While building Xten (now Counterpath), I was exposed to many business plans and product strategies that were years in the making. Many of the carriers’ softphone plans were focused on the Enterprise. Near the end of my time there I saw a shift towards the SMB. Now some of the largest operators on the planet are integrating softphones, Outlook plug-ins, browser toolbars, and SDKs that enable rich IP Communications on SMB and Enterprise user’s desktops. We have come a long way since NetMeeting although it took a while before we actually saw the same features in SIP that H.323 applications could offer. If you think about it, NetMeeting was a pretty good app for its time, offering a fairly complete SDK and let’s not forget the “callto:” html tags which Skype, and others, have since used as their own.
SIP (define - news - alert) is now leading the way, and we are seeing a plethora of vendors who are enabling VoIP, Video, IM, and Presence (VVIP) at the desktop using open standards. For a long time I had to listen to naysayers bash the idea of using the PC as a phone but I think those days are all but gone. Now that SIP can deliver more of the rich enterprise features like Simultaneous Line Appearance we can move graciously between our PC desktop, mobile phone, and desk phone with great simplicity.
There are hundreds of millions of Outlook users out there and most of them are business users ranging from SOHO to large enterprise. Integrating reliable and quality VoIP into Outlook is a no-brainer. Most of the application feature server vendors are on board with this idea. Broadsoft is now offering their Broadworks Assistant in conjunction with their Web-based Comm Pilot and standalone Communicator softphone. Sylantro is big on Web 2.0 and is leveraging their close relationship with Microsoft to deliver integrated solutions for Hosted Exchange. I am happy to say that even Counterpath has jumped on board with their new Eyebeam Release 1.5 that has Outlook support out of the box.
I call this shift in technology for the Small and Medium Business… SMB 2.0. What is SMB 2.0? It is open standards-driven communications technology that is simple, reliable, powerful, and affordable. It is technology which drives services that the SMBs can easily understand and leverage to grow their businesses effectively. Hosted VoIP is not reliable you say? HA! Hosted SMB VoIP is reliable. I would urge those naysayers to take a closer look at WAN link multi-homing.
Our phone systems of today are old and antiquated — analog from front to back. Few PBXs today have any IP interconnect let alone CTI. This is SMB 1.0. You may remember this thing called e-mail… How about ATTmail, MCImail, CompuServe, X.400? Remember them? They failed. Something open won. It was SMTP. It became ubiquitous. SIP is to VoIP what SMTP is to e-mail. Then we have the Unified Messaging era, which boasted converged communications. It was far too expensive and IT departments were not all that interested in opening up their networks to integrate these solutions. Exit SMB 1.5.
Waking up to the dawn of a new era in communications are millions of users within Small and Medium Business, spanning the globe. With hosted SMB VoIP and SMB SIP trunking there is a huge opportunity to deliver every feature a PBX user is familiar with and so much more, at a reduced cost with nearly zero integration into the core of the existing network. Integrating Hosted SMB VoIP with Outlook or an Internet browser are great ways to leverage an interface users are familiar with to enable VoIP for the SMB. Click to call on Outlook contacts makes a lot of sense. Combine this functionality with feature-rich desktop and mobile IP handsets and we have the makings of a very formidable communications revolution aimed squarely at the small and medium businesses — that’s SMB 2.0!
Hosted SMB VoIP and business SIP trunking is already changing the way SMBs do business and the way they communicate. The question is now, “When will your business get on board?” It’s here today and it’s here to stay.
Erik Lagerway is Chief Technology Officer at Shift Networks. For more information, please visit http://www.shiftnetworks.com. (news - alert)