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Lower UC cost, more options in 2015

Companies will find UC costs fall in 2015 as competing service providers launch hosted services comparable to on-premises systems.

Looking at the unified communications market, companies of all sizes will have more choices in hosted unified communication services in 2015 and will benefit from lower UC costs due to increased competition among providers, an analyst firm projects.

Vendors like BroadSoft Inc., Cisco, Genbank and Metaswitch Networks have built UC platforms with features equal to their on-premises systems and are licensing the technology to service providers like AT&T, BT Group, Orange Business Services, Telefonica and Verizon, Ovum UC analyst Brian Riggs said in a recent 2015 Trends to Watch report.

Service providers are at various stages of implementing telephony capabilities and Web, video and audio conferencing, so companies should expect steady improvements in features throughout the year, the report said.

Technology vendors like Cisco are encouraging service providers to launch products for small and medium-size businesses, not just for large enterprises and multinational corporations that have been the traditional buyers.

Microsoft is building out Lync Online to match the on-premise version. A better Lync, which is part of Office 365, is expected to make the suite of online products more attractive to SMEs and larger companies, the report said.

Roughly 60 service providers base their products on Cisco's UC platform, and about 30 providers use Mitel's MiCloud. Many other hosted UC services are based on Lync, Unify's OpenScape and Avaya technology.

"In 2015, enterprise customers will have more choice than ever when it comes to providers of hosted UC services," the Ovum report said. "Providers will continue bringing these services to market, building their customer bases and competing with one another on price point, geographic reach, portfolio breadth, reliability, and support."

Hosted UC services for SMEs and for large corporations will likely be based on separate underlying technologies, Ovum said. UC platforms built for larger companies do not yet scale down well for SMEs.

As a result, the respective hosted UC services will remain distinct for the next several years.

Making use of video conferencing technology

The report also covered trends in video conferencing and WebRTC, an emerging standard for video and audio conferencing in a Web browser.

With video conferencing, enterprises are looking to make it available to a greater number of employees. To do that, companies are deploying software on PCs and mobile devices as a dedicated application or as part of a UC or Web conferencing client. The number of different applications with video conferencing built in has spread the capability throughout many enterprises. The applications seldom communicate with each other, however.

In 2015, corporate IT departments will work toward connecting the different types of video-conferencing software across their organizations, the report said. Some vendors, like Blue Jeans Network, specialize in video conferencing interoperability.

Also in 2015, companies will have more choice in cloud-based, video-conferencing services. A wide range of providers compete in this market segment, from carriers like AT&T, BT and Orange Business to system vendors Cisco, Lifesize and Vidyo Inc. and online services like Fuze, Zoom and TokBox, which was acquired in 2012 by Spanish carrier Telefonica.

"The video-conferencing services are just all over the place in terms of what they can offer, what their target market is, what the actual feature set is and what kind of business problem they're trying to address," Ovum analyst Brian Riggs said.

Vendors experimenting with technology and business models are hoping to get lucky and attract some of the many companies deciding whether video conferencing fits into their businesses. The experimentation among vendors and users will likely continue for a couple of years, Riggs said.

WebRTC inches along

WebRTC is expected to play a big role in making video conferencing useful to business, according to Ovum. The technology could open up more possibilities for video calling in mobile apps, call centers and customer relationship management (CRM) applications.

In 2015, UC vendors will start embedding WebRTC into a wider range of communication and contact center platforms, the report said. Old guard vendors will be trying to stay at least even with a new generation of vendors.

Riggs predicts WebRTC will help vendors create "fairly unique services that don't exist today."

"There's going to be more diversity," he said.

Despite all the promise, 2015 won't be the breakout year for WebRTC, Ovum said. More time is needed to resolve standards issues before vendors embrace the technology and major UC developers and providers incorporate it in more products.

Next Steps

Choosing between a UC subscription and software license

Questions to ask UC vendors before buying

What to consider when choosing between Cisco and Lync UC platforms

Dig Deeper on Business Video Conferencing and Telepresence Technology

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