As you might expect, in a world where the cloud is mentioned everywhere, even on mainstream TV, cloud communications would be a big part of this year’s winners. Companies embracing the cloud that won this year include Lifesize in video, Sonus Networks in security, Nextiva, Star2Star Communications LLC, Votacall, and VoxOx in general UC. What is truly remarkable is how each of the above differentiates itself.
In addition, we have a number of other important UC companies like Grandstream Networks (News - Alert) thanks to its Android support and Sennheiser thanks to great battery and wireless performance. Digium has a nice hybrid cloud solution as well. More winners are below.
Switchvox is the phone system brought to you by Digium, the company that brought the open source Asterisk communications solution to the market, giving customers the benefit of a phenomenal amount of user testing and global R&D, which helps improve this retail product aimed at SMBs. We’ve had positive experiences with Switchvox in the past and continue to be impressed by being able to easily migrate from a hosted Switchvox solution to an on-site Switchvox and back again through its built-in backup and restore mechanism.
In addition, a version of Switchvox SMB exists for service providers that wish to provide premium hosted IP PBX. It runs in a virtualized environment (Xen) with 20 instances of Switchvox SMB on a single 1U server – essentially providing 20 small businesses with all the features of Switchvox SMB without the need for them to deploy a Switchvox SMB server on site. All they need is IP phones.
Other things we like are Switchvox Mobile for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry which allows features like showing the work (not the personal number) in Caller ID; Switchvox Notifier for Microsoft Outlook, allowing click-to-dial from email or contact record, change of status as well as the viewing of voicemail and call logs. Moreover, there is screen-pop integration for incoming calls. We also like the dialer for Chrome and Firefox, as well as the Switchvox Extend API, allowing developers to use PERL and PHP to integrate the phone system with CRM and other business applications.
TMC Labs continues to be impressed with the web-based Switchboard in Switchvox. It enables user’s access to real-time presence, drag-and-drop transfer, mobile phone numbers, call queues, call recording, monitor, whisper, barge as well as the personalized phonebooks, the internal directory, and call parking. You can also easily create web mashups, such as CRM integration to pull information.
GXV3275 IP Video Phone for Android
Generally, there is a large chasm between desk phones and smartphones as the former don’t have the flexibility of the latter. However Grandstream aims to punch a hole in the dividing wall with the six-line GXV3275 IP Video Phone for Android, which delivers voice, video, presence, and advanced productivity UC features. Supporting Android 4.2, the phone connects with the major SIP IP PBX companies as well Microsoft Lync, Skype (News - Alert), Google Hangouts, etc.
The phone does actually look like a chunky 7-inch tablet and with touchscreen support and the ability to download apps from the Google Play store, the phone really becomes a powerful device able to run many hundreds of thousands of apps which have already been written. In addition, there is also Bluetooth support for syncing mobile devices, call transfer, and contact book syncing.
The phone further supports free multi-platform, multi-party HD videoconferencing, has HD wideband audio, six lines, six SIP accounts, dual-gigabit network ports with PoE, Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n), six-way audio conferencing, EHS with Plantronics headsets, and 11 native languages.
In addition, the device can act as a security appliance, a video display, and can be auto-triggered to play streaming video based on triggered alarms. The phone can be further extended with Android and Grandstream APIs. This is truly a powerful device. Grandstream was the first phone vendor to show us an Android phone many years back, and the company continues to impress us.
When we first encountered Lifesize some years back we were impressed with how it could deliver a high-quality telepresence solution that cost a lot less than competing systems and at the same time make its solutions very easy to use. As you might expect, the company has moved from in-room systems to a hosted model and LifeSize Cloud solution makes sense for 10 or more users looking for a great solution for smartphones, tablets, laptops, and especially conference rooms. The company touts itself as a provider of business-class video collaboration and thanks to its ease-of-use, it does this without seriously taxing IT resources. Some of the features which impress us most are unlimited guest support, a shared auto-populating directory, click-to-call by name, presence status indication, instant or scheduled calls, and presentation sharing.
In addition, companies can leverage 25-way calls in HD video or audio without having to deal with scarce bridging ports. Also, web logins make it easy to add new users.
Other items of note include a multi-ring feature which alerts multiple devices of incoming calls.
One final note: The number of incremental improvements the company makes is impressive – at least one per month in recent months. For example, in August it began allowing MSI files to be distributed by cloud managers; in September new local phone numbers were added in more than 40 countries; and in October, 1080p data sharing became available with Lifesize Icon systems.
In short, the company that was really one of the first to offer reasonably-priced quality telepresence solutions has taken its solutions quite successfully to the cloud.
There was a time when you purchased a phone system that you had to decide was the right sized solution to fit your needs. Small systems didn’t scale and large systems were very expensive. Using the cloud, however, you can scale from one to 1,000 lines without having to rip-and-replace a single thing. Boy have things progressed.
Nextiva Office’s full suite of features lets customers use advanced call management features and reporting to improve their company’s productivity and mobility with a flexible pricing model and no set-up fees. Prices range from $19.95 per month for Office Pro to $29.95 per month for Office Enterprise. The former gives you free number porting, local and toll-free numbers, unlimited virtual faxing, HD music on hold, and more. The latter gives you a conference bridge, a mobile app, team presence, call recording, silent call barging, and more.
Moreover, the company has designed a nationwide network architecture based on Oracle, Cisco (News - Alert), HP, IBM and others that, combined with peering arrangements with incumbent ISPs, provides an efficient service delivery method, eliminating public traversal of traffic without requiring any additional investment or configuration on the customers’ side.
In short, we think Nextiva is a great UC solution for the masses, and the flexibility and quality of this cloud-based solution make it a natural winner.
Plixer International Inc.
There seem to be high-profile security breaches each day. Home Depot and USPS are just a few of the latest we’ve heard about.
Plixer tools have been used to analyze and troubleshoot irregular traffic patterns by IT professionals with some of the largest networks in the world. These same troubleshooting tools are ideal for high-traffic networks carrying VoIP, telepresence, unified communications, and other time-sensitive applications as the solution combines flow-based threat detection and network traffic performance monitoring. Moreover, it can monitor both physical and virtual networks. Plixer explains, “Leveraging detailed traffic metadata, even sites with secured connections that use encrypted traffic can’t hide from the insight provided by NetFlow, sFlow, and IPFIX collection and reporting. Scrutinizer is designed to peer deep into network traffic, enabling the IT administrator to easily see who is consuming bandwidth, what they are using it for, and immediately restore precious resources for work-related needs.”
Scrutinizer allows administrators to search and filter for data based on any combination of specific details with include and exclude expressions. In addition, thresholds can be set on saved searches and scheduled to monitor for pattern matches. This feature is often used for early detection of network threats. Plixer also offers the optional Flow Analytics, which integrates into Scrutinizer and offers archiving beyond 24 hours, additional reporting, and behavior analysis of flow in search of odd traffic patterns. Flow Analytics is essentially a 24x7x365 audit trail of all network communications. When investigations need to take place, the flow solution can be used to verify what data may have been exposed, when, and by whom.
Moreover, Plixer’s Threat Index is a single-value weighted threat severity over time. The Threat Index rises for an individual host each time it participates in a behavior that is suspicious. Depending on the type of behavior (e.g. scanning the network) the event may increase the TI by a higher value than others (e.g. receiving an ICMP redirect). If the Threat Index of a host hits a threshold (e.g. 100), a notification can be triggered.
In a world full of security landmines, where new technologies often present big opportunities for bad actors and rogue nations to test the vulnerability of corporate systems such as UC, we believe Scrutinizer with its approach to keeping companies safe is a natural winner.
Sennheiser brings its 65 years of expertise developing world class recording, transmission, and headphones to the DECT-based SD Office headset which supports both a traditional desk phone and a computer-based softphone.
Some of the features include multiple wearing styles, high-end design and craftsmanship, a noise-cancelling microphone, and broad UC support.
In addition to all-day-plus battery life providing for 12 hours of talk time, the phone features something I wish my smartphone had, rapid recharge where the headset can receive enough juice for six hours of talk time or a 50 percent charge in just 20 minutes. There is also a two-year warranty, which is handy in situations where there are multiple shifts such as a call center or where wear-and-tear can be an issue.
There is also ActiveGard, which protects users from unexpected spikes in volume and other acoustic bursts that can lead to acoustic shock (symptoms include headaches, tinnitus, and even loss of hearing).
Additionally, we like the industry-leading range of 590 feet away from the base station, which obviously gives users greater flexibility. Finally, the company provides Electronic Hook Switch cords to work with an increasing number of phone models like Avaya, Cisco, and Polycom phones.
You really can’t have UC without being able to speak and hear the other person, and the SD Office by Sennheiser has provided enough innovative new features to be worthy of this award.
A dramatic shift is taking place in carrier networks as telcos embrace becoming software telcos via SDN and NFV, increasingly relying on COTS computers to handle the processing instead of proprietary hardware so prevalent in the industry for decades. Reasons for the transformation include flexibility, power savings, cost savings, and a better ability to compete with OTT providers such as social networks.
Sonus was one of the most important companies in the softswitch space, which allowed carriers to leverage IP communications, and its position in the market has been solidified with the SWe, a virtualized SBC that is just like the company’s successful SBC 5000 series but without the need for a box.
Benefits include complete defense against SIP network threats including malformed packets, DDoS attacks, and rogue RTP protection as well as the ability to scale rapidly via license purchases. In addition, the solution allows customers to scale from as a few as 25 to an unlimited number of sessions.
The SBC SWe features the same code base, media transcoding, and security technology found in Sonus SBC 5000 Session Border Controller series. The only difference is how customers choose to deploy it: on industry-standard servers, in virtualized environments, or as a hosted service.
The solution impressed us with its ability to transcode G.711, G.722, G.723, G.726, G.729A/B, and iLBC and support wireline, wireless, wideband, and clearchannel codec pass through. Other interesting features include silence suppression, dynamic jitter buffer, DTMF/tone relay/RFC2833/RFC4733 interworking, and video codec relay support.
As NFV adoption accelerates, we expect many carriers to look to solutions like the SWe. Moreover, the flexible deployment model a software solution provides means companies of all sizes can benefit from this solution – either directly through software license or via the cloud.
Star2Star Communications LLC
There are many cloud communications providers on the market, but we like the offering Star2Star provides because the company differentiates itself nicely from the pack. As expected, the company supports fax, voice, SIP, chat, mobile, etc., but what makes the company different is its StarBox Cloud Connection Manager and Constellation technology, which contributes to its claimed 99.999 percent uptime reliability.
In fact, the company’s StarBox Cloud Connection Manager on-premises technology turns a cloud solution to one which is blended as it performs all the functions of an IP PBX while ensuring higher levels of call quality and reliability. The Constellation Network includes a primary data center and six major points of presence located at major hubs across the country.
When a business has to make a call to a remote office across the country the Constellation Network automatically routes the call along the best path. The network prioritizes each of the six points of presence based on which path is experiencing the lowest amount of latency. The call will then be sent along the highest priority path, unless it is not available for any reason. The call will then be sent along the second highest priority path, without dropping the connection because each StarBox Cloud Connection Manager is always connected to all six points of presence. The network re-prioritizes which pathways are preferred every 30 minutes. This is possible because the Constellation Network conducts call quality monitoring every five minutes. By traveling along the best path, the call arrives at the distribution center where it is clear and with the highest quality.
Recent improvements include faster performance, UI improvements, bulk downloads of recorded calls to aid in compliance, CRM integration, and incremental improvements within the chat, faxing and the UI.
In short, we like the Star2Star UC solution as it provides the benefits of an in-house and cloud-based solution and MPLS without requiring a specific network provider or the added cost of an MPLS circuit.
Unified communications depends on continuous broadband connectivity and typically companies are forced to choose from a phone company and a cable company. In some parts of the country wireless is also an option and Fixed Wireless by TelePacific Communications is a great solution for customers in parts of California and Nevada where it is available.
TelePacific’s Enhanced Fixed Wireless delivers Internet, voice and MPLS – all with guaranteed service level agreements – as a fully integrated part of their core network along with copper and fiber. Perhaps best of all, companies can feel much more confident their operations can continue in the event of an errant backhoe which severs a key cable. The company provides tiered speeds from a fully symmetrical 1 to 100mbps.
Another benefit is this service can typically be turned up within days as no digging is required. Instead, a rooftop receiver with line-of-sight to the fixed wireless base station and an NTU is used.
Once again, if you can’t connect, your UC solution isn’t very useful. TelePacific Communications provides SLAs, MPLS, and SIP-based solutions to companies that are looking for enhanced levels of redundancy and reliability with minimized exposure from digging equipment and other outage-causing incidents. The only improvement we would make is to offer it in more states.
VirtualPBX CRM Connector
VirtualPBX.com Inc. deserves tremendous credit for being years ahead of the hosted IP communications curve. In a world of new entrants, this company stands out as a pioneer. Recently, it released VirtualPBX CRM Connector, which provides computer telephony integration between customer phones and CRM systems. This delivers customer information from a company’s CRM system in real time to agents answering inbound calls. It also provides click-to-call capabilities into a company’s SalesForce CRM system.
The current version supports Polycom and Yealink (News - Alert) phones with SalesForce.com’s CRM capabilities. In addition, software must be installed on a Windows, Mac, or Linux computer at the customer premises where the VirtualPBX, Polycom, or Yealink phones live.
VirtualPBX.com has spent almost two decades providing solid hosted UC solutions; with the addition of CRM integration, companies can merge the best of cloud-based communications and collaboration with their customer relationship management.
Votacall Hot Desking & NetOPS Cloud Command Center
A challenge faced when implementing UC has to do with phone configuration. Many telephones and systems do interoperate well,but quite often manual configuration leads to human error and wasted time. To minimize this challenge, Votacall has developed the Hot Desking & NetOPS Cloud Command Center. In terms of hot desking, the solution improves the BroadSoft solution which as the company describes, requires an advanced end user license pack corresponding to specific phones. To extend the flexibility of the cloud to customers looking for a more ad-hoc hot desking solution, the company’s solution fills the gaps.
In addition, the company’s solution is designed to boost the flexibility of UC implementations via the centrally managed pushing of updates and configuration data. This is not unlike how IT might manage PCs or, more recently, mobile devices.
NetOps can assign licensing, credentials, DIDs, user names and more, freeing up valuable time in a UC implementation. It points to a future where cloud-based UC is more flexible than ever.
If you’ve read this far, you know cloud-based UC is obviously not new or unique, but the approach to providing it is quite varied. Voxox has an interesting approach, allowing you to install an app on your phone to get the UC ball rolling. Once users get comfortable with the solution, they can upgrade to the more robust virtual PBX product, Cloud Phone. Once customers are ready to move into dedicated office space, they can upgrade to fully functional Hosted PBX or SIP trunking services all without losing any advertised local or toll-free numbers. Voxox also offers a full suite of wholesale voice and SMS services. The company really differentiates itself with a full spectrum of solutions, even for carriers on a wholesale basis.
Available features include voicemail transcription, web callback, and more. Cloud Phone can be easily transitioned into an advanced VoIP system that supports hundreds of phones and multiple office locations.
Moreover, Voxox Hosted PBX allows users to authorize their mobile phone number for use with their extension and to trigger outbound calls via its SMS callback feature. This feature allows mobile users to make domestic and international calls at super low outbound calling rates with the Caller ID settings associated with their office extension.
One other differentiator is that the company is a CLEC in five states, giving it unique benefits to customers in those locations.
Recent improvements include remote call forwarding – managed with a PIN from any phone, and call park and pickup – similar to what legacy key systems once provided.
We’re impressed with the breadth of Voxox solutions and like the continual improvements the company is making to its UC solution and congratulate the company on winning this award.
Edited by Maurice Nagle