Changing the World of UC Endpoints
As UC adoption increases, enterprises are increasingly seeking out headsets and other audio peripherals that deliver the high-quality experiences that users demand.
It used to be that the only PBX endpoints were classic telephones and that only certain employees, typically those who spent the whole day on the phone, used headsets. But at least four factors are driving a dramatic change in the in-office adoption of headsets and other audio devices, including USB and Bluetooth-connected speakerphones. The result is a growing market for UC audio peripherals that is encouraging new entrants.
Here are the four factors leading to increased headset use:
- The open plan or cubicle-divided spaces popular in today's workplaces are not conducive to speakerphone use, yet holding handsets for extended meetings is a challenge for users.
- With the advent of UC clients and devices (PCs, smartphones, tablets) comes the requirement for specialized audio devices. The speakers and microphones in PCs or smartphones are usable for UC, but the quality is often inferior. This has become even more important as the echo introduced by many computing devices negatively affects call quality, especially during conferences.
- As they use earbuds or headsets with their mobile devices, workers are gaining familiarity with headsets. This familiarity has extended to a much greater acceptance of in-office headset use.
- In many organizations a headset is a physical presence indicator that signals a user's "busy, do not disturb" status to co-workers.
As UC adoption increases, headset use with new communications platforms is exploding. While some organizations leave the endpoint decision to employees, many are increasingly including headsets in UC purchases, with the potential of offering different options based on use cases.
Over the last few years, new competitors have joined Plantronics, the long-term leader in the space.
Logitech has had certain business-focused headsets in its portfolio for a number of years. Jabra, a division of the Danish company GN Store Nord that started in the consumer mobile audio and hearing assistance spaces, has moved into the enterprise. More recently, the German company Sennheiser has become an enterprise provider.
While Plantronics and Jabra have always been focused on communications accessories, Sennheiser has its roots in audio and audiophile solutions for music. In that space, the Sennheiser headphone products are renowned as some of -- if not the -- best in the industry, exceeding popular products like Beats in the eyes of most of the audiophile press. The company also makes microphones for professional recording.
Over the last year, Sennheiser has been focusing on the adjacent market of enterprise communications audio in a major way (although those efforts are not really reflected yet on the company website). I had a chance to talk about Sennheiser's enterprise strategy and market positioning with Bill Whearty, VP of Marketing and Sales for the Americas for enterprise solutions. In talking to Bill, I found out that Sennheiser is experiencing dramatic growth -- 100% plus -- in the market as it focuses on new products and customer acquisition.
The company believes its products have two distinct advantages for organizations adopting UC and next-generation business communications, Bill said. The first is their sound quality, which builds on the company's experience with audio systems, professional microphones, and other advanced capabilities like echo management. The second is the quality of construction, which provides longer use and lower rates of failure, resulting in lower total cost of ownership.
Sennheiser's goal is not to be the lowest-cost provider, but to deliver value in sound quality and reduced replacement cost, he said. The result, Bill added, is a better overall value compared to the lower-cost/lower-quality solutions on the market.
Clearly factors like quality and durability are in the eye of the beholder, but I'm excited to see a company with Sennheiser's heritage focused on delivering high-quality durable products for the purpose of enterprise communications. While I have some personal experience with its music headsets, over the next few months I do intend to try the Sennheiser UC products and compare my experience between those and other headsets and devices I've used.
While these devices are important for UC operation, they often come as afterthoughts in most new communications deployments. However, they are rapidly becoming the primary physical user interface to the communications platform. As such, these devices often are a significant if not the most important factor in call or session quality and user reaction. I believe that making the right audio headset or other audio device decisions as part of a UC rollout is critical for ensuring adoption and managing total costs.