If mobile carriers could find a way to charge for better quality, they could make money doing it. And if the quality really were better, enterprises might be willing to pay.
The desk phone is a dying technology. It's such a dying technology that it won't stop dying and just be dead already.
We hear repeatedly from PBX vendors that, whatever else may be happening in their markets, they continue to grow the number of desk sets that they're selling. And yet, you can't escape the anecdotal evidence--as well as the basic common-sense reality--that people just don't want to communicate using traditional wired phones, at least not to the degree that they used to.
Anecdote #1: At last week's Lync conference, Brian Cantoni of Honeywell described that company's Lync rollout. Honeywell has deployed Lync IM/presence across the enterprise, but is just at the start of a Lync voice deployment that so far has reached just 700 users. Still, one of the notable moments in Brian's talk came when he described how one set of 30 users requested desk phones for their Lync service, only to turn the phones in and demand headsets when IT checked in on the pilot after a month.
Anecdote #2 (which is a data point, but admittedly only one): In a survey that Wainhouse Research did for Dolby, they asked, "What is your preferred way to connect to a conference call?" Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority--69%--answered, "Landline." Twenty-six percent said "Softphone," and just 6% preferred cell phones.
Then Wainhouse asked what the preference would be if there were no difference in audio quality. Once again, "Landline" was the top answer--with 34%. Tied with cell phones. And softphones were close behind at 32%.
These two anecdotes suggest, I think, that people will gladly surrender their desk phones if given half a chance. Give them a system like Lync, which emphasizes other communications channels like IM, and they may very well prove willing to shove telephony into a supporting role, because their work processes make IM/presence more valuable. Likewise, give them the convenience and flexibility of a mobile device, and all you have to do is give that cell phone equivalent voice quality to the landline, and they'll dump the landline.
Of course, that's the catch. The cell phone's quality is terrible. And nobody's really talking about making it better. Mobile World Congress, the world's premier mobility event, is taking place this week in Barcelona. What are the top stories? Firefox OS for mobility; over the top (OTT) services; and tablets, tablets, tablets.
Dolby, which is exhibiting at Enterprise Connect for the first time next month, is talking about improving audio quality on conferencing in general, and that's a great continuation of the discussion about wideband audio that's been going on ever since the transition to IP made wideband a possibility. But improving audio quality, especially on mobile networks, has to be a priority for carriers. With 4G, they'll be able to deliver more bandwidth, but what are the odds that they'll provision their 4G networks to actually allow for better quality? More likely, they'll try to use the additional bandwidth to sell premium, bloated, bandwidth-sucking applications that they hope to use as their own entre into the OTT battle, where they currently are being undercut by application providers.
On No Jitter this week, Michael Finneran has a post up about Samsung's latest enterprise initiative. That drive seems to focus heavily on security, features, and functionality--all critical issues for enterprises grappling with BYOD. But the Wainhouse survey suggests that audio quality is in itself a business issue that's not being adequately addressed. And if it were addressed, it could garner tons of new minutes-of-use for the carriers--minutes that have been running over landlines. If the mobile carriers could find a way to charge for better quality, they could make some money doing it. And if the quality really were better, enterprises might actually be willing to pay for it, because it might make it more practical to dump their wireline infrastructure.
We're going to address the issue of endpoints at Enterprise Connect Orlando 2013. We've got a session on "The Future of Desktop Communication & Collaboration Devices," featuring our friends Steve Leaden of Leaden Associates and Melanie Turek of Frost & Sullivan. They'll be joined by representatives of different vendor companies for what should be a lively discussion. You can get the whole conference program and information here. Hope to see you in Orlando!