Delivering Unified Comms

Networking and infrastructure solution providers are being told that unified communications (UC) and VoIP is a brave new world – much talked about in the past decade and finally an explosive growth opportunity thanks to VoIP and video’s role in UC.

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Delivering Unified Comms
By  Piers Ford Published  May 22, 2014

Networking and infrastructure solution providers are being told that unified communications (UC) and VoIP is a brave new world – much talked about in the past decade and finally an explosive growth opportunity thanks to VoIP and video’s role in UC.

The promise of unified communications (UC) seems to have been with us since the dawn of time, even if constantly evolving platforms and increasingly sophisticated integration technologies make it almost impossible to pin down a definitive model. But it’s a sign of a rapidly maturing market that in many ways, the sales opportunity has shifted from the technology itself to the potential for developing innovative services around the UC proposition.

The consumerised expectations of today’s end-users mean that in the enterprise, most people would be surprised if they did not have access to integrated, cross-platform voice, data and video communications.

The challenge for resellers is to build service portfolios that meet these expectations .  And while the customer’s focus might be on how to achieve a seamless user experience, there are still plenty of underlying technology and interoperability issues for systems integrators and service providers to address.

Frost & Sullivan recently estimated that the Middle East UC market will be worth $679.1m by 2019, driven by a wide range of applications – enterprise telephony (always a hot spot for VoIP solutions), video-conferencing, contact centre solutions, unified client services including email and messaging, as well as presence and integrated applications.

“Analysts attribute this growth to a large influx of investment in communication and collaborative technologies by the government, financial services, telecom and IT sectors, giving a thrust to the market in the Middle East,” said Meera Kaul, MD at Huawei distributor Optimus.

“Video, web and audio conferencing, as well as mobile applications, are the most widely deployed enterprise communication solutions at present. Innovations in UC are bound to affect the traditional voice and video products, as pricing becomes competitive with the onslaught of more innovative enterprise-grade softphones, video and UC clients over mobile devices.”

Kaul said that demand for a more personalised end-user experience means that UC is under pressure to integrate more smoothly with social media and collaborative platforms. The advent of UC as a service (UCaaS) is also driving adoption in enterprises that have already embraced the SaaS delivery model. But there are hurdles for the channel to overcome.

“The high cost accompanying IP deployment in the region, as well as inadequate knowledge of its benefits is depressing market potential,” said Kaul. “The absence of interoperability among different UC applications sold by different vendors is further restricting the scope for growth. Lack of interoperability and integration skills is creating a gap in solution offerings and the execution of these technology platforms.”

As if that was not enough, Kaul also cited present regulatory framework, which restrain the connection of public switched telephone networks to VoIP, as a limiting factor.
Regulatory issues aside, vendors like Cisco, Huawei and Avaya are busy staking their claims for UC market dominance on the strength of enterprise demand for genuinely converged platforms. Cisco’s long-term investment in the development of a single, unified solution, based on open standards, which is capable of delivering virtually any communications service to any device, is already reaping the rewards of market dominance.

“UC empowers people to communicate more effectively, improves business processes, and helps businesses achieve better profitability,” said Wael Abdulal, collaboration manager at Cisco UAE. “Employees, business partners and customers can connect and conduct business in real time across workspaces – which is especially important as Middle East businesses continue to expand further across the region and North Africa, and beyond, and as mobile device take-up builds to critical mass.”

Abdulal said that with 80% of Cisco’s business conducted through the channel, the vendor is dedicated to building and enabling a robust partner ecosystem in the Middle East – especially in driving innovation on video collaboration across all devices, and working with partners to tailor solutions to specific business and industry requirements.

Panasonic offers a similarly streamlined vision of its product and channel strategy. “UC is not necessarily a single product, but a set of products that provide a consistent unified user-interface and user-experience across multiple devices and media-types,” said Tanabe Koji, sales and marketing manager for the MEA region at Panasonic.

“Panasonic’s Business Communication Server NS1000 is designed to deliver VoIP/UC solutions by integrating hardware and software components in a modular way and by allowing a customer to tailor a communications system to their specific needs. ”

Huawei’s eSpace UC 2.0 solution also reflects the growing enterprise demand for seamlessly integrated UC packages that deliver every service from a single box – a concept that is also embodied in its TE 30 Video Conferencing terminal.

“As businesses strive to do more with fewer resources and to better serve their customers, collaboration has become more crucial than ever,” said Kamran Shaukat, UC&C manager at Huawei Enterprise Middle East.

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