NEC Transitions From Hardware
Looking ahead, NEC is focusing its UC efforts on software and services.
The announcement of the Univerge SV9000 series of UC solutions was one of the larger pieces of news at the recent NEC Advantage conference in Nashville--NEC's annual event for its dealers and selected consultants.
NEC recently reported its global FY14 revenue at $29.8 billion, with an operating profit of $1.04 billion (telephony and UC were not separately identified). NEC is generally considered the third-largest global provider of IP telephony and UC. In FY14, NEC reported that 81.3% of its total revenue came from within Japan, but its leadership is calling for significant expansion of its international business.
Two areas where NEC made new, big investments last year were software defined networks (SDN) and Telecommunications Operations Management Systems (OSS/BSS aimed at carriers). NEC is taking a leadership role in SDN, as it was among the first to release an OpenFlow-ready SDN controller. NEC's implementation is called ProgrammableFlow, and it is integrated into OpenStack to enable the provisioning of compute, storage and network solutions in coordination and on-demand.
Larry Levenberg, VP Sales and Channel Marketing, shared the division's 2013 results and accomplishments, highlighting several major wins, including double-digit growth in the hospitality and government verticals. The NEC Univerge 3C solution earned US Department of Defense UC SC Certification--the gold standard for public sector and defense organizations. NEC also reported significant growth of its Univerge UCaaS offer currently only available in the US.
NEC also announced its latest evolution of its SV series of call managers. Just as the 8000s replaced the 7000s several years ago, the SV9000s represent the next generation. The SV9000 platforms can be acquired pre-packaged on an NEC server, as software-only, or as an appliance. It can also be virtualized on VMware infrastructure. The smaller appliance, the SV9100, comes in two variants, with one designed to serve customers that prefer TDM.
This means that NEC now has two software-based enterprise UC solutions. Both support core UC features and virtualization, but with very different architectures. The 3C solution is "data center ready" meaning native support for a distributed architecture and broader hypervisor support. 3C offers richer APIs and a more extensive collaboration suite. Its DoD certification signifies a highly secure platform.
The SV9000 series is more suitable for voice-centric, single-site implementations. It will also be more familiar to a very large installed base of SV8000 systems. NEC simplified licensing on the new platform. The SV8000 offered a UC package known as UC-E; this is now standard on the SV9000 series, and now the price is the same for digital and IP users.
Regarding its 3C-powered UCaaS offer, NEC announced several upgrades planned for this quarter, including a significant redesign to the user and dealer portal, audio conferencing improvements, and the addition of a mass communication feature. NEC intends to expand its hosted services into Canada later this year. The service can be acquired with dedicated managed bandwidth, or can be delivered over-the-top on the public Internet.
Looking ahead, NEC is focusing its UC efforts on software and services. This includes 3C software and an aggressive roadmap for its UCaaS offer--including international expansion later this year. NEC still produces hardware, and it intends to align its solutions and channels around "Smart Enterprise," which combines individual IT components from NEC into a broader solution.
The Smart Enterprise initiative is designed to optimize customer business practices, drive workforce engagement, and provide a competitive edge. The solution unites its UC and telephony offers with many of its other enterprise IT technologies--specifically, NEC Express 5800 FT (fault tolerant) servers, M-Series storage, Sigma System Center, HydraStor, and the ProgrammableFlow SDN controllers.
Also announced at Advantage was a new Android-based desktop phone (see News from NEC). Pricing of the DT880 desktop has not been released, but rumors suggest it will be around $500. No additional endpoints were announced, but the Cradle phone announced last year was on display. The DT770G attempts to leverage BYOD with a desktop phone that's mobile friendly. It uses USB and Apple connectors and a shelf instead of a dock to accommodate multiple device brands and sizes.
A significant chunk of the Advantage keynotes addressed vertical markets, an area where NEC has been building momentum. The key verticals identified were hospitality, government, healthcare, education, and (added this year) assisted living and transportation.
NEC has developed go-to-market solutions for each of these verticals, and profiled wins in each category. The assisted living solution, for example, uses NEC wireless technologies for RFID, DECT, and Wi-Fi, plus wearable and portable technologies and auto-answer phones. NEC is currently trialing an assisted living robot in Japan.
The overall theme of the event was how both NEC and the industry continue to transform. The closing keynote, by Bern Elliott of Gartner Research, discussed how the industry is changing, and why all vendors (and dealers and consultants) won't make the transition. NEC is doubling-down on UC--both as a service and as packaged (software-based, virtualized) solution. To facilitate the transition, it continues to offer (and develop) TDM technology.
Dave Michels is a Contributing Editor and Analyst at TalkingPointz.