While on a phone or video call, it’s pretty common to pick up some background noise — whether it’s dogs barking, car horns blaring or a co-worker’s goofy ringtone.
As offices become more open and workers become increasingly mobile, background noise is a new challenge facing collaboration. Plantronics is targeting this problem of UC noise with four new audio devices announced earlier this month.
“Everywhere is the new workplace. We know office noise is increasingly becoming a concern due to more open working environments that promote collaboration, but workplace noise isn’t just a problem for those in the office,” said Bill Loewenthal, vice president of enterprise product solutions at Plantronics, in a statement. “You can’t always control your environment and you certainly can’t control your caller’s environment.”
Users are demanding tools that promote seamless collaboration. If someone on a call can’t be heard because of background noise, users can’t effectively collaborate. It’s that simple.
“There’s been increasing emphasis on the importance of a reliable, high-quality, seamless user experience when communicating and collaborating today,” said Rich Costello, senior research analyst for unified communications at IDC. Plantronics’ new devices aim to reduce background noise for users on audio or video calls and increase the clarity of their voices, whether they’re at their desk or on the road.
The new products from Plantronics are:
Blackwire 725, a corded stereo headset with noise-canceling technology, is geared toward workers in open or collaborative workspaces who make PC-based calls. In addition to reducing outside noises, the device’s headset includes a noise-canceling microphone that diminishes noise on the user’s end of a call. The Blackwire 725 is available now and retails at $179.
Voyager Edge UC is a mobile headset for workers who take calls on their mobile devices, from their phone to their laptop. The headset includes three microphones that reduce noise caused by outside elements like wind. The Voyager Edge UC is available now and retails at $199.
Calisto 610 is a speakerphone that allows for mobile conference calls with small groups of people. The speakerphone includes a noise-canceling, omni-directional microphone and can integrate with a user’s softphone. The Calisto 610 is available now and retails for $99.
Clarity 340 is a handset phone designed for workers with vision, hearing or dexterity challenges. The phone includes sound amplification, large buttons for dialing and a large display. The phone is compatible with hearing-aids. The Clarity 340 will be available in March and will retail for $149.
Mitel has officially shelved its plans for a ShoreTel takeover.
Mitel pulled its third acquisition proposal — several days prior to the Nov. 20 deadline — due to ” the repeated refusal of ShoreTel’s Board of Directors to engage in discussions of any kind regarding a potential transaction,” according to a press release from Mitel.
The UC vendor came forward with an unsolicited bid to buy ShoreTel for $540 million back in November, which ShoreTel scoffed at. In a press release, ShoreTel’s board of directors said it “unanimously” concluded that “Mitel’s proposal significantly undervalues ShoreTel and fails to reflect the upside of ShoreTel’s growth initiatives and technology developments.”
Mitel was unfazed at first, following up with two more offers. The final bid would have put the buyout at $574 million. When ShoreTel still refused to entertain the idea, Rich McBee, Mitel’s CEO, brazenly wrote a letter to ShoreTel’s board, noting that since the board wouldn’t engage with him, he had approached unnamed large ShoreTel shareholders independently regarding the acquisition.
In the end, however, Mitel has decided to take its offer off the table.
Mitel has good reason for wanting ShoreTel. While Mitel’s UC products are popular in Canada and Europe, ShoreTel has a solid customer base in the U.S. ShoreTel also has a very strong UCaaS offering — ShoreTel Sky — which is especially appealing at a time when businesses are becoming very interested in the prospect of moving their communication off-premises.
Since cloud-based UC is gaining popularity very rapidly in the telephony market and ShoreTel is a little ahead of the game in that space, Mitel’s proposal makes sense, said Joe Rittenhouse, president of business development for Converged Technology Professionals Inc., a technology consulting firm and ShoreTel partner. “It’s something worthy of acquiring, but I’m glad it didn’t happen,” he said.
With formidable leaders in the UC space — including Cisco and Microsoft — smaller vendors are forced to fight over scraps. Mitel’s unsolicited offers may have created uncertainty among prospective ShoreTel customers, causing them to worry about Mitel discontinuing or ending support of Shoretel equipment. ShoreTel customers may also have worried about a forced migration to Mitel products. Such doubts could cut ShoreTel off at the knees in an already competitive UC market.
“[The bid] caught us off guard, that’s for sure. It made us reevaluate where we were and where the industry is headed,” Rittenhouse said. “But if anything, in the end, it reaffirmed the position we’re going in as far as offering cloud services.”
Rittenhouse said that existing ShoreTel customers probably felt more confident about their investments after seeing ShoreTel’s reaction to the Mitel offers. “We were actually concerned it would have a negative effect, but because ShoreTel rejected [the bids] so quickly, our existing [customer] base wasn’t worried,” he said.
But just because Mitel has called it quits, doesn’t mean other suitors won’t step up to the plate for a chance at ShoreTel. Consolidation is a certainty in the already crowded UC market.
“I think there is going to be consolidation eventually, but ShoreTel is also carving out what will be a niche market and good hybrid approach, so I think that would be giving up before they had a chance to play the game,” Rittenhouse said.
As the public switched telephone network (PSTN) blinks out of existence, carriers are left wondering what will become of it’s by-product: the telephone number. Will it go down with the ship, or will it become the life raft — connecting islands of communications?
I called on Voxbone’s vice president of Strategic Alliances, Hugh Goldstein, to answer this question. He took part in a panel discussion yesterday at ITEXPO in Las Vegas on the future of the phone number. Here’s what he had to say:
How will telephone numbers be common denominators between networks?
Hugh Goldstein: Voxbone has a big vested interest in this question because we’ve built a business around telephone numbers. The thing is that telephone numbers are very useful, yet they’re linked to this legacy system that a lot of thought leaders in the industry believe will eventually go away. So there’s a big debate from people at industry conferences on what the future will look like for telephone numbers. For the next 10-20 years, I expect everyone is going to continue to see telephone numbers in their daily lives. Part of the reason is that it’s the common denominator between networks. When we have islands of IP communications we can use any [connector] you like — some SIP networks use email-address-like identifiers. If you have a provider, whether it be an over-the-top (OTT) service like Skype, or you have an enterprise that’s built its own private network, they can use [that identifier language] within their own island. But when they want to go outside of that island, the telephone number is the common denominator. That’s what everyone uses to find the destination for a call to make communication work.
What might be the long term solution for connecting disparate communication systems?
Goldstein: Long term, there might be other systems that become popular. But at this point in time it’s difficult for any one new paradigm to really take a strong position unless there is a huge critical mass of customers just getting on board with it. Even though Skype has many hundreds of millions of users, there’s not any big push to make a Skype ID the new telephone number, because it’s attached to one individual company and it’s proprietary. Telephone numbers are international, regulated — the property of countries essentially — and they’re managed by international organizations regulators, so they’re viewed as being neutral. That’s a very strong attribute, even though we’re seeing lots of ideas come about. It’s still the telephone number that sits in front of a lot of IP services today.
Why might telephone numbers be replaced?
Goldstein: If there’s a complaint about telephone numbers, it’s that they’re not that easy to remember by people. People prefer language-based things. [But] if that’s the complaint of telephone numbers, an IP address of the length of IPv6 complexity would be worse. We all have lots of other different identifiers that are useful for us, like Facebook names, email addresses, [and] Skype names, but the telephone number is something that can link everything together.
How are telephone numbers being used as the common denominator between networks today?
Goldstein: One thing we find in our business [for OTT providers] is that businesses like to have numbers in different geographies. It’s something that helps them deal with global markets. So if you run a business in L.A. and you sell to people in Japan, France and Brazil, [and] if you only put an L.A. number there, it’s still difficult for people around the world to call an L.A. number. It’s a perceived economic barrier. Not everyone’s phone plans allows them to call international. Some of them feel reluctant to dial that international number. Maybe there’s perceived language issues. But let’s say in that scenario they put a Japanese, French and Brazilian number up on their webpage — that opens up the game and allows people in those markets to call and interact to do business with them. [For] Voxbone and other OTT providers like us, the cost to add numbers like that … is very low. So a lot of over-the-top and hosted PBX providers, I think they’ve found this as something that customers like. For their businesses, it’s a way to increase the average revenue per user, because that business is very competitive based on price, so there’s a certain amount that you can realistically charge for a phone line and voicemail. But now with international numbers, suddenly that customer in L.A. is [saying;] ‘I’ll upgrade my account, and I’ll add the number in Tokyo, Rio and Paris, and they see a lot of value in doing that. That’s what’s happening today and that illustrates to an extent why [phone] numbers are still very important.
Continue this interview: Calling all OTT providers: Enterprises want your UC services!
Employees are streaming more video at work and it’s not just cat videos on YouTube. Enterprise video content management is the latest service to emerge in the UC market as interest in enterprise video streaming grows. What exactly is video content management? Any software, appliances or software as a service (SaaS) offering that manages or facilitates the delivery of on-demand video (one-to-any device) across the Web, according to Gartner’s Magic Quadrant.
Compared to 2012, the number of hours workers have spent streaming video at the office has risen from 7.2 to 10.8 hours per user, per month. Gartner projects that by 2016, enterprises will stream more than 16 hours of video per user, per month. Video streaming is catching on as enterprises use the technology to improve collaboration, customer service, employee training and advertisements. To prevent the increased video streaming from congesting the network, enterprises are turning to video providers for management services.
While the enterprise video content management market has grown significantly, Gartner said it is too early to forecast the market’s future or estimate market size. However, Gartner found that most enterprises are looking at SaaS or hybrid video content management services. Gartner predicts that SaaS for streaming video will continue to grow in the market, especially for organizations that want to use video to target customers or avoid unpredictable storage infrastructure costs.
In its Magic Quadrant, Gartner named two market leaders: Qumu and Kaltura.
California-based Qumu offers a secure video content management system that not only lets IT pros manage and distribute content to any platform/device, but also allows them to capture video from any source and automate streaming and downloading. Qumu was founded in 2000 and acquired by legacy video vendor Rimage in 2011. The company identifies enterprise video content management as its best potential for revenue growth.
According to Gartner, Qumu’s strengths include:
— a strong hybrid storage model that allows third parties to be storage partners;
— its partnership with audio search specialist Nexidia;
— and a modularized workflow that makes room for external processes.
However, Gartner says Qumu’s pricing model is challenging and difficult to interpret.
Kaltura, based in New York, was founded in 2006 and claims to be the only open source online video platform. It offers a modular platform where IT pros can customize and develop aspects of the service, like the management, publishing, distribution and analysis. Kaltura also offers a social video portal for employees and a video extension for Sharepoint.
Gartner noted that in addition to the company’s strong customization, other strengths include:
–a hybrid storage model that allows for third party partners;
–a highly flexible workflow engine; and
–flexible analytics that can serve just about any use case.
Gartner cautioned that transcription for search and other functions provided by Kaltura are licensed from other vendors and the administration and management interface requires more streamlining to make it easier use.
Other providers ranked on the Magic Quadrant include Panopto as the sole visionary; Polycom, Cisco, Kontiki, Ignite, KZO Innovations and Brightcove as challengers; and Sonic Foundry, VBrick Systems and Media Platform as niche players.
Of the growing number of shows starring geeks (Big Bang Theory, The IT Crowd, Halt and Catch Fire) none epitomize the pain points of unified communications (UC) as profoundly as the recent TeleHuman sketch from HBO’s Silicon Valley.
If you haven’t watched Mike Judge’s new show yet, it’s a satire of Silicon Valley’s high-tech glamour. And while it portrays IT companies at work, its sexual humor and irreverent language make it decidedly unsuitable to watch at work. With that disclaimer, this hilarious clip between characters Big head and Hooli CIO Gavin Belson perfectly illustrates five UC pain points in three minutes.
Before I hash out each pain point, for those more interested in the show than the technology, I invite you to “tune out” the tech talk as figuratively or literally as you like (a la the electric guitarist lawyer in Episode 4).
Enter UC pain point No. 1—cost—where a translucent Belson materializes in a body-size tube, dubbed the TeleHuman, in front of Big Head.
In disbelief, Big Head exclaims “Wow! Cool, am I a TeleHuman over there, too?”
Belson scoffs, “What? No, of course not.”
For years, the cost of cutting edge telepresence technology, like holographic telepresence, has prohibited all but the rich and famous from using it. Big Head, like the vast majority, is one of the honored few to witness such exclusive technology. Despite a promising start to the telepresence industry, in 2014 more businesses are leaning toward cloud-based video conferencing than deploying full-fledged holograms—though a telepresence business case still stands for certain verticals, like medicine.
When the TeleHuman breaks down and distorts Belson, we’re taken to UC pain point No. 2: reliability. Nothing is more frustrating than spending boat loads of money on a product that isn’t working right. If UC tech were truly plug-and-play, we wouldn’t have IT engineers devoted to setting up and architecting a system smooth enough to handle the high demands of voice and video.
What’s UC pain point No. 3—you ask? Ease of use (or lack thereof). Belson illustrates this when he yells at tech support to troubleshoot a failed image projection:
Belson: Can you help me please?
Tech support: OK, I think what happened was when you set it up you forgot to –
Belson: I didn’t set it up. I paid one of you people to set it up.
For pain point No. 4, I’d like to point out the lack of unified UC solutions. When the TeleHuman breaks down, Big Head and the team are forced to break open a laptop and call Belson back using Hooli chat, which is subsequently downgraded to a cell phone conversation. That degradation doesn’t come from network-aware technology, however. Employees still need to go to a laptop, open an application and find the person to communicate with (or resort to their cell phones to find the appropriate contact). With true unified communications, the technology can move seamlessly between one communication mode to the next. While vendors are working their way toward unifying solutions—much of today’s UC technology exists in disparate environments that beg to be connected.
Which brings us to the last UC pain point: No. 5, the network. UC technology like video is only as good as the network it runs on. Arguably my favorite line from this Silicon Valley scene is the one in which a polite Gavin Belson appears on Hooli chat to say “The TeleHuman is a great piece of technology. Unfortunately, the broadband isn’t that great out here in rural Wyoming. That presents a great business opportunity.” This scene repeats almost verbatim a conversation I had with RingCentral’s VP of operations. He harped on needing broadband in order to move dynamically between modes of communication. As far as broadband accessibility, he said; “I think the U.S. is doing a lot to be there. If you live in a major city, you’re fine; but in rural areas, we’re still lagging behind.”
While UC technology has matured a great deal over the course of decades, the industry still has a ways to go. Scenes like Silicon Valley’s UC sketch are funny because we’ve all been there—we’ve all cursed at the Godforsaken technology that’s meant to make lives easier. But IT pros can be the heroes/heroines at the end of the day. While broadband availability and UC unification may not be in your hands, the network is. For more advice, Ovum Principal Analyst Mike Sapien offers his take on how to keep your UC deployment from failing.
Photo: Gavin Belson materializes in the TeleHuman
We’re living in a world of “dual-mode communications.” This was an argument made by Neil Schubert at the Mobile & Wireless World conference seven years ago. We have to have two of everything in order to separate our work and personal lives: a work laptop and a personal laptop; a work phone and a personal phone.
But hold the phone. If you have a mobile device for work, you’re in the minority. In a recent article on mobile UC integration limitations, Nemertes Research co-founder Irwin Lazar found that “92% of companies implement bring your own device (BYOD) policies, allowing employees to use personal smartphones to connect to corporate applications.”
Flash forward to 2014, you won’t hear anyone talk about “mobile” without “BYOD” in the same breath. But today’s “BYOD” is more like “BYOBD – bring your own business device,” according to Curtis Peterson, vice president of operations at RingCentral, in an interview on business communication.
Peterson believes this because of the restrictions that go along with connecting personal mobile devices to corporate applications, like letting employees use only certain devices purchased at certain locations. But even if a company doesn’t make an employee add an asset sticker to the back of the phone, most enterprises — in the name of security — will remotely wipe a phone if it becomes lost. While we have moved mostly away from having to carry both a work and a personal mobile phone, employees have had to become their work persona at the expense of their personal one.
“Kudos to businesses for convincing employees to go buy their equipment for them, but it becomes a challenge down the road in terms of trust and privacy,” Peterson said.
While some companies, like DropBox, are spinning off its consumer-grade products into offerings geared towards the enterprise, others, like RingCentral, allow employees to switch between work and personal resources on mobile devices. This is called dual persona or mobile device management (MDM).
“MDM remains a vital component in monitoring key device issues and assuring configuration and compliance with organizational operating policies related to this aspect of management,” wireless expert Craig Mathias said in a tip on mobility management.
While this begins to solve the problem, it’s just one part of the dual-mode communication predicament. “We might sum up here by stating that MDM is a necessary, but not a sufficient, mobility management capability today,” Mathias said.
For a while, linking mobile devices to an overall unified communication strategy may be as complex as managing the devices themselves. Though the need is there, the market may still have some catching up to do.
ORLANDO – Imagine using your headset not just for calls, but to adjust the temperature of your conference room or pull up documents you need for your meeting. With the advancement of next-generation wearable technology, those capabilities may not be so far off.
Discussing the future of wearable technology at Enterprise Connect 2014, Plantronics CTO Joe Burton said next-generation wearable tech in the enterprise “can bend the Web to you” to perform those hypothetical capabilities.
Current wearable technology shows the potential for next-generation products to go beyond simply taking voice calls. Intelligent headsets available from Plantronics already have capabilities that detect how near or far users are from their computers and allow users to seamlessly switch calls between mobile devices and their headsets, Burton said.
“We can use a bunch of next-gen technology to begin restoring all of the fidelity of face-to-face interaction and apply that to many business workflows in a way that’s compelling,” he said.
Burton said Plantronics’ focus is on evolving intelligent headset technology to solve relevant business issues for people, from the headset determining which conference room is free to the ability send contextual information, such as a user’s non-verbal cues, through a call.
Asked whether consumer market wearable technology like Google Glass could be reconciled with enterprise wearable technology, Burton said there will be no consolidation of devices into “one device to rule them all.”
“What we have found is that for the most part, having multiple cooperative devices that do things well makes a ton of sense,” he said.
He said devices like Samsung’s smartwatches and FitBit wristbands aren’t quite there yet in terms of giving users what they need in wearable technology.
“I think it’s very early days [in wearable technology], and while we’re coming at it from a headset perspective, what we’re keenly focused on is… the problems people would love to solve that these new technologies can solve,” he said. “We’ve been a headset company for 54 years; there is a lot of room to run in making real-time communication better.”
ORLANDO – With the use of mobile devices and BYOD growing in the enterprise, will desk phones go the way of the rotary phone, or can they be reinvented for the future?
At Enterprise Connect 2014, signs appear to point toward reinvigorating the traditional desk phone. For desk phones to compete with soft phones and mobile devices, they must do more than just provide a voice service.
Of course, vendors weigh in with different points of view, which also depend on the devices their companies support.
“The hard phone right now wins, but it’s fading,” said Bill Woodall, Unify’s director of UC technology.
Microsoft Lync Product Manager Jamie Stark agreed, saying that while desk phone sales continue to increase, it isn’t a sign of the their sustainability. Instead, as enterprises trend toward mobility and BYOD, the market will start to see hard phone sales dropping, he said.
ShoreTel’s Senior Director of Product Marketing Bernard Gutnick agreed. “People do more work outside of the workplace — work is a function rather than a place,” he said. As a result, users are moving away from hard phones that require them to be tied to their desks.
But newer editions of desk phones are becoming what Craig Walker, senior director of communications business at Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, called “multimedia devices” that offer features like instant message translation to voice or video through the hard phone.
“The concept is it isn’t just a phone number anymore, it is a single identification from a system,” Walker said.
As for hard phones going beyond voice services, Gutnick noted that ShoreTel announced a new line of desk phones, the 400 Series, that allow for integration with cloud applications.
The new deskphones designed for ShoreTel’s cloud-based PBX service will come in three versions: the IP480, IP480G and IP485G. The phones will range from basic dialing, grayscale display and speakerphone functionality in the IP480, to backlit color display options in the IP485G. All three of the new ShoreTel Sky series will allow for integration with cloud applications, the company said.
The new deskphone series will complement the vendor’s ShoreTel 400 series IP phones for premises-based deployments, which have been available since last fall. The new phone series for ShoreTel Sky is now shipping through the vendor’s channel partners, and will offer ShoreTel Sky users a more integrated experience to complement their cloud service, said Bernard Gutnick, senior director of product marketing for Sunnyvale, Calif.-based ShoreTel. “The 400 phones play an important part in reinforcing and controlling the end-to-end ShoreTel experience we want to give our resellers to offer to their cloud customers,” Gutnick said. The ShoreTel Sky service was previously sold with Cisco deskphones.
The company is also displaying the fruits of its recent integration with SalesForce.com at the conference — ShoreTel for SalesForce and ShoreTel Sky for Salesforce — two new applications that integrate Salesforce with the ShoreTel on-premises IP-PBX system, and the ShoreTel Sky cloud-based phone service. The integration will allow users to work within one application while collaborating in real-time, the company said.
Short message service (SMS) text messages have been unofficially part of the collaboration strategy for many enterprises for years. Now, new messaging services are popping up, aimed at taking advantage of this market need and filling in the security gaps left by text messaging from personal devices.
HeyWire Business, a Cambridge, Mass.-based mobile tech startup that broke out of stealth mode last year, introduced a cloud-based business messaging platform which allows users to send and receive SMS messages via their office phone number.
Once the HeyWire Business Messenger app is downloaded by the user, the cloud-based service allows users to plug their landline office phone numbers into the HeyWire Business Cloud. Text messages sent to landline numbers are routed to HeyWire’s network. Users can then read the messages on any Android or iOS mobile device in the U.S. Messages can be sent back and forth right from HeyWire’s app, which has been designed with enterprise IT requirements in mind. The HeyWire app allows users to attach an auto-reply policy, or access their company directory. The app encrypts all messages, and an enterprise can set a policy to log the communications. .
According to a recent survey of 500 business professionals conducted by HeyWire, 67% are using text messaging for business-related communications. Of this number, 64% would like to use their business phone number, rather than their personal cell phone number for business-related texting. While the main players in this market have been the smaller players so far, Avaya recently threw its hat in the ring with its Avaya Messaging Service.
But certain industries might find smaller startups more capable of catering to their needs. TigerText, a Santa Monica-based startup similar to HeyWire, has carved out a spot for itself in this space with its ability to guarantee a secure, HIPAA-compliant SMS and picture messaging service for business users. Like the HeyWire service, messages can be sent without revealing personal cell phone numbers, and the messages are encrypted and self-destruct after a designated period of time.
As more IT teams implement mobility policies, and try to regulate SMS messages sent for business purposes, they will use messaging services to help enforce security where need be. After all, business professionals may want to text, but separation is still needed between personal and professional communication.