Panasonic Banks on Smart Desk Phone
This phone has the potential of being a huge hit for the hosted space, allowing them to capture SMBs that need a working phone along with security/monitoring.
Panasonic is known for manufacturing some spiffy phones, and the new KX-UT670 SIP phone is just as cool as their recent lineup of SIP UT series telephones. They've targeted retail, education, healthcare and hospitality.
Exactly how smart is this phone?
The KX-UT670 uses H.264/720P for high-quality video that acts as a software controller, or controller-less, supporting up to 16 Panasonic network security cameras. The phone provides wideband HD voice. Panasonic network cameras are no lightweights and we've enjoyed installing them. These new phones are equipped with a large 7-inch color LCD touchscreen and two 1-Gbps Ethernet ports with PoE.
What's really cool is that Panasonic has kept with its tradition of using softkeys to maximize the user's ease of use. In this particular phone, the touchscreen display is a huge softkey that changes dynamically. In the above picture of the phone, it is shown in the "idle state," while in the below photograph, the phone is shown in the various states of use. The keys on the touchscreen change along with the status of the phone in how it's being used. I think this is another indication that telephony manufacturers are beginning to learn the lesson that Steve Jobs has driven with user experience by getting away from the old traditional telephony feature codes. Panasonic didn't miss the color coordination either, incorporating illuminated buttons and status messages.
The KX-UT670 is Panasonic's first SIP open source desk phone and it uses Java. The company is committed to expanding their presence in the Hosted PBX market and is certified for Broadsoft, Asterisk and Metaswitch as used in a hybrid design by providers such as Broadvox.
This phone has the potential of being a huge hit for the hosted space, allowing them to capture the numerous SMBs in key verticals that need a working phone along with a solution for security/monitoring. It won't be limited to retail either, because Panasonic's Nurse Call solution is also easily incorporated into a hosted solution.
What I also find cool is that buttons on phones aren't going away--well okay, for argument's sake they are being "virtualized" and that's not new. Additionally, the use of the color touch screen doesn't cheapen the user experience. Dare to compare some cheap SIP phones that lack color for line and extension status buttons against this phone and you will see that color helps make call handling intuitive. The other neat thing that Panasonic did was to incorporate what my buddy Dave Michels wrote about in Time to Re-Invent the Desk Phone, use of an Electronic Hook Switch (EHS) to allow a seamless Bluetooth user experience without cheesy handset lifters and gizmos.
Now another interesting tidbit--this new phone isn't going to work on Panasonic's existing IP-PBX platform. I found this a bit irritating because as a Panasonic dealer, if the customer bails out of a hosted solution--and remember, hosted providers openly state they have a normal 4% churn rate--then what happens to the hardware? It would be nice to be able to move the hardware to a premise solution. That kind of flexibility I'd think would be ingrained in manufacturers' thinking—they would want to protect their name from the uncertainty of the revolving door that customers experience in hosted spaces, if they are looking around to find an alternative dealer that works with their gear and that supports their end user company needs.
The reality is some providers may provide that support, but the end user companies must pay for those support services and they can end up costing more than a premise solution. When the hosted solution is sold by a VAR or Interconnect, then the partnership still means additional costs for support. This element seems to get lost in many hosted discussions.
Last note, my buddy Gary Audin recently told me about the lack of support when it comes to using either RTCP or RTCP XR. Customers buying hardware for hosted solutions without embedded RTCP or RTCP XR may be in for poor support, especially when the providers don't know about the protocol.
Panasonic's KX-UT670 is equipped with RTCP. The key difference between the two is that RTCP XR is more of a supercharged tool that allows data collection that could turn MOS and voice quality monitoring into proactive services that can be used to alert that, for example, the existing call is deteriorating in call quality, while the call is still active. Alarms and threshholds can be used to determine when to alert and for what reason.
But are these plays on Smart Desk Phones premature? Providers must be willing to invest in collecting data, and the right data, to be proactive as a service provider. Panasonic moved into offering Panasonic Cloud Services last summer and that is their telephone service solutions for small businesses.
I think that hosted telephony services are akin to hoteliers' capture rates; meaning hoteliers want their guests to stay within the confines of the property to meet their every anticipated need: food, beverage, gifts, shopping, snacks, golf, spa and other services. The telephony services are certain to evolve, and I think so is the gear. How smart the phones are really is secondary to how smart are the providers and whether or not they think like hoteliers and can envision adding a level of service that their customers would deem proactive and would give them a reason to stay put and not move to the next guy.