Mobile Hosted Collaboration: Will the Carriers Deliver This Time?
SBC companies are partnering with end-user software and hardware companies to enable new capabilities. But the carriers have to commit to a strategy they've traditionally shied away from.
You'll be reading a lot this week on No Jitter and elsewhere about the clash between Microsoft and Cisco over collaboration, which really boils down to which of them you're going to choose as your primary vendor for collaboration. The only thing the two seem to agree on is that it's a two-horse race, and that the race is to see who will be your sole vendor for collaboration. As Marty Parker writes, there's a strong case to be made that a multi-vendor strategy with interoperation among the key parts is the way to go, so it's by no means certain that this will play out as a pure Cisco/Microsoft battle. But they're unquestionably the most powerful players on the field today.
There's also a potential wild card in the mix, and that's the carriers--specifically, the mobile operators. In theory, the rise of BYOD ought to represent a huge opening for the carriers to sell more service--and, critically, to offer over-the-top (OTT) applications targeted at business collaboration. OTT riding on top of the cellular networks has been the bane of the mobile operators' existence--it threatens to suck much of mobility's value out from the carriers' offerings, leaving the operators as purveyors of the dreaded "dumb pipe." So, given how hot BYOD is right now, coupled with the fact that a hosted UC&C service is a classic example of a value-added, OTT-type of service, this looks like a great opening for the mobile carriers to enhance their service offerings to business.
There's even a cadre of vendors trying to push the mobile carriers in this direction, either directly or indirectly: A couple of recent announcements featured session border controller (SBC) manufacturers trying to drive this transition to enabling business collaboration on BYOD.
The first, one, from Acme Packet, was a partnership with CounterPath, who makes a softphone client called Bria. The two companies are positioning their announcement specifically at the mobile operators and pitching it as enabling the carriers' own OTT services, to give mobile providers a value-add that their OTT competitors lack today. Acme Packet and Counterpath are calling this, "Disrupting the disrupters."
Acme Packet is trying to leverage its strong position in the mobile operators' networks today to get them to offer what's essentially a next-generation mobile Centrex for the UC&C generation, mediated by the Acme Packet SBC and living on the user's mobile device via the Bria softphone client, which can be white-labeled with the mobile operator's own brand.
And while Acme Packet is partnering with a software client provider, another SBC manufacturer, Genband, just announced a partnership with Samsung, providing Genband's hosted UC application offerings on Samsung's enterprise-ready tablets and smartphones. It's the first big announcement for Genband since the company came out with its broad UC&C vision last week, and Samsung is obviously a powerful channel for getting that vision into the hands of real users.
Both of these announcements challenge the CPE-centric view of mobile UC in a BYOD world. The UC vendors--be they the currently-noisiest combatants, Cisco and Microsoft, or any of their other competitors--would prefer for the enterprise to deploy their mobile UC client on BYOD users' devices. The SBC providers basically want to provision either the UC apps themselves, or at least the point of integration to enterprise-provided UC apps, at the SBC. Having both visions as robust options would benefit the range of enterprises that are looking for better ways to provision and manage BYOD.
The biggest question mark and potential obstacle, of course, is the mobile operators themselves--just as it's always been. I've been writing about mobile Centrex for years, talking about what a great opportunity such hosted business services represent for mobile carriers that struggle with high churn rates and commoditizing services in the consumer world. The opportunity seems obvious, but the largest mobile operators have never significantly altered their strategy of chasing the consumer and devoting the vast majority of their energy to that market.
With the new generation of UC&C and BYOD, the mobile operators have another shot. We'll see if they take it.