Last week, I attended the Wainhouse Research Collaboration Futures Summit ’09 in Boston. Topics of discussion ranged from collaboration to videoconferencing to synchronous distance learning. Some highlights include:
- A presentation from Sascha Hach of Google, demonstrating the latest collaboration applications in the cloud, including working on a spreadsheet with three people at the same time. Another interesting note: Google’s collaboration applications will be available to businesses for a flat fee of $50 per user per year — an amazing deal for an SMB. Hach invited all users to test out the new applications and pushing them to their limits. “It’s always good to break things so that we can make them better,” he said.
- An amazingly cool presentation on the future of technology, including a video of MIT’s Sixth Sense technology. The technology can also be replicated with an iPhone and a mirror. If you haven’t seen the video, watch it — you will be blown away.
- A panel discussion with six experts discussing collaboration deployment strategies, and whether hosted vs. managed services vs. do it yourself was a better option.
I also had the chance to sit down with one of these experts, Steve Bleiberg of Johnson & Johnson, to discuss some of the UC choices being made at J&J. He provided me with a few really interesting insights:
- When it comes to Microsoft vs. Cisco for UC, Microsoft OCS has a huge advantage for companies that deploy other Microsoft applications. For companies with huge Microsoft contracts, Microsoft will throw in OCS for free. And it’s hard to compete with free.
- No matter what kind of service provider you employ, there will always be a DIY aspect. There’s also the matter of knowing how to use a service provider, and for what tasks based on your own IT staff. Steve likened it to owning a house and paying the city for water — you still need to hire a plumber, maybe a gas company, and then you also need to know how to turn on your own faucets.
- Cisco is king when it comes to networking gear. But when it comes to UC and desktop videoconferencing, engineers and IT departments tend to see that as not network, but desktop. And most engineers trust their desktops to Microsoft, so Microsoft has that inherent edge over Cisco and Cisco has to overcome that hurdle and be seen as “desktop” if they want to win contracts. This is not to say that Microsoft is better than Cisco, but just that Cisco has that much more work cut out for them to sell their UC solutions.
Be sure to check out my blog entry with video highlights from the exhibit floor at the Wainhouse Research Collaboration Futures Summit ’09.
The days of Google and Apple having a cuddly relationship appear to be ending, and unified communications has played a small part in the break-up.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt resigned from Apple’s board of directors today, just a few days after the FCC opened an inquiry into why Apple rejected the Google Voice application from its iPhone App Store. Google Voice, based on the technology Google acquired with GrandCentral, is sort of a UC-on-the-cheap technology, as pointed out by our Click to Talk blogger, Tony Bradley. At it’s core, Google Voice allows users to establish a single phone number which can be set to ring any number of devices – desk phones, mobile phones, home phones. It also has some unified messaging features, such as visual voice mail and online voice mail access, and it offers some other useful features, such as call recording, conference calling and directory assistance.
When Apple rejected the Google Voice application, many bloggers were upset. Some suspected that Apple was trying to protect AT&T from losing revenue, since Google Voice users can easily use the technology to move a phone call from their mobile device to a land-line. However, the picture is much more complicated than that.
As Dave Michaels pointed out on his blog, Pin Drop Soup, Apple and Google are now competitors. Although Google remains largely a Web-based software company and Apple remains mostly a hardware company, that distinction isn’t enough to keep this bromance alive. Michaels writes: “Well, maybe not a ‘primary’ competitor since Google doesn’t make hardware. But Google does make a browser, a cell phone platform, and an OS – direct alternatives to those made by Apple.”
Historically, Google and Apple have been relatively friendly toward, based on a mutual distrust of Microsoft. Schmidt’s presence on Apple’s board formalized that friendship. But now the companies’ interests are diverging. Google, which makes the bulk of its revenue in online advertising, wants a wireless Internet that is as open as its wired cousin is. Apple, like Microsoft and the majority of wireless service providers, want maintain a market where devices, operating systems, and carriers have a high degree of control over how wireless users access the Internet.
Apple and Google should have seen this split coming. After all, Microsoft is mostly a software company, too, and it has been Apple’s fiercest rival for decades.
We’ve heard it from vendors for awhile now — video is the wave of the future. So it came as no surprise when I stepped onto the exhibit floor at the Wainhouse Research Collaboration Futures Summit ’09 that the only demonstrations were HD videoconferencing products. In this video, I take you through each demo from four vendors: Radvision, LifeSize, Vidyo and Tandberg.
As you can hear me say in the video, the buzzword of the day was “scalable video coding.” The comparison of the scalable video vs. the video with 3% packet loss was pretty interesting — I know my video quality itself wasn’t the best (ironic), but trust me when I say that the scalable video looked significantly clearer. There was not a bit of pixelation on the screen, whereas the 3% packet loss looked like satellite dish TV when there’s a major hurricane — very pixelated.
A few products were hardware-based, and others were software-based. Software-based products seem to be the best for desktop videoconferencing, as clunky hardware would clutter up one’s desk, and a simple webcam attached to a desktop will do the trick. Software is also generally cheaper, as a license and simplified hardware is easier to purchase than a full hardware system.
But for room-based videoconferencing, hardware seemed to provide better clarity. As the LifeSize rep pointed out, a hardware videoconferencing solution isn’t going to draw on your system’s processing power and make everything run slowly, depending on your system. Hardware has an inherently different (though not necessarily better) troubleshooting method as well, if anything should go wrong.
Videoconferencing wasn’t the only topic discussed at the Wainhouse Research Collaboration Summit. In my next blog entry, I’ll give a brief summary of the topics discussed during the sessions.
Reuters is reporting that private equity firm Gores Group (majority owner of Siemens Enterprise Communications and Enterasys Networks) has formed a joint venture with Siemens AG, called Enterprise Network Holdings, as part of an effort to make a bid for Nortel’s enterprise division.
Nortel recently announced that Avaya had made a stalking horse bid of $475 million for Nortel’s enterprise division, which includes its voice and data networking businesses. As dictated by Canadian and U.S. law, other qualified bidders will have an opportunity to outbid Avaya for the division, probably next month.
Gores Group bought a controlling interest (51%) of Siemens Enterprise Communications from Siemens AG last year and combined the company with one of its other holdings, Enterasys. If Gores and Siemens AG’s joint venture is successful in acquiring the Nortel assets, it would probably assign those assets to Enterasys-Siemens, which covets access to Nortel’s customers.
Reuters also reports that Enterprise Network Holdings and Nortel creditor MattlinPatterson have filed objections to the bidding process for Nortel’s enterprise assets. Enterprise Network Holdings claims Nortel has given Avaya an unfair advantage in the bidding process and is asking the courts to require that Nortel provide qualified bidders all information about the assets up for sale. MatlinPatterson, which made an unsuccessful bid for Nortel’s telecom wireless infrastructure business last week, claims that the procedures for Nortel’s auction of its enterprise division fails to preserve its creditors’ right to propose a plan of reorganization as a qualified bid. In other words, MattlinPatterson would rather take control of Nortel than get pennies on the dollar for the Nortel debt it owns.
I gave a nod to Agito when I blogged about Google Voice on BlackBerry, noting that the big G was stepping into the former’s fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) turf with the launch of the BlackBerry and Android apps for Google Voice, which integrates one-number dialing across multiple lines so that, for example, a telecommuter can give one number and be reached whether he’s at the office, at home, in a hotel, or on the beach with his cell phone.
Agito’s obviously not a company to rest on its laurels, as Christian Gilby, director of product marketing for Agito, quickly put together a video showing the company’s software routing a Google Voice call over a Wi-Fi network:
Not shabby at all, and while the FMC and mobile unified communications fields are certainly going to get much, much more crowded over the next few years, Agito’s demonstrated they have a large head start with the technology. It’ll be interesting to see if they can keep their lead.
Avaya’s acquisition of Nortel’s enterprise assets doesn’t come as a huge surprise, as Shamus McGillicuddy noted weeks ago when acquisition rumors swirled. Even the price was pretty spot on: Rumored $500 million, actual sale price $475 million. But now that the sale is official, Avaya’s the proud owner of a huge enterprise unified communications customer base that will be looking for answers on if and when a migration strategy will appear.
They also inherited a large networking business outside of Avaya’s core focus, as Shamus notes on the Network Hub blog, but I’m sure they’ll find something to do with that.
The full text of Avaya’s press release after the jump.
- Nortel auction: Avaya or Siemens-Enterasys will bid for UC business
- Nortel enterprise business set to go to Avaya for $500 million?
- Nortel voice customers are the vendor’s only enterprise asset
Top unified communication vendors like Agito have been working hard to give RIM’s BlackBerry devices integrated deskphone features, but now Google Voice is getting in the game.
Today, the search-and-everything-else-Internet giant unveiled its Google Voice application for both BlackBerry and Android, which integrates Google Voice’s 1-number calling and call-forwarding service into those devices.
As a long-time Google Voice user (since early on in its Grand Central days), I had to give the new service a whirl. For the BlackBerry, users just browse to m.google.com/voice, download the app, sign in and ta-da: Your Google Voice address book, and all Google Voice voicemails, are just an app click away.
This means that when I’m using my cell phone for work, I can have my Google Voice number show on the receiver’s caller ID instead of my personal cell number. It also means I can quickly flip through Google Voice’s automatic transcriptions of my voicemail or, if the transcription is garbled (One recent message: “hi michael act kathryn capture with the cisca”) I can click a button and download the original audio.
Google Voice lacks some of the features the enterprise-focused vendors have. Unlike Agito, for example, I can’t route my calls over Wi-Fi and save cellular minutes. Enterprises also can’t currently “push” the service to users.
Nor is the integration quite as slick as many alternatives: If I’m calling from the Address Book, the popup menu lets me route the call through Google Voice, but other areas of the phone (such as missed calls) don’t give me that option.
Overall, however, it’s a great early effort with an unbeatable price: Free, if you can get a coveted Google Voice invite, and Google’s made clear they want to boost the rate those invitations go out.
According to the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail, Nortel is close to selling its enterprise unit for $500 million. The paper says Avaya is the leading bidder, but Siemens-Enterasys could emerge as the buyer if Avaya backs out. Both bidders are interested in Nortel’s enterprise customers more than its technology.
If Avaya seals the deal, it will suddenly find itself in the data networking market with Nortel’s line of enterprise routers and switches. It’s unclear whether it would hold onto those assets or try to spin them off to a third party. Depending on who you talk to, Nortel owns about 3% to 4% of the network switching market. If Siemens-Enterasys emerges as the winner, it will have find itself with some redundant product lines which will require some rationalization.
It looks like Nortel will purge some of its lower level executives before handing over the division to a buyer. www.ITbusiness.ca is reporting that Nortel laid off the senior UK staff who were leading Nortel’s unified communications partnership with Microsoft, known as the Innovative Communications Alliance. The partnership was formed in 2006 and expires next year. It’s been on shaky ground since Nortel entered bankruptcy.
Nortel is breaking apart.
The former crown jewel of Canada’s high-tech industry revealed today that it will sell off its CDMA and LTE wireless telecom infrastructure division to Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) for $650 million. Nortel also revealed that it will sell of the rest of its assets. According to reports, the CDMA division generates $700 million in annual revenue, which means means that NSN will make back its money inside of a year. NSN has also established a low bar for the sale of all of Nortel’s other business units.
A sale of Nortel’s enterprise telephony and unified communications businesses is will probably follow soon. A couple months ago at VoiceCon Orlando, there was plenty of buzz circulating that Avaya and Siemens-Enterasys were both looking to acquire Nortel’s UC business. Neither of them, according to rumors, are interested in technology. Instead, they want the customer base.
A company that’s only looking for access to installed customers might not be willing to pay much for Nortel’s UC division. However, NSN’s $650 million deal with Nortel is so shockingly low that it has certainly driven down Nortel’s asking price for its UC business. The only question now is whether the price has been pushed low enough for Avaya or Siemens to pull the trigger. If that happens, Nortel customers will find themselves with two choices: They can accept whatever incentives the winning bidder offers Nortel customers to buy into their own products, or they can start looking elsewhere.
Since I wrote about Google Wave’s UC potential, I’ve been curious as to Cisco’s response. After all, as Frost & Sullivan analyst Vanessa Alvarez pointed out, Google and Cisco could be the best of frenemies.
After chatting with Cisco directly however, it looks like that friendship will have to wait at least a bit to blossom (they contacted me as a direct response to the article). Grace Kim, a senior manager of marketing for Cisco’s WebEx collaboration suite, told me first and foremost the announcement of Google Wave was a sign Cisco was leading the way.
“I think, number one, they’re validating the growth and potential of our SaaS-based applications,” she said. “We’ve been in this space and they’re coming aboard the web-based application model.”
Google’s “coming aboard” the SaaS model? Google IS the SaaS-based business model: Its strikes against Microsoft have come in search, sure, but it was only when the search giant unveiled Google Docs that it truly encroached on Redmond’s territory. Cisco acquired WebEx in 2007, while GMail was launched (in Beta, naturally!) in 2004, with more and more UC features added regularly since then, including chat, video, text … Is conferencing that far behind?
Grace said the WebEx team hadn’t been paying particularly close attention to the Wave news, however, beyond reading some of the news as it came up, and re-iterated that Cisco was committed to interoperability (without signaling Wave or any other product in particular) as a cornerstone to success.
“We’re always looking at all the vendors and where the market’s going and to interoperate with what our customers want,” she said. “We’ll continue to evaluate it as opportunities arrive.”