Cisco and Microsoft battle for mobile market share

Cisco and Microsoft duke it out for mobile market share, but both mobile UC platforms have room for improvement.

Today's mobile user is increasingly reliant on the attributes of his or her smartphone. Communicating on a UC platform means relying on the functionality that the mobile device offers: video, voice, email, security and supportable interactivity.

Cisco and Microsoft are two key suppliers to the UC marketplace. When it comes to mobile functionality, it's hard to make a side-by-side comparison, as their features vary and have a different appeal based on a user's needs.

Praful Shah, senior vice president Strategy for RingCentral Inc., in San Mateo, Calif., is quick to point out that Cisco UC and Microsoft Lync platforms have deeply embedded roots in the legacy era of non-mobile workers. Moving UC applications from desktop to mobile devices is still a work, he says. It has further to go.

"Both [vendors] designed for on-premise workforces and have tried to bolt in mobile users," says Shah. "New generations of platforms are based on the Cloud design from the ground up [and] have been designed for the mobile and distributed workforce."

How Cisco and Microsoft's mobile strategies differ

Cisco and Microsoft have a diverse array of products, hence different strengths. The marketing strategy of each, from their perspective, is designed to meet mobile user demands and also forecast them. The precise details of each platform provide different attributes, but for mobile workers 'the best UC platform often relates to being compatible with the habits of the mobile UC user.

"'Jabber shows off the network whereas Lync shows off Windows," said Jennifer Adams, senior product marketing manager for Plantronics Inc., in Santa Cruz, Calif. "In the mobile space, a network that can run across operating systems is an acknowledgement of BYOD as a reality for mobile UC. Based on that, Cisco has the edge because their UC platform with Jabber was always designed to go across devices and operating systems. Microsoft is getting better with their offerings for Android and iOS, but the best mobile Lync client experience is still with Windows-based mobile devices."

Compare Cisco and Microsoft phone functionality

In evaluating both UC platforms, it's important to understand that the mobile user is not the only user that both Microsoft and Cisco seek to capture. Shah said that these legacy platforms weren't necessarily designed with mobile applications as paramount in their utility. Their core attributes were developed before the genesis of the smartphone and its subsequent maturity.

Software compatibility with other software and operating systems is an important consideration in evaluating each platform's suitability and usability for a particular user profile.

"Microsoft's software integrates well [with Exchange, Office, Lync, Windows] so they have a great opportunity to embrace the mobile platforms more and as mobility is a huge driver for UC, it will have to be an evolution for any vendor who wants to ensure adoption 'across screens," Adams said.

Adams adds that both platforms haven't quite matured enough when it comes to mobile applications. "They are not there yet with mobility offerings. [For example, there are] still issues with syncing iOS and Outlook calendar, and [with] the ability to share video from desktops to mobile devices is limited," she said. "Cisco's multi-platform approach means the user has a more seamless experience -- and their focus on network QoS means Jabber is better able to deliver a superior voice and video experience to a variety of mobile operating environments."

Adams points out that Jabber provides options to make calls over Wi-Fi or mobile networks. Lync chooses networks for you with mixed results. Sometimes the default voice or video function is incompatible or just doesn't connect with a user's device.

But voice functionality changes rapidly as cloud computing and cloud-based voice capability has advanced in recent years, and will likely shape UC's voice offering.

"The new era of cloud-based phone systems, designed from [the] ground-up for the mobile and distributed workforce is here and is totally changing the UC solutions market," Shah said. "It has totally changed how a company buys, deploys, manages and pays for what it gets in terms of the wide array of services designed around mobile devices. These new solutions, based on the new generation of cloud platforms, come at a fraction of the cost compared to both legacy UC platforms from Cisco and Microsoft."

The reality is that most Jabber/Lync customers are probably using neither mobile UC platform. "Mobile UC hasn't been broadly embraced -- for example there are only 12 reviews in the iOS App store for Jabber [3.5 stars], and 46 for Lync [2 stars]," said Adams. "There are opportunities to increase the adoption of these mobile clients, but there are some challenges that go beyond what the mobile client can solve. Managing calls away from a reliable wireless network is a reality for many mobile users, so understanding best practices for mobile UC connectivity is an area ripe for education."

She adds that holding a mobile device to your head doesn't give you the same screen-viewing ability, IM management or calendar features that you get in front of the PC. "The built-in speakerphone feature in mobile devices doesn't allow for privacy, background noise-canceling or a rich audio experience, so we recommend using your mobile UC client with a quality hands-free device [such as a Bluetooth earpiece or other headset] to ensure the audio doesn't break down in the last three feet of the call and that you can have a better experience 'across screens."

How mobile market share will shake out

In the months and years ahead, the UC in the mobile marketplace is likely to mature and improve. Users will be able to seamlessly transition from their desktops to their smartphones and vice versa. For Cisco and Microsoft, shaping their offerings will be their challenge, and will depend on their respective marketing strategies. For the mobile-centric end users, their selection will depend much more on their needs, wants and what's available. For the user who relies on their mobile device for UC, talk is never cheap. Rather, mobile communication is a very valuable asset that Cisco and Microsoft will need to further develop.

Next Steps

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A look back at Microsoft's long road to mobile market share respectability

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