» Archive for the 'Unified Communications' Category

In the briefing room: Avaya’s post-Nortel roadmap

Thursday, January 21st, 2010 by Cody Burke

One of the final chapters in Nortel’s history has now been written.  Nortel’s vaunted Enterprise Solutions unit has been acquired by Avaya, a company that, similar to Nortel, traces its origins back to Alexander Graham Bell’s original patent for the telephone in 1874.

Caption

The end of an era

This week, Avaya announced its roadmap for the integration and continuation of products and services from Nortel and it’s good news for customers of both companies as Avaya management has found a way to meld the best offerings from both companies into a unified set of products.  However, there are a few speed bumps ahead.

First, customers not on the platform that becomes part of the merged product line face a forklift upgrade and significant cost in the not so distant future as the product portfolios from Nortel and Avaya were largely proprietary and incompatible with one another.

In addition, based on how past mergers of similarly-sized tech firms have fared, Avaya faces multiple challenges as it integrates multiple platforms and workgroups while trying to maintain its ability to service its customers at the levels they require and are accustomed to.  In addition, Avaya expects to support its newly-expanded product portfolio with a newly-shrunk workforce.

The flagship unified communications offering for Avaya will be Avaya Aura.  Aura will be enhanced with the addition of Avaya (formerly Nortel) Agile Communications Environment (ACE) as well as the inclusion of technology from Nortel for a common management infrastructure.  For existing Nortel customers, Aura can be added and will sit on top of existing deployments.  Likewise, Aura customers can add Nortel solutions to their deployments.

In the roadmap, Avaya laid out a move towards a SIP-based system that is multimodal with an open rules engine and conference-based communications.  To this end, Avaya Contact Center Elite will continue as the flagship enterprise solution, and Nortel Contact Center 7 will remain as a mid market solution.  The release of Contact Center 8 will add features and technology from Contact Center Elite, with the ultimate goal of improving scalability in order to enable the company to offer one contact center solution to cover everything from the middle market to high-end deployments.

For the small- and mid-sized enterprise market, Avaya plans to continue to supply Nortel Business Communications Manager, Norstar, Partner, and Integral 5, but it will eventually merge these solutions into Avaya IP Office as the flagship hybrid offering.  Nortel’s Software Communication System will be the flagship offering for SIP environments.

With regard to data products, Avaya announced it will adopt the current roadmap of data products from Nortel, including offerings for Ethernet Switching, Routers, Wireless Networking, Access Control, and Unified Management.

What Avaya has released thus far is a roadmap and there are many details that have not yet been released that should clarify further what Avaya’s combined offerings will look like.  Avaya did have plenty of time to contemplate and prepare for the merger and, if nothing else, we give them an A+ for effort here.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Skype Founders Sue eBay, Investment Group

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

Skype founders Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis, through their company Joltid, filed suit against Skype in the Northern California U.S. District Court. earlier today, a move that could hinder eBay’s plans to sell 65% of the company to a group of investors.

Skype's founders are suing the company and investors for copyright infringement

Skype's founders are suing the company and investors for copyright infringement

The investor group, including Silver Lake Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, and Index Ventures, was also included in the suit.

Joltid holds the rights to some of the core technology used by Skype, technology  that eBay allowed Zennström and Friis not to include in the sale when it paid $2.6 billion for Skype in 2005.  Zennström and Friis left the company two years after the acquisition.  Joltid’s main product, Global Offering, is a self-organizing and self-healing peer-to-peer technology and is covered by U.S. patent 7,480,658.  Skype uses Global Index to enable voice, video, and chat communications.

The licensing arrangement has been seen by some as potential leverage that would allow the two to reacquire Skype from eBay once the company had decided to sell it, although eBay ultimately took a different course.  Earlier this year, Joltid alleged that Skype and eBay were in violation of the licensing agreement for the technology and terminated the agreement.

Joltid is seeking an injunction against Skype, damages for copyright infringement, and profits that Skype has made while using the technology in breach of its license.  The suit claims that Skype is using the Global Offering technology “in manners unauthorized by Joltid,” including making the software available to third parties as well as copying and altering it.

EBay, in SEC filings concerning the Skype sale, said it is working on developing technology that will replace what it licenses from Joltid. It also said that consummation of the deal was subject to “no settlement of the pending litigation with Joltid Limited having been effected without the consent of the Buyer (subject to certain limitations).” EBay, citing pending litigation, declined to comment.

The investment group was organized by Michelangelo Volpi, now a general partner at Index Ventures.  Volpi is the former CEO of video company Joost, which in turn is owned by the two Skype founders.  He was recently removed by a shareholder vote from Joost’s board of directors and from his position as chairman of the board.  Volpi is also named in the suit as a defendant.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Skype is set free

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009 by David Goldes

The sale of Skype to a group of private investors presents the company with both a challenge and an opportunity.

The challenge is to transform its popularity as a platform for free voice and video calls from computers and smartphones into greater profits.

The opportunity is to return to its roots, akin to its mode in the pre-eBay days, and get into startup mode.  This should translate into greater innovation and far more flexibility as well as the ability to operate with less disclosure (as a public company, eBay’s investments in developing new technologies, for example, would be disclosed in public filings).  The company can also grant new and existing employees stock options, something that can improve retention of key employees and help bring in new ones.

Rumors of a sale have been around for a while (we speculated on this last April).  Somewhat surprisingly, the buyer didn’t turn out to be a traditional telecommunications company with a vision for the future.  Another surprise was that the sale didn’t include Skype’s founders, who own key intellectual property that is currently part of a licensing dispute.

Regardless, as an independent, Skype itself may turn out to be a next generation traditional telecommunications company – if it can find a way to leverage its current worldwide base into a profitable one.

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

In the Briefing Room: Virtual PBX iVPBX

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009 by Jonathan Spira and Cody Burke
1947 Stromberg Carlson PBX

1947 Stromberg Carlson PBX

IP-based telephony for smaller organizations is starting to get interesting again.  Last week, Skype introduced Skype For SIP and now, Virtual PBX is launching the iVPBX, a fully featured hosted PBX offering that supports Voice-over-IP (VoIP) softphones and SIP-compliant desk phones. [SIP is the prevalent open standard for business telephony networks and supports “sessions” in an IP network.] Built on the open systems platform that Virtual PBX introduced in November of last year, the iVPBX routes calls over the Internet to extensions using Gizmo5 VoIP phones as an alternative to using more expensive landline technology for the call.

Hosted PBX systems are the twenty-first century equivalent of Centrex, a PBX-like service developed in the mid-1960s where the switching took place in the telephone company’s central office; this contrasts with a PBX system, where the equipment is on site.  While Centrex was ideal for larger organizations that occupied multiple buildings or a campus, hosted or virtualized PBX services are ideal for small businesses, especially those where employees are found in many different locations.

The new iVPBX separates itself from more traditional hosted PBX systems in several ways, including pricing.  Traditional systems are generally priced based on a monthly allowance of free minutes, with a per-minute charge that kicks in when the free minutes are exhausted.  The iVPBX differs in that it allows unlimited inbound calling and does not have a per-minute fee; instead it relies on a per-seat pricing plan, around ten dollars per extension.

The iVPBX is being launched as a joint offering with Gizmo5, a VoIP provider, although it will work with any solution that is fully SIP compliant and uses North America Numbering Plan (NANP) phone numbering for destination identification.

The offering is good news for existing Gizmo5 users as well as Virtual PBX customers.  For the former, the iVPBX offering adds PBX functionality such as call transfer, ACD queues, and automated attendant.  For the latter, new functionality will include call recording, instant messaging, and file sharing.

Both companies will be cross-marketing and selling the combined services, although, according to Greg Brashier, COO of Virtual PBX, the company will be looking to work with other VoIP providers who are also fully SIP compliant.

For Virtual PBX, similar to the quandary faced by Skype, the challenge will be how to communicate benefits to customers without the requisite flurry of acronyms.  For many, the low price point will suffice, but the enhanced functionality that users get from the iVPBX makes it worthy of consideration even for those who are not terribly budget conscious.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex. Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Lotusphere: Blue is the New Yellow

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

This week was the 16th annual Lotusphere conference in Orlando, Florida.  It was my 16th as well, although my count includes three Lotuspheres in Berlin.

As has been the custom all these years, IBM once again unleashed a flood of information, both in the general session and throughout the event.  For those allergic to information overload, Orlando was a dangerous place.

The news, from a somewhat modder, hipper, Lotus, which trotted out the Blue Man Group (one had to wonder why it took Big Blue over a decade to book them) and Dan Aykroyd to further underscore the message of collaboration and this year’s theme of resonance.  Last year, incidentally, we said that “yellow is the new black.”   Regardless of color, the tools coming from Lotus allowing knowledge workers to share knowledge and collaborate are stronger and more powerful than ever.

Indeed, resonance can be “very very powerful,” Lotus GM Bob Picciano (attending his first Lotusphere following his appointment to the top position eight months ago) pointed it out in the opening session.  When it’s working at its full potential, he added, it will “absolutely shatter windows.”

With Research in Motion CEO Jim Balsillie present, IBM celebrated the tenth anniversary of the BlackBerry mobile device by unveiling a new BlackBerry client for IBM Lotus Sametime, IBM’s unified communications and collaboration platform, that supports Web conferencing, file transfer, public groups, and enhanced presence.  BlackBerry addicts, excuse me, users, can also open Lotus Symphony word processing documents attached to e-mail or Sametime, with eventual access to presentations and spreadsheets.   They can also download, edit, and post to Lotus Quickr team software.

The new BlackBerry client for IBM Lotus Connections social software platform integrates with e-mail, camera, media player, and the browser, and supports blogs, activities, and communities.  It also supports enhanced profile information including name pronunciations and pictures.  Previously, users on BlackBerry devices could only access Connections’ profiles and tag tools.

But there was more, lots more.

Lotus Sametime
IBM also announced Lotus Sametime 8.5.  Not surprisingly, the new version sports a brand new user interface.  It also includes a tool kit that allows customers to use Sametime to add collaborative capabilities such as presence, instant messaging, and click-to-call, to their business processes.  Sametime features enhanced meeting support, including an Ajax-based zero-download Web client and the ability to add participants by dragging and dropping names.  Other enhancements include improved audio and video, persistent meeting rooms, better support for the Mac and Linux platforms, and the ability to record meetings in industry standard formats.  The Sametime Connect client includes connectivity to profiles within Lotus Connections and pictures from contacts in Lotus Notes.  Sametime Unified Telephony ties Sametime to corporate telephone systems and allows knowledge workers to give out one phone number and set up rules that allow them to be reached based on various conditions (if one is in a meeting, the call could go directly to voicemail unless it’s one’s manager, in which case it would ring on the mobile).

LotusLive
After a year of public beta using the code-name “Project Bluehouse,” IBM announced LotusLive.  The new cloud-based portfolio of collaboration tools and social software supports e-mail, collaboration, and Web conferencing. LotusLive is built using open Web-based standards and an open business model allowing companies to easily integrate third party applications into their environment.  Two LotusLive services are available from the site, Meetings and Events.  Meetings integrate audio and video conferencing; events supports online conferences including registration.

The IBM Web site also lists LotusLive Notes, or IBM Lotus Notes Hosted Messaging in more formal IBM parlance, but unlike Events and Meetings, you can’t sign up and start the service online.  The only button to click is the one that says “Contact Sales.”

Partners for LotusLive: Skype, LinkedIn, Salesforce.com
IBM also announced that LotusLive will support Skype, LinkedIn, and salesforce.com.  LinkedIn members will be able to search LinkedIn’s public professional network from within LotusLive and then collaborate with them using LotusLive services.  Salesforce users will be able to use LotusLive’s collaborative tools in conjunction with the customer and opportunity management tools available in the Salesforce CRM application.  LotusLive users will also be able to call Skype contacts from within LotusLive

LotusLive Engage
IBM also announced the beta of LotusLive Engage, a “smarter” meeting service according to IBM.  Engage is a suite of tools that conflates Web conferencing and collaboration with file storage and sharing, instant messaging, and chart creation.  It allows knowledge workers to continuously engage – not just for one meeting – in a community-like environment.

IBM and SAP present Alloy
IBM and SAP announced their first joint product, Alloy.  Previewed at last year’s Lotusphere under the code name “Atlantic,” Alloy presents information and data from SAP applications within the Lotus Notes client and Lotus Notes applications.

If you want to look back at news from past Lotuspheres, feel free to click back to 2008, 20072006, 2005, or 2004.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Teaching the Elephant to Retire

Friday, September 23rd, 2005 by Jonathan Spira

Last week’s $2.6 billion purchase of Skype Technologies by eBay is noteworthy for one thing.  No, it isn’t the $2.6 billion price tag (plus an additional $1.5 billion if Skype hits certain performance targets in the next few years) for a company that only had $60 million in revenue and has yet to turn a profit.

It isn’t the fact that, besides eBay, Google, the News Corporation, Microsoft, and Yahoo were also said to have been interested in Skype at one time or another.

It isn’t even the fact that eBay might have overpaid, or that eBay may not be the best custodian for Skype.  (EBay says it will use Skype technology to add communication channels for buyers and sellers and it may add click-to-call adverts later on. If this is the best they can do, it is truly a waste of talent and technology.)

It’s simply the fact that the purchase of Skype serves notice to the telecommunications industry that voice is merely another service delivered in a data setting, and that the market for voice calling, as we know it today, is simply fading away, albeit a fast fade to black.

In ten or more years, we may look back and think of the concept of a telephone number somehow anchored to a pair of wires terminating in a telephone apparatus as rather quaint.  Even with today’s fairly early Voice-over-IP technology, such as provided by Skype, I can accept phone calls from my “New York” number whereever I might be, from Los Angeles to London to Munich.

Today, there are many different ways to place the same phone call: I could use my home telephone (landline), I could use my mobile, I could use the softphone from my company extension, or I could use a VoIP provider such as Skype or Gizmo Project.  The enterprise PBX market has already moved to open standards and Internet Protocol telephony; that leaves traditional last mile providers such as Verizon and BellSouth and mobile operators such as T-Mobile and Cingular holding the bag.  These companies have huge investments in infrastructure largely designed for voice – and for mobile operators, profits from voice services have helped make up for the failure of 3G networks to catch on as planned.

Ironically, federal regulators are close to approving Verizon Communications’ $8.5 billion purchase of MCI and SBC Communications’ $16 billion takeover of AT&T, while the $2.6 billion acquisition of Skype doesn’t warrant a second glance.  It’s likely that the Justice Department will require the merging companies to sell some assets, moves which they believe will preserve some level of competition for enterprise customers.  Skype, of course, has very few assets in the traditional sense and uses lines owned by others (the users’ Internet connections), having only to pay for the last mile when a user calls a non-Skype user.  Moreover, Skype may be the first true international telecomms company; most companies in the industry are successors of national monopolies.

It is of course no longer a question of whether VoIP will supplant the incumbent telecomms business, but rather a question of how quickly this will take place.  Millions of people place calls for free every day and the number is increasing in geometric progression.

Will the notion of a pay telephone seem patently absurd in five years’ time?  We live in a time where many are probably unaware of the etymology of the word “dial” as in to dial a phone number.  Perhaps this is why Skype has attracted the attention (and money) that it did.  After all, who’s going to teach the elephant to retire?

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.


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