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An IP Communications Dvorakian Riff
[April 17, 2006]

An IP Communications Dvorakian Riff


By TMCnet Special Guest
 
With all my recent travels to industry events, and with the volume of news and general industry activity ratcheted up to new all-time highs, I thought I’d try something different this time around—a sort of Dvorakian riff on my observations of the prominent themes and trends of the season and my take away from various discussions and meetings with industry folk.
 
The attendance (both re: exhibitors and attendees) numbers at practically all the industry events I attended (and I dragged myself to most of them) did not disappoint—most seemed to be record breakers. What did especially warm my heart were the large numbers of financial types (VCs, bankers, analysts, etc.) roaming about the aisles looking for the “next great thing.”

 
It’s clear that the deal flow in the IP communications industry is about to rise dramatically from its already frothy state—I expect to see five to six times the number of IPOs, investments, acquisitions etc. in the next six months of this year as in all of last year.
 
One big theme seems to be a new focus on the SMB space—a market that up until now has been woefully underserved. All manner of companies are devoting time, energy (and new products and services) targeting the space, as if they’ve just woken up to the huge revenue potential it represents.
 
8x8 claims to have an SMB offer with 20K paid customers, and also claims that this segment is making up 22 percent of all new subscribers. At $200/per extension, plus a $40 activation fee, SMBs get unlimited calls per extension, including Canada, and they also throw in an analog phone with adapter and softphone—all with a 44-day money back guarantee.
 
NextWeb’s merger with Covad gives Covad (News - Alert) a fixed wireless play for the SMB space, and provides an IP connection that can run up to 100 Mbps. I expect this will help turbocharge Covad’s SMB VoIP offer.
 
Hosted services (including IP Centrex and Hosted IP-PBX) seem to be making a huge comeback, and is rising high above the ashes as IDC projects a $4.3 billion market for SMB hosted services by 2008—up from $5 million in 2003.
 
One company that plays well to both the SMB and hosted trends is AccessLine Communications, which has a refreshingly simple approach to serving up hosted services. They are staying away from “the everything and the kitchen sink” service bundle, and instead are offering basic VoIP served up through a T1 or DSL line and gateway to existing telephone (aka TDM) infrastructures, peppered with a few key features that every small business needs.
 
Another notable trend appears to be that IMS is the new SIP—at least in terms of hype. Every vendor of carrier-grade equipment has tacked IMS to every poster, PowerPoint and product slick—and Sonus is not about to be left off the bandwagon as it is in the midst of rebranding itself as the IMS solution par excellence. Apparently they feel that the term ‘softswitch’ has been overused and is muddled as it has come to mean too many different things—and I don’t disagree.
 
It will be interesting to see how things play out once carriers adopt IMS in meaningful numbers and we get good feedback regarding real, delivered benefits.
 
Another observation: some of the IP communications shows have started to look like Mini CTIA shows, with all the new dual-mode handsets being introduced. Many current handset iterations, however, appear to fall short in the ergonomic/design department. One exception: D-Link released a truly compact, sleek new clamshell-style Wi-Fi phone that comes loaded with TelTel’s full-featured softphone.
 
Mitel Networks recently reported that it has achieved eight quarters of sequential growth. It also reported that IP system shipments account for fully 95 percent of all outgoing orders, meaning that Mitel has fully evolved into a true IP communications company.
 
Other notable goodies stem from Mitel’s tight relationship with Microsoft, which has resulted in features like “In the Moment” LCS integration embedded into voice mail, so that when the state of IM presence changes, it also changes in the VM app.
 
EQO is getting noticed for its innovative method of extending Skype for mobile phones. They’ve developed a cool, Java-based app that currently runs on 40 different mobile phone models. You basically get your Skype (News - Alert) buddy list on your cell phone, with which you can make and take Skype calls.
 
Both NMS and Intel are moving upstream and have announced new low-cost, turnkey, server/appliance products for their channel partners, including new media server and gateway products. It will be interesting to see the effect this has on other gateway and media server vendors in the coming months, and is sure to upset some that are using NMS or Intel (News - Alert) ingredients in their products.
 
Global IP Sound has created a new developer community, and released Voice Engine Lite with a three-month time bomb to help jumpstart their new development ecosystem.
 
CounterPath has been seeding the market nicely with its SIP-based softphone. This OTC traded company is big into private-label customization. Features like on-the-fly codec changes, and embedded QoS/TLS security, have made it the pick for Vonage, Adtran and others.
 
Sightspeed has been reporting big demand for its video telephony offering, with triple signup numbers in the last four months. The company’s technology is out of Cornell University (a co-owner), and features a free downloadable PC/MAC softphone for video calls, video mail and video conferencing. There’s a free service plan for consumers that provides free video mail (unlike Skype), while a premium plan gets you extended video mail record time, multi-party conferencing, and admin features for $4.95/month.
 
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Marc Robins is Chief Evangelism Officer of Robins Consulting Group, a marketing intelligence and communications company dedicated to the needs of the IP communications industry. He has been involved in the telecommunications industry as a reporter and analyst, trade show producer and publisher, and marketing executive and consultant for more than 25 years. Contact RCG at 718-548-7245 or e-mail info@robinsconsult.com for more information.

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