Unified Communications (UC), when first pitched in the early 2000s with the promise of seamless voice, video and data across platforms and devices, seemed irresistible. Reality got in the way, however, with the complexity of integrating legacy systems and networks making it difficult to achieve the main goal – a simple and great user experience.
And then social media networks and Over The Top (OTT) services surged in popularity – first consumer services like Skype and WhatsApp and then enterprise services like Slack, providing cross-device voice, video, messaging, presence (the ability to detect if a person is present/available), and even collaboration services. They were all cloud-based and avoided the issues of legacy systems and networks.
However, these OTT services did not solve the Unified Communications problems relating to enterprises, where traditional business-calling features have been developed over decades, typically associated with legacy PBX’s such as dial plans, hunt groups and auto attendants.
Some may argue that the world has moved on, and that the old way of calling a business and then being connected with the appropriate person no longer applies. Instead, they believe that customer service and sales are being serviced through chatbots on messaging apps, or through chat functions on websites. Undoubtedly it has started to change, but there is still a big demand for traditional business communications – to be able to route an incoming call through to a specific person.
This becomes more challenging today when mobile is a way of life. Nowhere is this more important than in business communications with workers typically being away from their desks 50-60% of the time and their consumption of communications services is now primarily done from a mobile device.
A mobile-first approach is recognition that the communications industry must transition to the environment where a smartphone is often the only communications device used by businesses and their employees, and therefore needs to manage personal communications plus all the business voice, video conferencing, messaging, presence and collaboration functionality, as if the employee is in the office – wherever he or she may be.
However, organisations may have a mix of fixed-only users, mobile-only users and converged users who want a single number to reach them across multiple devices. Therefore a seamless business UC service needs to provide users with a common set of basic communications capabilities whether that customer is accessing those services through a VoIP desktop phone, POTS device on a VoIP network, a mobile phone on the cellular network, POTS device on the PSTN network or using a UC client on tablets, smartphones and PCs.
Just as cloud has been the enabler for cross-device OTT services, so is it the enabler for true UC services. The alternative is routing calls to and from an enterprise’s CPE (Customer Premises Equipment) and mobile devices, often with the same kind of efficiency of a complex roaming call, and with a similar quality of service.
Out of all the communications and OTT service providers, mobile operators (MNO’s) have a clear advantage in being able to integrate the UCaaS (Unified Communications as a Service) services deeply into their network to both their SS7 and IP domains, thereby resolving routing complexities to mobile devices within the network itself, thanks to UCaaS vendor platforms provided by Broadsoft, Cisco and others. Whilst OTT providers are able to offer cross-device services, they are unable to offer true UC services without mobile network integration.
Mobile operators are well aware that business services deliver higher margin to the service provider, have higher overall price points, and generally have lower churn, and are offering multiple connectivity and IT solutions in order to acquire business customers.
The advantages of a robust business UCaaS solution for a mobile operator are:
- Stopping customer erosion to OTT apps with a enterprise grade UC service;
- Adding mobile UC to existing hosted services to see incremental revenue and/or used as a positive discounting tool to help protect ARPU;
- Providing equivalent services to those provided by premise solutions in the mid market and larger customer segments;
- Providing additional functionality which incentivises existing customers against churn;
- Mobile operators can open up a new route to market by delivering mobile UC services to Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO) & Mobile Virtual Network Enablers (MVNE) looking to resell or white label mobile UCaaS services;
- A service-based solution means an operating cost, no-capex model for mobile operators, and adds flexibility to adapt to rapidly changing business models.
Mobile operators need to leverage this advantage to aggressively pursue enterprise business, using efficient & quality voice routing as the trojan horse to offer a complete suite of enterprise grade UC&C (Unified Communications and Collaboration) services and take on the pure OTT services. This is their chance to rise above being “dumb pipe” providers.