The Things That Made Me Go Hmmm in 2011
The rise of sessions and tablets, Microsoft-Skype, Cisco's new focus, and more.
Every year seems like a big year news-wise for the UC market and 2011 didn't disappoint. There were some major news items, including the passing of the legendary Steve Jobs and AT&T announcing the intention to acquire T-Mobile, and then not acquiring them--just to name a couple. Below, though, are the things that I felt were the most interesting.
Sessions trump calls. Terms such as "VoIP calls" and "IP lines" have always been pet peeves of mine. When we connect with others over IP systems we technically are not placing calls, click to dialing, video calling or anything remotely like the old TDM world. We're establishing an IP session between two end points. Once this session is established, voice conversations can be initiated and then converted into videos or chats or moved to another device. IP Sessions provide much higher audio and video quality than any kind of circuit switched technology and allow us to do things we simply can't do with older technology. This was the first year that I saw some of the vendors try and market to this and raise awareness of this, with Avaya being one of the more aggressive companies.
Microsoft buys Skype. When Microsoft acquired Skype, there were many news stories written about how this could help Microsoft's consumer business by embedding Skype into things like X-Box live, and it certainly can do that. However, Skype provides a great cloud-based UC platform and should have allowed Microsoft to be more aggressive with pushing UC into the cloud. I haven't heard any details about Skype from Microsoft post-acquisition, but it could set up an interesting competitive battle with Cisco's HCS.
Tablet computing begins. This was obviously a big year for tablets. Not only did we see Apple's meteoric growth numbers continue, but we also saw the launch of a number of corporate-first tablets such as Cisco's Cius, the Avaya Flare and BlackBerry Playbook. The industry also started to see some applications and features that were optimized for tablets instead of just web browsing and e-mail. Tablets have compasses, accelerometers, GPS information and cameras, allowing them to do things that laptops can't do. Additionally, features like Apple's Siri and the functionality Avaya got in the acquisition of Aurix, can change the way information gets input into a device, allowing developers to create applications that are uniquely mobile.
Cisco focuses and gets aggressive. Cisco entered 2011 trying to be a bigger consumer company. Cisco exits 2011 with that being a mere memory. Flip is long gone, Umi is now part of the TelePresence team, and growth expectations have been reset. Additionally, we saw Cisco get much more aggressive in the way it deals with competition, with HP and Juniper being public enemies number 1 and 1A, with Polycom right behind. In fact Cisco did some punching back with its claims that Juniper makes promises it doesn't keep, and its demonstration of Cisco versus the "good enough" network that was clearly targeted at HP. Cisco also finally got its act together with the Tandberg channel in the first half of 2011, and Polycom revenues and stock have been falling since.
The UC middleware market arrives. I'm convinced now that UC interoperability through industry standards is a bit of a pipe dream. I also don't think co-development efforts such as CUCIMOC are the right answer either. The right way to handle interoperability is through specialty UC middleware that can solve specific interoperability problems. VOSS, ALU's OpenTouch and Avaya's ACE are all great examples of solutions available today. This is an area I would certainly like to see more investment in from the UC solution providers as well. This would allow the solution providers to build pre-standard features but still facilitate interoperability.
Netscout buys Psytechnics. Some might look at this rather small acquisition and think it doesn't belong in this list. To me though, this acquisition signaled the coming of age for UC as a mainstream corporate application. Netscout is the first, but won't the last, application performance management vendor to make UC one of the many applications it can manage. I would expect this to be a bigger focus for the many other APM vendors in the near term, and VoIP and video are very difficult to manage with legacy fault and performance management tools.
Session Border Controllers get hot. To me there is no bigger tailwind in the industry today than the rapid shift of communications moving to IP, and no vendor has ridden this wave more than Acme Packet. Acme's meteoric rise has created a wave of activity in this market including Sipera building an SBC and then being acquired by Avaya, Metaswitch releasing an SBC and Siemens rolling out an enterprise SBC. Despite the increased competitive activity, Acme has a huge lead over the rest of the industry and isn't likely to lose share any time soon.
Level3 acquires Global Crossing. If you believe that all forms of communications are moving to IP and there is a battle for the session, then the combination of Level3 and Global Crossing creates an absolutely massive IP backbone, far bigger than any legacy operator. The new Level3 should be able to create a sustainable competitive advantage over Verizon and AT&T in this "all IP" era. Companies like XO Communications and EarthLink Business should be able to leverage this trend as well. We are in the post PC era. 2011 was the tipping point for post-pc devices. This year was the first year that tablets and mobile smart phones outsold traditional desktops. The world is moving mobile, and vendors and enterprises need to shift their strategies to start thinking "mobile first". Cisco has been pushing the "post pc" message hard, for obvious competitive reasons with Microsoft, but the fact is we're in that era now.
There was one other interesting happening in 2011 and that was the transition of VoiceCon to Enterprise Connect. I'm looking forward to seeing the continued transformation of this industry and the evolution of the show.