BT Enters Crowded Stateside Hosted UC Market

By Tara Seals Comments
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BT plc is taking on a new market for its hosted unified communications offering: the United States. Wading into the already crowded fray populated by the likes of Verizon Business, AT&T Inc. and Microsoft Corp., and niche players like Alteva and PanTerra, BT hopes to stand out with a converged voice, mobile and data service for the desktop. Both BT and its infrastructure partner, Cisco Systems Inc., will sell the service via all channels.

The service is built to appeal to the cash-strapped as well as the opex-friendly portions of the business market that might not have the support for in-house equipment maintenance, or which might want a more fixed-cost environment of predictability. The offer brings IP wireline and wireless conduits to bear into a single portal for integrated unified messaging, VoIP, voicemail, video conferencing and IP PBX functionality, offered on a pay-per-user model via the cloud. BT can also mash in on-premise IP services a company already has, bringing them into the portal as well. Meanwhile, upgrades and maintenance are automatic and handled by BT.

The positioning speaks to two things: one, cost, complexity, and network capabilities are the leading barriers to deploying unified communications, according to Infornetics Research. Barriers this service eliminates. Secondly, the focus of UC is transitioning to mobility, multimedia and collaboration, with respondents looking to integrate cell phones, IM, video and conferencing together.

The latter point is not just about cost-cutting; it’s also about productivity. “Businesses today typically have multiple, fragmented, disparate IT and telephony infrastructures that restrict effective communication,” Neil Sutton, vice president of BT Global Services’ global portfolio, said in a statement.

The pie will be big enough to justify the rollout, analysts say, though uptake has been slow so far thanks to a far-from-positive economy. “Against the backdrop of significant enterprise spending reductions on all kinds of products, the unified communication market is holding up remarkably well,” notes Matthias Machowinski, Infonetics Research’s directing analyst for enterprise voice and data. “Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise, as these tools are designed to allow users to communicate and collaborate more effectively. But the provider landscape is far from being set in stone; organizations are going beyond their traditional communication suppliers and considering offerings from the likes of Skype and Google, making this an interesting market to follow in coming years.”

In addition to the new entrants, Wainhouse Research found that almost all of the majors are offering unified communications services in one form or another. And indeed, BT will have its work cut out for it as it expands; the list of major hosted UC providers reads like a directory of major tech/telecom com firms: Verizon Business, AT&T, BroadSoft, Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, Siemens, Telefonica, Global Crossing and Vodafone. Smaller specialists in the market include pure-play providers such as 8X8, Alteva, Intelliverse, and PanTerra.

The pie should be big enough to justify the rollout: Infonetics forecast unified communications market to return to strong double-digit annual growth once the world's economies recover, with sales surpassing $1 billion by 2013.

The new BT service is part of BT’s Onevoice UCC portfolio, delivered via its 21CN global network, built on Cisco’s Hosted Unified Communications Services platform.

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