INTERNET TELEPHONY, TMC, and TMC Labs are super excited to present this year’s winners of the TMC Labs UC Innovation awards. Why? Well, we feel we have a truly diverse set of winners across the spectrum of technologies in the space. You want hardware? Well, Yealink now offers videoconferencing gear that embodies the high quality and reasonable prices of its phone line. Did you wish your Switchvox (News - Alert) premises communications system would work in the cloud? Check. Want state-of-the-art voicemail technology integrated with mobile devices and BroadSoft? See Votacall’s offering below. How about the best of SD-WAN and cloud communications in one package? See Star2Star Communications below. How about Skype for Business for truly large deployments – how on earth do you manage it all? Don’t worry, Unify Square has a solution. Also, how do you connect omnichannel management with UC? Check out Upstream Works (News - Alert) for Cisco Finesse. Finally, if you want even more cloud options, check out Broadview Networks and Nuage Telecom which also has a focus on WebRTC.
There you have it – something for virtually all segments of the space. So to all you UC buyers out there, we wish you good luck with your purchases.
The cloud-based OfficeSuite Phone from Broadview Networks includes an IP-based phone system; unlimited nationwide calling; and an intuitive, portal, MyOfficeSuite, which launched earlier this year. This portal allows administrators and employees to seamlessly make quick and easy updates to their services and personal preferences. The system delivers a complete communications solution with state-of-the-art features and applications, including a next-generation desktop collaboration service called OfficeSuite HD Meeting.
As alluded to above, the OfficeSuite Phone service extends communications functionality through the cloud to other offices, mobile phones, and home phones to improve flexibility and mobility. It allows employees to use any phone at any location while maintaining their own extensions, personal preferences, and features.
On premises, the customer must procure Broadview Networks IP phones. These are typically Mitel series 5300 IP phones (although older 5200 series phones also work with OfficeSuite), DECT cordless phones manufactured by Telefield North America specifically for Broadview Networks, and Polycom 6000 IP Soundstation conference phones.
The phones provided with OfficeSuite use a proprietary protocol known as SilNet. SilNet was developed and is wholly owned by Broadview Networks. SilNet is the language used by OfficeSuite to drive functionality to telephone endpoints at the customer premises and allows for a true, 100 percent cloud- based service. SilNet is a user centric, as opposed to device centric (e.g. SIP), protocol and is used to communicate commands between OfficeSuite servers in the data center and on-premises phones. SilNet is encapsulated with TCP to provide error checking and reliability between the endpoints and OfficeSuite server. Because SilNet is a proprietary protocol, typical concerns regarding security are minimized. Even in environments where SilNet would traverse the public Internet, it is encrypted using Secure RTP using the 128-bit Advanced Encryption Standard. In instances where OfficeSuite services are provided over private Broadview connections, there is no encryption used, as the connection is dedicated and private (and does not traverse the public Internet); however, SilNet provides security of the communication due to its proprietary nature.
The only other on-premises software or hardware requirements are the LAN and WAN infrastructure. OfficeSuite works over customer-provided LANs.
MyOfficeSuite allows small- and medium-sized businesses to improve communications channels by enhancing security, mobilizing the workforce, enhancing business continuity, and giving employers the ability to scale on demand. Through the new portal, employers can maintain complete control of cloud services from the web, including managing employee permissions, settings, and storage. With one click, individuals can:
- view new email notifications;
- listen to, download, and email business voicemail messages from anywhere;
- customize company-wide permissions and allow employees to self-manage personal preferences;
- re-route calls to anywhere when the office closes unexpectedly;
- view the availability of co-workers and instantly click-to-call employees and personal contacts from Google;
- initiate or join an HD video, audio, or web conference;
- pay bills, view payment history, print invoices, and track business expenses;
- view, filter, sort, and download call history for all employees;
- record, upload, and use text-to-speech to create and update auto attendant greetings;
- order new accounts and services;
- automate customer service functions; and
- drag and drop widgets to personalize each individual dashboard.
Our favorite feature was added earlier this year. In January, the company launched MyOfficeSuite, a new online portal that centralizes communications and hosted services into a single user-friendly website that can be accessed from anywhere on any device with Internet access. We also are mixed on the proprietary SilNet protocol – on the one hand we generally favor open standards, but on the other, it seems no system is beyond hacking and SilNet is likely flying far enough under the radar as to not be a big target for cyberthieves.
Switchvox Cloud provides the same unified communications features, reliability, and flexibility of the Switchvox premises system, but with the benefits of a hosted offering. Yes, if your power goes out, you can still get access to the system via mobile devices, unlike premises-based systems without battery backup or generator.
By now Asterisk and the company behind this open-source wonder, Digium (News - Alert), are household names and their Switchvox offering has established itself as a solid competitor in the market for feature-filled yet reasonably priced IP PBXs. It was only a matter of time before this product, originally targeted exclusively to the SMB market, grew up and reached for the cloud.
In addition to high-quality VoIP phone service for all employees, Switchvox Cloud comes with unlimited local and long-distance minutes, local DID, unlimited extension-to-extension dialing, and HD voice. Customers have access to all UC features for the same monthly price, per user, including mobile integration with fixed mobile convergence, voicemail, chat, presence, call queues, advanced IVRs, personal conferencing for every user, personal call rules, monitoring, reporting, on-demand recording, integration with Salesforce.com (News - Alert) and SugarCRM, and more. Unlike some other hosted VoIP solutions, all UC features are included, with no additional licensing fees or add-on charges.
For those who have additional security concerns, Digium offers the Switchvox Cloud service in a private cloud environment with a month-to-month, no obligation payment plan, helping businesses manage their budgets by avoiding capital expenditures, while providing a maintenance-free business phone system. This is perhaps our favorite feature. While many security experts will tell you public cloud can be as secure as private, the reality is there are always organizations that feel more comfortable getting the benefits of the cloud without comingling their data with numerous other customers.
Nuage Telecom provides a cloud-based system based on HTML5 and WebRTC designed to rival on-premises players such as Cisco, Avaya (News - Alert), NEC and Panasonic. The company, however, differentiates itself with exclusive SMB focus and cloud-based functionality, allowing lower capex.
To differentiate against cloud players, the company touts HTML5 and WebRTC at the core of its offering. In addition, there are features such as robust business chat, task management, video meetings, and conference calling with full search capability.
The system also supports extensions, department queues, IVR, voice/video/chat as well as file storage and sharing. Voice and video conferencing can support nice large numbers – up to 50 people at the same time. Moreover, one-click voice and video conference calling makes life easier when trying to conference in on a mobile device at the airport or in a car.
Also, there is the ecosystem angle – easy integration for resellers and end users and an open API with multiple software integrations, e.g. CRM, Salesforce, task management, Outlook, Gmail, Dropbox, etc. All of this comes with seamless provisioning, billing, and a ticketing system based on case numbers as well as customer service.
The service allows users to move calls to any device – offers real-time translation in more than 35 languages, voice message to text (that can be turned into an actionable request through the task management function), an intelligent call center and analytics suite, smart hold – customized on-hold messaging based on big data and other criteria, disposition detection, and an interactive monitoring dashboard with barging ability.
Perhaps what we liked best is the fact the company is built on new technology but tackling the decades-old PBX market in a brand new way and as a result has 13 U.S. patents pending. It reminds us of how the telecom market has seen continuous disruption, and there seems to be no end in sight for how this market will continue evolve.
Star2Star Communications is a hosted UC company that differentiates itself with a tremendous focus on scalability and reliability. The company’s solution includes reliable voice, presence monitoring and management, fax (both traditional and electronic), and videoconferencing supporting up to two Brady Bunches, or 12 simultaneous callers.
The differentiator is its Constellation network, which works in conjunction with StarBox, its on-premises Cloud Communications Manager, to overcome the reliability and quality limitations of many other communications technologies. Think of its solution as akin to what you might get from a cloud communications provider and SD-WAN company. The company can direct voice via the most efficient route and around network connections which have excessive latency, noise, jitter, etc.
There are important strategic benefits to combining the voice and network management from a single vendor, not the least of which is a single company to work with if there are any issues that need resolving. This is often referred to as the one-throat-to-choke benefit, although most vendors in the tech space seem to prefer a less graphic expression for some reason. ;-)
It also delivers many features you’d expect from a premium offering, such as a blended architecture allowing hybrid cloud-like capabilities via premises-based hardware, a mobile app, CRM integration, advanced call center features, fax, IM, presence, and more.
Our favorite feature was recently added: a flexible dial plan to allow multi-site customers to create a custom plan that best fits their size and needs.
Unify Square PowerProv solves the day-to-day administrative problems associated with Microsoft Skype for Business, eliminating the majority of user management support tickets by automating user account, configuration, and telephone number management. It further reduces risk and human error while increasing the efficiency of enterprise voice. Any global organization operating Skype for Business is able to easily incorporate PowerProv into either new or existing workflows. PowerProv gives enterprise IT departments the ability to centrally manage on-boarding and off-boarding user updates and phone numbers while continuously monitoring and enforcing business communications policies. Although we were not able to independently evaluate the claim, we have no reason to doubt the company’s assertion that the product eliminates up to 95 percent of the manual IT intervention required to manage Skype for Business users as a result of its centralized and automated user lifecycle management.
The secret sauce is evaluating Microsoft Active Directory on a regular basis to determine any necessary changes. This process is based on a rules engine, which deciphers changes and compares them against pre-set policy requirements. The technology is able to provision users with the right collaboration settings, phone number and regulations, as well as securely off-board users without manual intervention.
As alluded to above, the PowerProv target market is companies with 2,000 or more Lync (whoops – Skype for Business we mean) users that currently have deployed or plan to deploy audio conferencing and/or enterprise voice. PowerProv is also applicable for enterprises that will use a managed service provider to do single tenant, hosted Skype for Business implementations for customers with more than 2,000 users.
We are fans of automation – what lab wouldn’t be? As a result, we are happy to report the automation of policy assignment and revocation reduces the risk of mistakes and misconfiguration often caused by human error. Of course we can’t think of anyone who’s a fan of human error. The provisioning abilities of this software are quite large, as it can automatically configure policies defined in the rule sets, such as dial plans, voice, client, conferencing, remote access, mobility, archivals, PINs, presence, location, client versions, and persistent chat policies.
Here are some additional areas of strength:
Global Phone Number Management – In a typical enterprise voice environment, each location requires an inventory of local phone numbers. The inventory must account for number availability, assignment, parked and reserved numbers. As the amount of sites grow, the complexity of centrally managing phone numbers increases. PowerProv enables the enterprise to manage pools of phone numbers for all sites at a corporate level, allowing for more standardization and improving forecasting abilities across enterprise voice sites.
Global Telephony Policy Management – Global enterprises must deal with various compliance and regulatory nuances with each site they habitat. Additionally, certain employees require different levels of access to Skype for Business features. To ensure adherence to both internal and external requirements, PowerProv allows enterprise IT to centrally manage corporate policies and access as well as regional compliance and regulatory requirements.
Automated User Provisioning & Changes – At large-scale enterprises, the workforce changes every day. Coordinating HR events, like employee turnover, new hires, promotions or role changes, with the management of user accounts is a massive undertaking. Using PowerProv, enterprises are able to automatically manage users (adding or removing them) while also assigning appropriate configurations and settings of Skype for Business.
Help Desk & Exceptions – Certain situations will require special attention and exceptions from IT. To help field ad hoc exceptions, PowerProv has a built-in help desk for individual users that will override company and compliance policies for a certain period of time to ensure business compliance.
Policy Change Enforcement – When corporate or compliance policies change, they must be reflected immediately across enterprise voice. PowerProv ensures changes are automatically updated to applicable users, making Skype for Business in sync at all times.
What do we like most about this solution? Simply that Unify Square helps IT automate large Skype for Business rollouts meaning they can spend more time on ensuring security is in place; minimizing wasted time on moves, adds, and changes; and generally allowing the tech department to focus on the bigger picture such as network and voice quality as well as compliance and regulatory issues.
Upstream Works for Finesse provides an omnichannel web-based smart agent desktop that enhances the Cisco Finesse Contact Center platform with user friendly gadgets that improve the agent, business, and customer experience. It integrates with existing applications to maintain and extend their business value, protecting legacy investments. In addition, it provides many tools that agents can leverage to complete tasks. UWF gadgets provide a consistent and easy-to-use interface for agents across the contact center and all media types. As a result, there is less training time as agents become responsible for additional customer communication channels.
Deployment time is minimal as the desktop has zero footprint, and uses standard web-based infrastructure for cloud or premises deployment. Furthermore, customers can add/remove functionality and channels from agents as needed.
UWF is based on five areas:
1) Agent and Supervisory Tools. UWF provides the smart agent cockpit that ensures contact center staff members have the tools and information they need to properly handle customer requests, regardless of the originating channel.
2) Interaction History. UWF normalizes the business information from every interaction channel and provides a consistent, omnichannel interaction history in real time for any agent or supervisor.
3) Integration. Based on Upstream Works history of providing complex and unique integrations that extend the life of legacy applications, UWF continues that tradition with an extendable toolkit of integration capabilities, allowing it to meet a wide variety of integration and business needs.
4) Omnichannel Routing. UWF provides an integrated platform for routing tasks of all types into an agent and providing full reporting across all channels.
5) Analytics. Based on the Upstart Contact Center Agent, UWF provides analytical information on first contact resolution, customer effort, and process improvement.
The Upstream Works solution can be used by hosted providers to offer omnichannel contact center services to customers in conjunction with a hosted Cisco Contact Center solution. In this case, all of the UWF server and database components are located on the service provider’s premises. Depending on the services provided, the UWF servers will communicate with email servers and web servers on the client’s corporate network and appropriate network configuration must be performed to enable those connections. For chat, the client website will host submission forms that point to a gateway server on the hosting company’s network.
Our favorite features? UWF provides an extendable routing engine, along with the ability to add in omnichannel reporting information. Implementing new channels involves defining the channel type and the presentation layer (gadget) within Finesse. Once done, the existing routing engine will provide skills or SLA-based routing for those interactions, and the desktop UWF components will normalize the interaction, such that other tools, reporting, and integration work automatically.
The Votacall VM 2 Text App is an add-on to Votacall’s standard Hosted VoIP voicemail service allowing an end-user to receive voicemails transcribed into text messages via their smart phone and email address. In addition, the transcribed message will be accompanied by the audio WAV file giving the end-user access options. The VM 2 Text App utilizes the Votacall Telephony Platform which resides in geographically diverse data centers and a transcription server.
The Votacall VM 2 Text App translates up to one minute of a voicemail message into text and sends the transcribed message along with a copy of the audio file to an end-users smart phone. The message appears as a standard text (MMS) message on the end-user’s smart phone where they can read the transcribed voicemail or listen to the accompanying WAV File. In addition, the App will send the transcribed message and audio file to an end-users email address for multiple points of access. This VM 2 Text App is in addition to and not a replacement of Votacall’s standard Hosted VoIP voicemail service.
Votacall end-users will simply layer the VM 2 Text App on top of their standard voicemail service. In other words, if a client has the VM 2 Text App, they still have the option of utilizing traditional voicemail access and features.
We know voice mail to text or visual voicemail services are not new – we’ve been using them for years. However with the Votacall solution, end-users can purchase it as a stand-alone application or as a Power UC User, receive it in the company’s UC bundle. Votacall describes the feature set as “Any Scenario” access and they justify this not only through the UC plug-in’s innate functionality but also by giving end-users self-service options as to how to use the application.
Our favorite feature is the tight integration with BroadSoft’s UC as well as the record time of one-minute which is greater than some of the competitors in the market.
Yealink took the U.S. IP phone market by storm some years back, and it has upped the ante by introducing a new high quality, easy to use HD video conferencing solution with extremely competitive features.
The system includes an 18x optical zoom HD camera, imaging at a 1080p level for both portrait video and content sharing. There is also a 360-degree omnidirectional pickup microphone array and support for AAC-LC Ultra HD codec at producing CD-sounding quality. The system supports H.323 and SIP to ensure compatibility with mainstream videoconferencing systems and terminals.
In addition, the menu-driven interactive interface has been designed to be clear and easy to use. A comprehensive startup guide helps users complete installation in one step. There is also remote control dialing/phone dialing and dual dialing mode with intelligent call matching. Finally, IP phone quick dialing speeds are on a par with smartphones.
Three shortcut keys allow rapid and intuitive operations – helping users to control meetings easily. There is also bandwidth saving and intelligent adaptation: The VC series also supports most advanced codecs – including H.264 High Profile – saving 50 percent bandwidth when transmitting high-quality video. Support for adaptive bandwidth and dynamic bandwidth adjustment, plus support for the forward error correction algorithm, are also provided. That results in an 8 percent resistance to packet loss, which means that videoconferencing still runs smoothly in challenging network conditions.
Features we like are the ability to manage the system easily in remote locations without IT support as well as giving users the ability to record locally onto a USB stick without needing to spend any more money on recording equipment. And of course for offices where there never seems to be enough bandwidth, we appreciate the efficient transmission of 1080p video at 1Mb bandwidth and 720p at 512Kb.
Edited by Maurice Nagle