Channel Partners’ 15 Most-Read Stories of 2019: Layoffs, Bankruptcies, SD-WAN

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Another decade – by my count, the 202nd A.D. – is almost in the books — and what a year it was for technologies and companies doing business in the channel.

When the calendar flipped over last January, I don’t think anyone foresaw bankruptcies in the future for no less than three big names — Windstream, Sungard Availability Services and Fusion Connect. While Sungard AS bounced back rather quickly, emerging from chapter 11 in just 24 hours, it’s been a longer process for Windstream and Fusion. Both companies have been busy reassuring their partner communities that they’ll emerge stronger than before and their channel programs will remain steadfast.

A mammoth deal between Avaya and RingCentral is expected to change the landscape around one of the channel’s hottest technologies — unified communications as a service. Avaya spurned suitors that wanted to buy the company in favor of a mega-deal with RingCentral.

And speaking of technology, SD-WAN was smoking hot again in 2019, with no end in sight. You were desperate to keep up with which vendors were on top and the sales techniques that could help you rake in the cash.

These were just a few of the most-read stories on our website in the past year. We invite you to scroll through our countdown below to see which was No. 1 and the other breaking news that interested you and your peers the most in 2019.

Datapipe's Robb Allen
#15 —  Big Cable Plans

Guest columnist and cable industry insider Craig Leddy kicked off 2019 with an article about the direction many of the big cable companies' business units planned to take in 2019. It featured Comcast, Cox, Spectrum, Altice and Mediacom.

"Building on significant growth in 2018, cable providers continue to enhance their network capabilities and expand their product lines," Leddy wrote. "They are building out fiber lines for gigabit internet and cloud support while enhancing existing connections with gigabit coax using DOCSIS 3.1."

Noting that business services continue to serve as a vital revenue driver for cable providers, Leddy pointed out how the top five U.S. cable providers captured nearly $17.5 billion in business revenue in 2018.

Breaking it down by cableco, he was excited about Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, "leading the way on cable’s deployment of SD-WAN" — a topic you'll be reading more about later in our countdown.
#14 — CenturyLink Outage

The communications giant took a lot of heat early in the year for a widespread outage that occurred over the holiday break in 2018.

CenturyLink said on Jan. 2 that it was in contact with the FCC and would cooperate with its investigation. The outage affected 911 service for numerous customers across the country. Restoration of services began the day it occurred (Dec. 27), but network traffic hadn't completely normalized until two days later, a company spokeswoman said.

A week later, CenturyLink's CEO would blame an equipment vendor for the issue.
Ribbon's Kevin Isacks
#13 — Avaya-RingCentral

It's a deal that could have ramifications in the channel for years to come. Avaya and RingCentral entered into a partnership which brings about a new unified communications as a service (UCaaS) solution.

This isn't any ordinary deal. RingCentral is contributing $500 million to be Avaya's exclusive UCaaS provider. The company also paid $125 million in 3% redeemable preferred equity, convertible at $16 a share, and a $375 million advance for expected costs and licensing rights.

The companies say Avaya Cloud Office by RingCentral offers a full suite of unified communications, contact center, UCaaS and CCaaS solutions to a global customer base, including more than 120,000 customers, more than 100 million UC lines and 5 million CC users in more than 180 countries.

More on this topic later in the countdown.
Telarus' Andrew Griffiths
#12 — 20 Top UCaaS Providers

Hey, speaking of UCaaS, our handy-dandy list of "20 Top UCaaS Providers You Should Know" from 2018 stayed hot again in 2019. We polled analysts and members of our advisory board for their insights on who should crack the list.

Those you would expect, such as 8x8 and RingCentral, made the list, but so did some lesser-knowns that started to make an impact this year.

The list was so popular that we decided to revisit it this year and highlight some more big-time UCaaS providers.
Sandler Partners' Eric Beller
#11 — CenturyLink Might Sell Consumer Business

As CenturyLink is one of the biggest names doing business in the channel, it's probably no surprise that the company made our countdown for a second time — for a different reason.

You clamored to read an article about the potential of selling off its consumer business, saying "nothing has been ruled out" as CenturyLink conducted a strategic review of its consumer business.

CEO Jeff Storey discussed the review process during a first-quarter earnings call that included a report of more than a $6 billion loss in Q1, compared to a $115 million profit in the year-ago quarter.

While a selloff hasn't come to fruition, we'll be keeping an eye on this in 2020.
Call center chatbots
#10 — Hot Certifications

Sometimes an article catches a search engine's fancy and is a gift that just keeps on giving. Take this article by Channel Partners contributor Kurt Marko titled, "29 Hot Certifications to Spice Up Your Business in 2018."

You read that right, 2018, meaning we actually published this article as part of our 2018 preview ... in Dec. 2017. Yet here it is, still catching your attention.

Check it out — some of these might still be relevant as 2020 dawns.
Forcepoint's Lisa Schreiber
#9 — Hosted Exchange vs. Office 365

Let's travel back in time once more, shall we? Though not quite as far.

Office 365 implementations have become a huge part of the channel partner's arsenal. A year ago April, Intermedia's Irina Shamkova, in a guest column, dove into why she believes Hosted Exchange beats O365.

"There is ... another robust productivity solution that offers both partners and their customers a more customizable option: Hosted Exchange," she wrote. "Hosted Exchange is a powerful, collaborative, scalable solution that is often a great fit for partners and customers.

She explained why.
Lose weak passwords
#8 — Copper's Slow Death

Whenever we write about copper retirements, the ears of the legacy telco providers and agents in our audience tend to perk up. That was no different in 2019.

The most-read story about copper was this one regarding Verizon's plans to discontinue it in some heavily populated portions of the Northeast. In this instance, Verizon asked the FCC permission to retire copper in numerous areas of New York, New England and Pennsylvania, as it continued moving customers to fiber-based technology.

The carrier said it plans to replace the copper-based facilities with fiber ones to provide services over its fiber-to-the-premises network infrastructure.
UCaaS currency
#7 — Top Gun 51

2019 marked the debut of the Top Gun 51, our list that recognizes a new generation of channel executives, those who build and execute programs in a way that drives partner, customer and supplier success.

To compile our list, we asked distributors, master agents and industry analysts to each nominate executives who they think excel in being an advocate for the channel model, are committed to partners' business success and work to earn trust. The response was terrific.

We recognized the 51 channel leaders during a dinner in September at Channel Partners Evolution in Washington, D.C. If you somehow missed the honorees, here they are. We look forward to the 2020 edition.
Call center chatbots
#6 — Mitel-Avaya Speculation

Before Avaya and RingCentral struck their big deal (see #13), there was rampant speculation that Mitel would buy Avaya, its rival.

The initial report was from Bloomberg, which said Avaya was considering a bid worth more than $5 billion. Reuters reported that Avaya was considering an all-cash offer from a private-equity firm as an alternative. Analysts we talked to said buying Avaya would help Mitel finally fulfill its dream of becoming a Tier 1 player alongside Cisco and Microsoft.

As often is the case, a story about rumors often get more attention that when the actual news breaks.
UCaaS and AI
#5 — Channel Conflict and Controversy

Twice a year, we publish a roundup of the biggest conflicts and controversies impacting companies in the channel, and it never disappoints. We cover layoffs, surprise M&A, shocking personnel changes and more.

This edition featured many of the things you're seeing in this countdown, including Windstream's bankruptcy (still to come), the rumored Mitel-Avaya merger and RingCentral "trash talk."

Don't hesitate to see what had the channel talking in 2019.
UCaaS and AI
#4 — SD-WAN

We might look back at 2019 as the year SD-WAN really made its mark on the channel. You couldn't get enough of this red-hot technology.

We posted rankings from various research firms a number of times, and every time, that article went big. The biggest one of all was this write-up on IDC's rankings, which placed Cisco at the top, followed by VMware and Silver Peak. Take a look to see who else IDC recognized.

Not to be outdone was Channel Partners' own list, "20 Top SD-WAN Providers You Should Know." Much like our UCaaS list (No. 12 in our countdown), we've now done this one two years in a row, polling analysts and members of our advisory board to get the names of companies in the channel that are doing big things in SD-WAN.
#3 — Public Cloud Rankings

Call it the little post that could.

It's no surprise that Amazon Web Services continues to lead the public cloud rankings, and that Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform are behind, but growing. Still, this article from February stating such managed to beat out all but two other stories on Channel Partners this year.

What might've separated it from other similar stories on the web was the notion that IBM's market share is falling, not unexpected as it puts a lot of its focus on the private cloud, where it is the global leader.
#2 — Telco, IT Layoffs

And then there were two.

We grouped all of our layoff stories into one spot on the countdown, because unfortunately, they would take up several spots if we included them all individually. Job cut announcements from Oracle, SAP and AT&T were the sixth, seventh and eighth most-clicked posts, respectively, throughout the year, making them worthy, collectively, of the No. 2 spot.

Similar news about layoffs at West (now Intrado), Broadcom and more also were read frequently.

We posted a layoff tracker to help you keep up with it all.
#1 — Bankruptcy

If you've been following the channel at all this year, you knew what was coming in this spot.

Much like layoff stories collectively landed at No. 2, bankruptcy was a landslide for No. 1. In fact, 11 of the 50 most popular pages on Channel Partners in 2019 were about or related to bankruptcy, with about half of those regarding Windstream's chapter 11 protection.

That news broke in February, a real stunner for the channel, despite the issues the communications behemoth had been having with its real estate investment trust spinoff. The dam broke when a key bondholder sued Windstream, saying the spinoff of assets into the Uniti Group breached their contract. Windstream this month asked for an extension that could mean it won't emerge from bankruptcy until next fall.

That was followed by Sungard Availability Services filing for bankruptcy in order to reduce its $1.3 billion debt by two-thirds. The company would emerge from bankruptcy protection just 24 hours later.

Then in June, Fusion Connect filed as well, blaming underperforming acquisitions of Birch Communications and MegaPath business units. Fusion told us this week it plans to be out of bankruptcy protection by the end of the year.

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