrelated communication applications. IBM and Oracle are taking this

Each approach has its strengths and weaknesses. The bundled approach makes it easier to offer a solution at a departmental or workgroup level, and is useful for pilots and trials, because the overall expense and commitment is low. The broad, established-portfolio approach is useful to companies that already have a strong commitment to a vendor, because this approach enables infrastructure investments to be leveraged. Finally, the framework approach is particularly effective when building a communication solution that fits into a broader Web-services or business-application environment.

Another important distinction among vendor solutions is the extent to which they are open to standards and to integration with third-party communication products. Some solutions are intended primarily to enhance and operate on their own IP-PBX or presence environments. Others clearly are intended to interoperate in multiple environments. Some solutions, such as those from AVST, are designed specifically as part of a broader portfolio.

'There is no single-best approach, and no one vendor offers everything an enterprise needs for communications. Companies must make decisions by evaluating the emerging options based on current needs and how these options fit with the business' longer-term strategies. Because most enterprises will end up with communication solutions from multiple vendors, enterprises should ensure that the different products can interoperate,” said Steve Blood, research vice-president at Gartner.'"

My opinion is that ICT managers that can perceive a possible benefit to their users should deploy one or two pilot UC systems, perhaps from their computer and telecoms vendor, and see for themselves if the cost and complexity of a full roll-out will be justified by the improvement in productivity mooted as the primary reason for adoption of unified communications. That way the customer can judge for themselves the product and professional service capabilities of the potential vendor and their channel partners before committing themselves.

IBM sets out its stall in the unified communications market place.

Three days after Gartner issued its UC report, the VoiceCon show in San Francisco was the setting for IBM’s launch of its unified communications offerings. To be fair, the IT company has had a UC offering for some time, as CMA members who attended the UC Forum day last December and the Focus day in April will know: Stewart Wilkinson, IBM’s UC man in the UK presented their vision at both events, and made it clear that this is a strategic market sector for the company.

It was the purchase of Lotus in 1995 which has led to IBM making a foray into the burgeoning unified communications market with its flagship product, Lotus Sametime, launched in the late 90’s. This product was one of the very first UC applications designed for enterprise deployments, though it wasn’t marketed as such at the time. There are now approximately 17 million users world-wide, according to IBM.

To take advantage of the tsunami of UC marketing IBM has come up with the trademarked term ‘UC²’ which stands for Unified Communications and Collaboration. Lotus Sametime is at the heart of this UC strategy.

Sametime is an enterprise instant messaging and web conferencing application. It provides enterprise instant messaging functionality, presence information, and web conferencing. It offers strong support for communications standards and standard protocols, including Session Initiation Protocol, SIMPLE, T.120 and H.323. Lotus Sametime also integrates with Lotus Notes, IBM’s Outlook competitor.

IBM has also been busy building an ecosystem for its unified communications offering. Like Microsoft, Big Blue has entered into strategic alliances with most of the traditional and newer PABX vendors, including 3Com, Alcatel Lucent, Avaya, Cisco, Nortel and Siemens. These companies offer the call control and handsets needed to round out the offering.

Most recently, at the VoiceCon show in San Francisco in August, IBM announced Sametime Unified Telephony and an even closer relationship with Siemens in which the German vendor’s OpenScape UC interoperability with other PABXs will be bundled into Lotus Sametime. Whilst not as far reaching as Microsoft’s relationship with Nortel in the Innovative Communications Alliance, the strategic relationship with Siemens is indicative of the way the ICT companies are going to come together to offer full UC capabilities.

IBM also has been busy in the acquisition business, most recently acquiring WebDialogs, giving IBM an important entrĂ©e into the services side of web conferencing, which puts them head-to-head with Cisco’s WebEx acquisition earlier this year, and of course, Microsoft’s LiveMeeting.

Note: I have written a feature article for Comms Business on IBM and Oracle. It should appear in the November edition.

And here’s what’s going to happen soon…

The big upcoming event is the long awaited launch of Microsoft’s Office Communications Server 2007 and related products. The UK launch is expected to take place on October 16th at the IP 07 show at Earl’s Court. Bill Gates will make a virtual appearance courtesy of the wonders of video conferencing and local experts will be on hand to demonstrate the product and answer questions.

I also expect that the other vendors won’t hold their peace whilst Microsoft steals the show. Look for UC announcements from most of the major vendors around about the same time.

Best regards,


Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Telephony is disrupted because voice no longer matters... (as much)

I continue on in my quest to seek out well written blogs on Unified Communications by industry experts, vendors and their staff. Now I have found one by Dan York, until recently a senior manager in Mitel's Office of the CTO and a member of VOIPSA, the VoIP security association.

Disclosure: I have a contract with Mitel, under which I advise the UK operation on its Consultant Liaison Programme. I have worked with Dan in the past.

This is Dan York's latest blog, which can be viewed at:


Telephony is disrupted because voice no longer matters... (as much)

Does "voice" communication really matter as much today in business communications?
Think about it. When you need to reach someone today, what do you do? Do you call them on the phone? Or do you send them email? Or a text message? or IM?

I know personally that my normal communication flow usually goes something like this:

Instant Messaging - I check first to see if I can reach the person on some form of IM. For me, I usually use Skype, GoogleTalk or WLM/MSN, although I do have accounts on other services as well. I use IM because I can see the presence of the other person. If they are online and available, I'll shoot them a message. Sometimes the question may be dealt with entirely within an IM exchange. Other times I use the IM chat as the precursor to initiating a voice call, i.e. "Ping... do you have time for a call?"

SMS - If the matter is relatively important and I want to talk to someone, I might send an SMS next to their cell phone, again often to see if they are available or not.

E-mail/Facebook/Twitter/other - Unless the matter is really urgent, the next mode I'll use is some form of "asynchronous" communication. Previously that would have just been email, but these days I find myself very often sending messages via Facebook or Twitter.

Phone Call - If I can't reach someone any other way I'll pick up the phone and call someone... and typically wind up leaving a voicemail message.

Now, this flow changes if something is urgent. I believe voice is still critical when you have something to convey that might have emotional undertones (ex. negative feedback on a project that might be misconstrued in email) or when you really need answers right now on some matter. If I have to urgently get in touch with someone, the flow is usually more like:

IM - Check the person's presence and try to get in touch with them.
Phone call - Call the person via cell phone or a service like Skype.

SMS - If, as usual, I had to leave a message, I may send an SMS to the person's cell phone.
E-mail/Facebook/Twitter/other - I may followup with an email asking the person to call me.
Why don't I just start out using the phone? Really for the reason I mentioned above:
whenever I call someone I almost inevitably wind up leaving a voicemail message.
I don't remember the statistic from the messaging presentations I attended, but I seem to recall the stat being that something like 80% of phone calls wind up going to voicemail. The reality is that most of us aren't usually available to take phone calls.

Presence can help us with this. Many of the "unified communications" solutions out there have the ability to give you "telephony presence" information, i.e. is the person on the phone or not. This can help avoid the case of your phone call going to voicemail because the person is busy on the phone. (It does not help with case of the person sitting there at his/her desk not on the phone but not wanting to take the phone call.) So we can know not to initiate the call and to use some other mechanism. (such as IM'ing them "can you call me when you are done?")

Now I recognize that I'm often in the early-adopter/bright-shiny-object-chaser category, but in watching colleagues at work and how they communicated, I saw the same pattern play out. IM or Email ruled for most all communication, with IM taking an increasingly larger role. Voice was somewhere farther down in the list of communication modes.

So what does that mean for those of us in the world of telephony? I'll suggest the following:
Presence is critical. We want to know if we can reach someone and how: IM? voice? mobile/cell? video? Communication systems must have presence capability.

Multi-modal communication is key. Communication systems should let us seamlessly flow between modes of communication. I should be able to start off in IM, move to a voice call, continuing using IM to pass along URLs, files, etc., potentially add video or web/data collaboration, and then when the voice/video/datasharing call is over, the IM channel still lives on as a way to send any follow-ups. Naturally, we need to have presence information over all those modes.

Context is important. If I am in a meeting, I may only want to be reached via IM. Or may only want to be reached by certain people. I want to be able to specify who can reach me when and by which mode of communication. There are a whole number of companies playing in this space right now, trying to solve this particular beast.

The bar has been lowered for new entrants. If voice is now just one of many modes of communication, and an often lower-priority one at that, it follows that newer entrants into the communication space don't need to care as much about voice. They don't need the x-hundred features of traditional telephony solutions. Due to the degree to which mobile phones have lowered our expectations around audio quality, they don't even have to be as worried about that traditional concern. (Nor even reliability - look how quickly Skype recovered after their two-day outage!)

This last point is to me why I think we are seeing so much disruption happening within the world of telephony. The fact that voice is no longer quite as critical gives us the freedom to explore how it can be used in different ways. Plus, we need to answer the question - if voice isn't the most critical way to communicate, what is? How do we integrate it all together?

What do you think? What is your communication flow? What do you use as the first way to reach someone? Do you pick up the phone? Or do you IM? or email? Do you agree that voice is less important than it once was for regular communication? What lessons do you think we need to draw from that?

Dan York.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Yes, Virginia, there is a Cisco and Avaya blog.

In my last post I introduced Mark Deakin of Microsoft, but I also wrote that I would be even-handed and provide links to other UC vendor blogs. It took a while to find some, but here are the official Avaya http://www.avayablog.com/ and Cisco blog sites http://blogs.cisco.com/news/ which I have added to my links (left).

The blog up on the Cisco site on September 11th, when I wrote this, is an interesting one from Joe Burton, Cisco's CTO. It caught my eye for two reasons: the obvious one is that it provides Cisco's view of the UC market (as you would expect) but perhaps less obviously, because Mr. Burton seems to be taking a pot shot at "PC experts". I shall leave you to read the full text on Cisco's site, but I have cut and pasted (with my italics) the juicy bits below.

Why are these comments so interesting? Well, at the end of August John Chambers of Cisco and Steve Ballmer of Microsoft were declaring that peace had broken out between the two companies in the interests on their customers. Read on and work out for yourself just which 'PC expert' Joe is taking a pot shot at...

"In this ever-changing global economy, can any business wait around to get outpaced by competitors while they experiment with PC or email-client-based-architecture for unified communications? Can they afford to exclude future prospective customers, employees, or partners who do not use email as their preferred communications medium? Can they afford the 18-24 month wait for a software-client-based call control architecture that will be marginally mature and deployable? Can they really depend on PC “experts”, who are learning on-the-job to implement a business class unified communications solution that meets their communication requirements?"

"They are looking in different parts of the world where the PC or email has never been, nor will ever be an important part the communications toolbox."

"Can a business trying to win global customers or attract future employees afford to wait and build a PC (and email) centric unified communications strategy?"

"Only a network based unified communications architecture can bring services, applications, provisioning, management, and useabilty together."

"For businesses waiting to evaluate PC (or email) client-based-software architecture for unified communications, the opportunity cost associated with this inertia is difficult to justify."

Now who could he be talking about? Answers on a post card, please.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Introducing Mark Deakin

This is not a product push... trust me, I am a consultant!

I have put a link to Mark Deakin's blog on my page (see left). Mark is Microsoft's UK product manager for the Unified Communications Group. As such, he is the man steering MS into the UC ocean. He has a big task on his hands and I wish him luck.

He has put a link to my blog on his blog, so I am returning the favour.



PS When I find a decent IP telephony and/or UC blog for any vendor or channel partner, I shall add it to my blog. The more people out there talking (sensibly) about our subject matter, the better. for all of us. It can only help the users, the channel and the other interested parties understand UC better.

Friday, 17 August 2007

What a difference a day makes...

Having posted my blog on the viability of Skype as a business-class communications service on Wednesday, here we have a story from Telecom Web, datelined Thursday...


Skype has a global 'heart attack'.

"An unknown number of millions of e-Bay VoIP subsidiary Skype users around the world today found themselves without service, due to an admitted software glitch that could take a day or more to fix.

Skype's in-and-out VoIP connections to standard dial-up phones allegedly still had a heartbeat, according to hearbeat.skype.com, the company's online network-status-reporting site.

In a brief posting on the "heartbeat" site, the company said simply: "Some of you may be having problems logging into Skype. Our engineering team has determined that it's a software issue. We expect this to be resolved within 12 to 24 hours." Skype also cited what it called "peer-to-peer network issues" in an earlier statement. At the time that was posted, it appears Skype's problems had started at least 14 hours earlier.

In addition to the inability of Skype users to log on and to make calls to other Skype users, there also were scattered reports that Skype's short message service (SMS) was taking anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes to deliver text messages to cellphones.

Just what the software problem is was not disclosed, but suspicions were it might be linked to some "routine maintenance" that had been scheduled to take place yesterday. That was only supposed to affect entry to some Web-based paid services, and not the free Skype-to-Skype calls. The issue apparently does not involve Skype's client software, installed on end-user PCs, although Skype did release a new version of that software not long ago. The company advised users to keep their client software running; in that way, they would be automatically logged in once the mysterious problem is fixed.

As the outage continued, upset Skype users from a long list of countries began posting to various blogs. The most rattled, to no surprise, were those who had eschewed their "plain old telephone service (POTS)" and gone whole-hog for Skype's VoIP service. Many of those log entries pined for the "five nines" reliability of POTS - a standard of service VoIP has yet to approach, although a little bit of quick math does reveal that, if Skype is out for just 24 to 48 hours, it would be able to claim "two nines" availability - i.e., 99 percent of the time it works. Just not today.

Just how many millions attempted to log on and failed will, of course, never be known. Typically Skype, which claims a phenomenal 220 million accounts, is said to have between 5 million and 6 million users online at any given time, and it reported a high of 9 million in January."

The words 'eat', 'my' and 'hat' come to mind.

That's the comms business for you. Interesting.



Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Skype: Can it ever be ‘business-class’?

Most comms business people have heard about Skype’s ‘free’ Internet phone service; many have used it. Ask them if it is ‘business-class’ and most will say no, citing the poor voice quality and security concerns. Until recently, I thought the same. Now I am not so sure…

I use Skype to communicate with business partners in this country, Europe and the United States a couple of times a week. I do so because I should use the technology I write and speak about for a living, and because it is cheap: Skype to Skype calls cost nothing (as I pay for my broadband link anyway) and the SkypeOut service costs very little - a one hour call to a US landline costs just £1.00 at peak time.

I like Skype’s simplicity. I like the choice of media: chat, voice and video. I like the multi-party audio conferencing capability. And even with four people on the call the voice quality is quite acceptable provided all participants are using one of the many Skype-compatible headsets or phones available: I use a Polycom Communicator, which is so good I voted it one of my products of the year last December.

But until a short while ago I couldn’t imagine how Skype would fit into the average small to medium business, or a larger enterprise organisation, both of which use communications as a means to an end, rather than the end in its self. I felt it wasn’t suitable for such users because the voice quality can vary if the end-point equipment is not set up properly; there is no control over its usage and there are ongoing concerns about security. My intuition has been validated by recent research by Nemertes which suggest that 46% of the respondents to a poll of enterprise users have a policy to actively block Skype on their networks. And the French Department of Research has issued a recommendation to government departments to do the same. Just say ‘non’ to Skype!

In the face of such resistance why do I now think that Skype may well be able to upgrade itself to business class? Mainly because of the research I conducted for a client’s whitepaper on peer to peer (P2P) networking, which turned up a surprising amount of plaudits from Skype business users and suggested that there are a growing number of ecosystem partners developing software and products targeted at business customers. I would be the first to admit that this is not exactly scientific proof that Skype will become a valuable business tool, but read on and see if you agree with my assessment.

The first thing I did, as always when I start a research project, was to Google Skype - two business names so successful they have been become nouns: I often say “can I Skype you at 3.00 pm” - and got an astonishing number of returns: 213,000,000 in all languages which is a big number for a company that has only been around for 5 years. Microsoft throws up 564 million returns but is over 30 years old now, and in its last fiscal year had revenues of over $50 billion, compared to Skype’s estimated $285 million in the last reported four quarters.

The vast majority (some 90%, according to the company) of its revenues are from SkypeOut, with the remainder from SkypeIn, Voice Mail and Pay per Lead services. Most of this money comes from consumers though the company’s own research suggests that some 30% of the installed base are business users, though it is suggested by some industry pundits that most of these are individuals who have installed the software on business computers without their IT department approval. And up until now most Skype ecosystem vendors have made their money by selling headsets and phones to consumers - including the bizarre Spyke the Skype robot phone.

But now there is a growing constellation of Business to Business (B2B) ISV’s and hardware companies such as VoSky (which makes a PABX to Skype gateway) and StoneVoice, with their SkyStone Cisco CallManager to Skype software, looming over the horizon. From here on in it seems there will be money to be made selling Skype equipment to businesses. The more B2B companies with an economic interest in Skype’s penetration of the business market, the more likely it is to happen.

Leaving the wishful thinking of comms business marketing managers to one side though, it is the sheer numbers of users that leads me to believe that Skype will succeed as a business tool. It has been downloaded over 220 million times. There are some 9.2 million users online at any one time. But it is mainly because its IM/chat, audio conferencing and video telephony features make unified communications a need-to-have rather than nice-to-have capability. And we all know that UC is the next great business comms revolution, which the giants of the industry will ensure succeeds - it is in everyone’s interest that Skype becomes business class, and I think that it will.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

UC still has a long way to go, methinks!

Though I have no doubt whatsoever that the unification of communications will occur, and that it is the underlying technology required for the next great revolution in human communications (the others being the invention of writing, the printing press, the electric telegraph, the telephone, television, computing, the Internet and mobile telephony - which are all brought together by UC) I still think we have a long way to go!

What has caused this 'Thomas the Disbeliever' thought to enter my head and thence to this blog? A common or garden audio conference call between 5 people in 4 locations on either side of the Atlantic. First there was the confusion about which conference bridge should be used. Then there was an issue with one of the participants using a mobile phone. I must admit I added to the problem by using Skype to save me the cost of a 45 minute international call (it only cost £1.00... 8-). Suffice to say it took 15 minutes to get all the participants on-line and the call quality wasn't great. Latency was the main issue, together with some tonal harshness. But we persevered and the job in hand got done.

I dream of a time, in the not too distant future, when setting up a conference call, be it audio or video, between disparate end-points no matter which vendor nor which carrier technology: PSTN, VoIP or cellular, is as easy as setting up a blog spot was. Of course, there was only one person, his PC, a carrier and an application service provider (a.k.a. Google) involved in that... and voice quality wasn't a factor. The UC vendors are all proclaiming their solutions will deliver what I want, but in reality that will only work when everyone has the same systems and end-points from the same vendor; which will never happen.

Oh well, I can live in hope. And in the meantime I can watch with interest and, hopefully, keep the uni-comm community informed.



Friday, 3 August 2007

Microsoft's Office Roundtable video conference system - first thoughts.

Yesterday I had a demonstration of Microsoft's new Office Roundtable video conferencing system courtesy of Mark Deakin, the UK Product Manager for Unified Communications, at the company's Thames Valley Park headquarters. I shall be writing it up for the Audio and Video Conferencing feature article in the September edition of Comms Business magazine http://www.cbmagazine.co.uk/ so I shan't go into detail here, but I did want to post my top-level thoughts on the product whilst they were fresh in my head.

Whilst I wasn't totally blown away by the system, I was very impressed. Having spent part of my time at Cisco studying the video conferencing market, which meant seeing many different VC systems from Tandberg, Polycom, Sony and others, I think I have a reasonable feel for what will sell and (perhaps more importantly) what will be actually be used when installed: the bane of traditional VC systems being that, once bought, they would sit in meeting rooms gathering dust. Microsoft's Roundtable will sell and will be used, because it is priced right (at $3000.00 or so) and if you know how to use Outlook, you will know how to use Roundtable. No more having to call the VC guy to set the system up!

The only obvious downside to the system, to my mind, is the screen issue. Remote users will normally be expected to use their web-camera equipped PC to participate in the Roundtable conference, which is not a problem. But participants sat in the Roundtable system location (normally a meeting room) will have to turn their head between the camera/mike/speaker device (the Roundtable itself) and the display device or devices, which could be one or more lap-tops or a PC projector generated image on a screen or wall, or perhaps a monitor attached to one of the laptops. The significant loss of eye contact could be a distraction to the flow of the meeting. As we weren't actually participating in a meeting I can't be sure how much of a problem this will be.

Having said that, I expect that, some time soon, one of the many companies that produce complementary products for the vast Microsoft market will come up with a neat screen solution to this problem - perhaps a circle of LCD panels around a chassis, on top of which the Roundtable will sit.

If you want to know more about the system please go to http://www.microsoft.com/uc/products/roundtable.mspx
And of course, you can read my article in September!



Friday, 20 July 2007

My very first blog

This is the very first time I have set up a blog. I am trying out the technology to see if it is of use in my business as a telecommunications consultant. I run two companies: CQC Consult, which focuses on the supply side of the voice, video and data networking business; and Unified Communications Consultancy, which is a demand side consultancy, focussing particularly on freelance writing for magazine such as Comms Business www.cbmagazine.co.uk of which I am Associate Editor. More details can be found at www.unified-communications.co.uk

As well as the work I do for clients such as Avaya, Mitel and Siemens on the supply side, and the writing work I do for the magazine and others, I am also the Leader of the Communications Management Association www.thecma.com Unified Communications Forum. This is an unpaid role in which I provide a focal point for any questions that members of the CMA may have about LAN's, WAN's, IP telephony and, of course, Unified Communications.

If this blog is succesful, I shall keep it filled with information which I beleive will be of interest to voice, video and data networking professionals on both the demand and supply side of the industry. Please let me know if there is anything I can help you with.

Best regards,

Maren Bennette