Panasonic Lures Hosted Providers with SIP Phones, Proven Channel

By Khali Henderson Comments
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PanasonicSystem Networks Company of America is challenging the likes of Cisco and Polycom for a share of the hosted communications endpoint market by launching more than a dozen SIP phones and courting hosted communications providers to deploy them.

The gearmaker has been working on its response to hosted communications for the past two years, said Mike Chase, national sales manager – SIP Services for Panasonic. Candidly, he admits the company was late to the game but wasted no time trying to catch up.

Panasonic released nearly a dozen phones in as many months beginning in mid 2010. To get a better feel for the business, in August 2011 it launched its own hosted telephony service, Panasonic Cloud Business Phone System for very small business, using the Broadsoft platform and distributing through Amazon.com, BestBuy.com, OfficeDepot.com, Staples.com, Frys.com and Fry’s Electronics retail stores. On a parallel track, it also began recruiting other hosted providers to use its phones.

While the services business gave the company critical experience, it also strengthened its resolve to stick to what it does well, Chase said. He explained that Panasonic tested the market with very small businesses and had some success, but quickly realized it would have to move up to 10-200 seats to be profitable.

"Then we needed to tell carriers that we were going to compete with them. We are choosing not to do that," Chase said. To that end, he said the hosted services will sunset and the sales focus will tilt toward developing partnerships with hosted providers. Chase leads the year-old team focused on that effort.

Panasonic is working with 68 providers in the U.S. but plans to partner more closely with a smaller group of up to 10 to which it will refer customers with the understanding that the provider use Panasonic phones, Chase said.

"We will work hand in hand with [Panasonic's] SMB Communications Channel team to penetrate the North American market in 2012," Chase said. Presently, Panasonic has 4,700 sales partners that it intends to enlist to sell services on behalf of its carrier partners.

Panasonic has announced interoperability of its various SIP phone models with providers, such as CoreDial, 4PSA’s Unified Communications Platform VoipNow and Vintalk. In addition, its SIP phones are interoperable with service providers using Broadsoft, Asterisk, Brekeke and Metaswitch hosted platforms.

The SIP services strategy expands Panasonic's addressable market beyond its small business sweet spot all the way up to the enterprise.

Panasonic has long been a leader in small business communications systems. It has No. 1 market share (26.7 percent) in North America for 2011 in the two-40 extensions category, according to T3i Group.

The company launched its SIP line of phones in May 2010 with two SIP cordless phones, the KX-TGP500 and KX-TGP550, for use with the Asterisk telephony platform. It followed up in August 2011 with four UT Series phones (KX-UT136-B, KX-UT133-B, KX-UT123-B and KX-UT113-B), which are certified by BroadSoft on Broadworks and Digium’s Asterisk. In January it added a UT model, the KX-UT670 Smart Desk Phone. It's newest phone is the Executive SIP Phone KX-UT248-B.

In addition, Chase said there are a few more planned. The KX-UDS124, a four-channel SIP DECT Cell Station, is in the final testing phase with a planned release in second quarter 2012 along with two new wireless DECT 6.0 phones: the KX-UDT111 and the KXUDT121. Finally, there is a rugged wireless DECT phone, the UDT131, and an eight-channel SIP DECT cell station, the UDS118, set for release later in the year.

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