Unified Communications

The Latest in UC & IP PBX: Big Vendors Amass More Power; Mobility, Video Become Table Stakes

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  March 17, 2014

The business communications landscape continues to shift, and among the forces driving the change are new ways of thinking about communications, and greater market power by just a couple of the strongest UC vendors.

Businesses no longer view communications as telephony alone, rather they now think about in terms of unified communications, notes Diane Myers, principal analyst for VoIP, UC and IMS at Infonetics (News - Alert) Research. Clearly, solutions providers from both the PBX and service provider camps have been listening – and have responded by offering up UC tools and services that integrate a variety of communications options, and also bring mobile users into the mix. Most UC solutions now offer a downloadable client for mobile users, says Myers, who adds that she can’t think of a major UC system that doesn’t also include video capabilities.

For example, RingCentral (News - Alert) in January introduced a new cloud-based solution called RingCentral Office Enterprise Edition that delivers an integrated conferencing, fax, text and voice experience across all endpoints, including desktop phones, PCs and Macs and mobile devices. The premium version of the offering adds to that call recording and cloud integrations. And the enterprise version ups the ante further, with multipoint mobile and desktop high-definition video, and mobile and desktop web conferencing.

RingCentral says one of its differentiators in the marketplace is its price and packaging. The standard offering sells for $24.99 per user per month. The premium option is provided for $34.99 per user per month. And the enterprise version is priced at $44.99 per user per month. Praful Shah, RingCentral’s senior vice president of strategy, says that’s a very good deal considering GoToMeeting and WebEx each sell for $49.99 per user per month, and that’s only for the conferencing piece.

The simple user interface should be a differentiator for Project Ansible, a UC solution expected to be generally available this spring from Unify (the company formerly known as Siemens (News - Alert) Enterprise Communications), says Myers, who adds that this offering delivers a “really truly integrated experience”. Unify partnered with groovy German design firm frog design to create the interface. Frog has created award-winning designs for Apple (News - Alert), and worked with other top-shelf companies like Disney and Sony.

Whatever differentiators UC solutions providers bring to the table, however, Myers says it’s becoming increasingly difficult for UC service providers and UC/PBX hardware and software outfits to compete with the very largest players. That’s because UC gives the big suppliers an even stronger lock on their customers, who no longer have to call on other vendors for one or more pieces of the communication puzzle.

It’s also due in part to the introduction of Microsoft Lync, which Myers says is the most disruptive force in UC today. Lync is not disruptive because it’s particularly innovative, she explains. It is shaking things up because it allows Microsoft to address a wide range of UC requirements – including IM, collaboration, and (more recently) PBX functionality – and to leverage its ubiquitous presence on business computers and relationships with business customers to win and keep users.

Many companies in the high-end mid market and large enterprise space are now saying they will either go with Cisco (News - Alert) or Microsoft, says Myers, adding that was not true a year or two ago before Lync came along.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi