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The Rise of Video

Long before Zoom became a verb, people were Facetiming friends and family. There is a whole generation of people who think video calling is standard.

In 2013, I was working for Vidtel providing me a view into the video conferencing space SEVEN years ago. Bluejeans Networks was the big dog back then, sucking up press and $175 Million in investment. Verizon acquired Bluejeans for almost $500M – and has proceeded to push it out through their various business channels including VZW. This is a direct response to the rise of Zoom.

Today, Zoom has “zoomed” right by PGi, Webex and Bluejeans. The next top contender is actually Microsoft Teams, whose 75 million daily active users are able to phone, video, chat and conference on their laptop or cellphone on one app – something Google was late in doing and Cisco made too clunky.

Should companies have seen the rise of video?

In 2015, thinkingphones acquired a video conferencing provider called Fuzebox and re-branded as Fuze. Fuze has raised $200M and sells to the enterprise space (250 employees and up).

That same year, Siris Capital bought PGi for almost $1 Billion dollars. Video conferencing certainly had the capital markets’ attention in 2015!

In 2020, Dialpad acquired Highfive – and Coredial picked up eZuce. Not much adoption took place in the intervening years – except via iPhones.

A few things did help push video calling: wi-fi, broadband, devices with built-in webcams and ease of use. Oh and the pandemic. In a rush to establish business continuity in the face of work from home, video conferencing leaped to the forefront. Zoom was easy and free for the attendee.

Broadband, wi-fi and hardware are better in 2020 than they were in 2015 – and much better than in 2013. Cameras are 1080p, 10+ megapixel and cheap! Nice podcasting microphones are under $200. A Cisco telepresence system was a six-figure purchase. Now Logitech, Lifesize, Jabra and the rest are shrinking the budget on conference room gear while improving the experience with better speakers, microphones and cameras. They even add AI to the experience! All of the enhancements have made huddle rooms and at-home video conferencing possible, easy and frequent in 2020.

The cloud communications folks should have been talking about their video conferencing abilities before the pandemic, but hindsight is 20/20. Often an upstart takes off to disrupt a sector and that is what Zoom has done. Video chatting was enabled on browsers with WebRTC at least as early as 2013. It took a pandemic for people to start using it widely. (I am still uncertain if that is a good thing or not.)

More thoughts on this later.

Microsoft Launches Twilio Killer!

Microsoft’s big event is this week and they launched Azure Communications Services – CPaaS!! The Techcrunch article gets a few things inaccurate – Twilio, MessageBird, AWS – have similar portfolios, but so does Nexmo/Vonage, Kandy by Ribbon, Bandwidth*, Plivio, Telstax and quite a few others. Maybe each offering is less “complete” or flushed out but most of these CPaaS platforms can provide what you need.

credit: https://www.challengeachieved.com/post/jumping-10-meters-to-the-swimming-pool-r-5d177053618319271f4700af

I wonder how/when Microsoft jumped into the telephony pool? Someone asked me if it was the Metaswitch acquisition. Metaswitch gave them VoLTE experience and core routing platform but not the services.

The articles says that “the capabilities here are pretty much what you’d expect. There’s voice and video calling (and the ability to shift between them). There’s support for chat and starting in October, users will also be able to send text messages.” Porting telephone numbers and provisioning new ones is coming next month. This sounds like Bandwidth.com is in the background. They provide this service to Google and Microsoft. Now they just get pushed closer to the users.

So 75 Million daily active users now have access to telephony. Apparently, Microsoft already has supports 5 Billion minutes of conferencing daily on a low latency network that will now help power Azure Communication Services.

My take on this is: This is like OCS. OCS was a good concept but it took how many iterations to become a winner as Teams? OCS > Lync > Skype4B > OFF365 > Teams. OCS launched in 2007. This is a 13 year journey. It may come quicker than that but new services from MS always come with a blue screen of death.

I don’t know how easy the CPaaS platform is – but Twilio and Amazon aren’t exactly plug-and-play either. The three factors: Pricing, Ease of Use and Service Delivery.

Pricing: it is a usage/metered service from most providers. If it ends up being really expensive, users will shop.

Ease of Use: how easy will it be to add these capabilities to MS Teams and other places? Currently, Twilio and Amazon require a devops team. The closer this gets to plug-and-play, the more usage it will see. The more friction, the more enterprise stays with Intelepeer or Twilio or whomever.

Service Delivery: Where the rubber meets the road! If this does just work, dead in the water. Email is a service that requires five 9’s but telephony requires more! SMS gateway struggles will kill this service. So if it doesn’t work flawlessly in October, oh well.

To all the companies that have worked on and launched Microsoft direct routing for Teams: OH CRAP! You better hurry to – not only acquire customers – but make them very happy! Microsoft Partners buy from Microsoft – right or wrong! (They know where their bread is buttered.) That said: not too many MS Partners will jump into the pool of CPaaS too fast, so that gives UCaaS providers about a 15 month runway.

Cisco: it’s your move!

I know Zoom is the Kleenex of video calls, but for businesses MS Teams will eventually replace that. It used to be clunky to be an external attendee of a Microsoft conference – not any more! And now the video calling and SMS will be native!

PGi, GoTo/LogMeIn and others – time to brainstorm and to talk to your largest clients to see what they need/want.

SIDE NOTES:

MS Teams is getting Headspace-partnered meditations to improve mental health, per SeekingAlpha.

Azure is also getting satellite imaging as a service (Azure Orbital) from KSAT, SES and others per GeekWire.

Doing Video Calls Right

Watching a virtual conference this week (and after months of other video calls and webinars), there are 3 things that need to be considered if you want to be a presenter.

Contemplate the session. What are you trying to convey? How can you best showcase the subject matter, the speaker and your company?

If your company provides video conferencing, wouldn’t you want to put your best foot forward? Not a dark scene or a weird camera angle. Doesn’t your HQ have a video huddle room with a really good camera and microphone? Why wouldn’t you use that instead of sitting behind your desk?

For those at home, buy a better camera. The laptop 720p built-in webcam is easy but the audience experience is not desirable. Lighting is important, too, but if the camera isn’t great, neither is the picture.

A Logitech BRIO 4K runs about $230.

Selfie lights and Zoom lighting are categories now. See HERE and THERE.

Next is the audio. Too often the audio is garbled on not just webinars but also on audio conference calls. While I understand that cell service isn’t ideal everywhere (and broadband is in fact not ubiquitous in all of America), if you work for a service provider of voice services and your voice quality is bad, what does that tell the audience?

Granted some of the poor audio is cell reception. Try wi-fi calling or a landline!

Another factor may be the microphone. Bluetooth headsets don’t always work. I have been on a number of calls and demos when they have stopped providing a clear voice.

A Blue Yeti microphone is less than $200. A HyperX Quadcast is about the same price but you can get a USB microphone with 4.5 stars for under $100 (HERE).

Some of the audio quality is due to poor broadband. Well, guess what, SD-WAN is sold by hundreds of providers (including, most likely, YOUR company). Spend the money on SD-Brand gear and a second broadband connection. Need help with a second provider? I can procure 4G or satellite services for you anywhere in the world. Call the office at (813) 963-5884.

Everyone is treating the pandemic as temporary. It isn’t going away soon – and neither is work-from-home – so spend the money to improve your communications with partners, customers and employees. If YOU won’t do that, how can you expect to sell that Bundle to customers?

Final tip for presenters on a virtual conference or webinar: Practice! Practice to ensure the equipment works; that you know how to use the webinar platform; and that you sound and look good. Practice so that the audience’s time isn’t wasted. You have about 5 minutes before they change the channel, use it wisely.

Channel Manager Tip #47

After an order is complete with a partner – new, old or renewed – ask for feedback. The organization may not take feedback, but your partner will appreciate it.

Often partners get a bad taste in their mouth during an order. Better to know what it is than to have to guess why the partner is ducking you.

If it is positive feedback, ask if there are any other customers like the last one that your services can be introduced to.

If it is negative, is it resolvable?

Reminder: as a CM, your customer is the Partner!

Mid-Summer’s Musings (Part 2)

If you haven’t read part one, start there.

The UC market in North America is less than 25 percent penetrated and the Cloud Contact Center (CCC) market is less than 15%. Despite 17 years of effort on the part of 2000+ providers.

Avaya has a huge customer base (100M+ UC seats and 5.5M contact center seats) that have yet to migrate to the cloud.

NEC has over 80 million business users worldwide, NEC is in the top three globally for installed unified communications seats, and ranks No. 1 for global line shipments over the past 3 quarters. [source]

Mitel has 3.2 million seats, most of which have not gone cloud.

183M premise based seats!!!! That is just 3 PBX manufacturers. There are many users still captured on Cisco Call Manager and HCS as well as outdated PBX from extinct manufacturers.

The Big Question: Do these customers migrate to the cloud with the same PBX vendor or do they RFP it?

The next question: What is the incentive for the sales reps for these legacy companies to migrate users to the cloud when they are certainly making money on them now? Follow up: Do these reps even have the skills to sell a cloud solution after years of pushing boxes?

On the Buyers’ Side:

When users move, do they want to get another best-of-breed solution like they did when they purchased Mitel/NEC/Avaya 15 years ago? Will they migrate to separate UC and CCC vendors? Or will they choose a platform – such as 8×8, RingCentral, Nextiva, Dialpad, Vonage or Intermedia? Or do they go Microsoft Teams and a Cloud Contact Center? There is a lot of choice now in the marketplace. Way more than there was ten years ago.

In addition, do these buyers now desire an Agent focused, Call Center specific vendor – like Genesys, NICE Incontact, Serenova/Lifesize or Five9? Or do they want a more general purpose built platform for communicating with customers, prospects, vendors, employees that also allows for contact center ability in various departments like accounts receivable, customer care and support? That is where the sector is going – either agent-centric or ecosystem.

Even the ecosystem model allows for build it yourself with Salesforce, Amazon, Twilio and Vonage and a devops team.

Extra Tidbits:

Zoom revenue has grown 272% in the first six months of its fiscal year. $ZM is up 397% over the past year and now worth nearly $130 billion.

Dialpad acquired HighFive (video conferencing) to add to Dialpad, its contact center and its UberConference platforms.

The entire addressable fixed broadband market in the U.S. is well over than 100 million subscribers, 40% of which get their connectivity from Comcast. FastCo