No Jitter is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Leading Cloud Communications Platforms Innovation Vectors: Mind the Differentiation Gap

In Part One of this series, I interviewed Brian Beutler, Founder and CEO of Alianza; Chris Carabello, Senior Director, Product Marketing at Microsoft; D.P. Venkatesh, Digital, SMB and Global Strategic Partners Leader at Cisco; and Patrick Sullivan, Co-CEO and Co-Founder of 2600Hz to see what they thought the exciting new opportunities in cloud communications platforms were.  

In this installment, our interview continues as we explore exciting new developments on their technology roadmap and the differentiated value proposition their solutions provide to customers and service providers. 

There is a widespread belief that cloud communications platforms are becoming increasingly similar in terms of features and other capabilities (e.g., extensibility, reliability). That was also the conclusion reached at the vendor panel discussion held at Cloud Connections 2023. 

This perception is not entirely untrue. Most leading platforms have reached near-full parity when it comes to calling and private branch exchange (PBX) functionality. Most platforms also support a variety of communications endpoints, including desktop phones, cordless (e.g., DECT) devices as well as mobile access through browsers/WebRTC or desktop and mobile soft clients. Most platforms have expanded their unified communications (UC) suites to include video meetings, file/screen share, group chat and basic contact center functionality. However, certain differences exist today, and the functionality gap may widen in the future as providers evolve their visions, navigate through technology roadmaps, adjust their innovation velocity, and otherwise diverge in terms of both strategy and execution. 

And now, the rest of the interview with Beutler, Carabello, Venkatest and Sullivan to learn about exciting new developments on their technology roadmap and the differentiated value proposition their solutions provide to customers and service providers. 

Popova: What excites you the most about the future of your platform? What are some interesting new developments taking place on the technology front right now? 

Beutler: Our noteworthy product developments this year include enhanced call recording, state-of-the-art contact center, voice enabling Microsoft Teams, a modernized unified communications and video collaboration app experience, and more.  

We are just getting started on our $200 million R&D commitment announced in 2022. This investment combined with our expanded product team led by Dag Peak has accelerated our innovation. Our technology roadmap also includes service enablement enhancements, such as advanced IP phone management, additional device certifications, new billing system integrations, and advanced administrative controls, reporting, and analytics. This is all about how a CSP can streamline workflows to improve customer experiences, reduce operating complexity, and accelerate time to market. 

Venkatesh: At Cisco Webex, we are focused on how business communications and collaboration have evolved from on-premises silos of video, UC and contact center to reimagining how the employee and customer co-experience has changed as businesses move these silos to a single platform in the cloud in this post-pandemic world. This is our primary objective—to offer a single communications and collaboration platform that delivers the best employee and customer experience.  

We have invested literally billions of dollars in both technology acquisitions and organic development of the Webex Platform to introduce new capabilities and continue innovating at speed and scale. A few examples of our AI-driven innovations include background noise reduction, recognizing and naming attendees in meetings, visual background blur, real-time transcription, and translation, to name just a few.    

Sullivan: An interesting implementation of AI we’re working on is a project called TLDR, which is related to our conference bridge. A new capability will provide you with a summary of a meeting in four or five sentences. And then it'll list action items based on who was saying what because it accesses the media of each person. And it will ask you, “Was this helpful, yes or no?” And if you say yes, that's how it's learning, and getting better and better. And then on the contact center side, you can train AI to provide scripts to your call center agents on the fly of what they should say to help train them to get better, and then eventually get to a point where some of the low-level call center agents will be replaced by AI and the performance of the high-end ones will be augmented by AI.  

I think it's a really exciting time where all these technologies are converging to create more value for businesses and end users. 

Carabello: As the world changes and technology advances, the potential for AI to create business value for customers and partners is real.  

Microsoft 365 is rapidly evolving into an AI-first platform to help everyone stay connected, productive, and aligned on the most important work. With over 280 million monthly active Teams users that are already chatting, collaborating, meeting, and calling Teams—this presents a significant opportunity for many different types of partners. 

We recently announced Microsoft 365 Copilot. Copilot combines the power of large language models (LLMs) with your data in the Microsoft Graph and the Microsoft 365 apps to turn your words into the most powerful productivity tool on the planet. Copilot in Teams helps you run more effective meetings, get up to speed on the conversation, organize key discussion points, and summarize key actions so that the entire group knows what to do next. 

We know that collaboration doesn’t begin and end with scheduled meetings though, and customers rely on Teams Phone for spontaneous connection and collaboration. As the only native telephony solution for Teams, Teams Phone delivers innovative, reliable, and easy-to deploy telephony experiences. Notable recent innovation includes Teams Phone Mobile, now generally available through select operators; Microsoft Digital Contact Center Platform; and call quality and reliability enhancements leveraging bandwidth controls, AI-based built-in noise suppression, and Survivable Branch Appliance. 

Popova: Why would a partner or customer choose your platform over competing platforms? How does your platform enable co-innovation with partners and customers? 

Beutler: Communication service providers (CSPs) need a new way to compete with their cloud-native, over-the-top (OTT) competitors that doesn’t effectively hand over market share and control of end customer to their competitors. Our strategy allows the CSPs to capture a larger share of the communications marketplace by leveraging a cloud-native platform for the scale, agility, extensibility, flexibility, and speed of innovation that have been the key to OTT providers' success. 

This is the landscape for which Alianza has a unique value proposition. Alianza is the only true cloud-native, carrier-grade communications platform that is purpose-built for CSPs to effectively compete with the other providers. Unlike other cloud communication solution options, Alianza is a strategic partner, not a competing vendor. 

Our cloud communications platform is built on a single multi-tenant code base that covers the entire service delivery platform of the softswitch and all the necessary surrounding solutions and is managed via a single pane of glass. We provide a fully integrated, carrier-grade technology to the CSPs behind their own brand. Because we don’t have nearly the same third-party dependencies as legacy softswitches, Alianza can focus 100% of our energy on empowering our customer to win by developing and deploying new capabilities and functionalities at a pace and cadence that is impossible in legacy environments. 

We like to talk about crowd-sourced innovation with our customers. As we innovate, our new products, services, or administrative enhancements are rolled out to all our customers. With Alianza, the rising tide floats all boats. 

To be successful, innovation needs to include two elements:  

  • Products and features that end users demand and CSPs use to differentiate. 
  • Service enablement so that CSPs can easily consume all our platform’s capabilities, making them easy to sell and support by the CSP personnel. 

Venkatesh: So, the first differentiator I would highlight is the complete platform portfolio covering UCaaS, CCaaS and CPaaS along with a full spectrum of integrated hardware devices. No other vendor is close to this level of capabilities in a single platform.  

At Cisco, we are committed to the service provider channel with the Webex Platform. We recognize that communications needs and regulations vary from region to region and across market segments within each region. In most markets the service provider is the trusted supplier for many businesses when it comes to business telephony. This is why we've introduced flexible deployment and commercial options for the service provider channel.  

Some service providers have built out a large cloud PBX service using BroadWorks—which is why we introduced Webex for BroadWorks—the easiest way for CSPs to offer a complete collaboration suite on top of their existing cloud PBX customer base. At the same time, we have many service providers that wish to focus on their mobile network, their broadband access network, their suite of managed services, and have moved all cloud calling services to our Webex cloud platform. For these service providers, we provide one platform but two commercial models. Webex Wholesale is for partners that need to go down market, where commercials are higher volume but smaller in size. Service providers can resell Webex by leveraging the Cisco sales team worldwide and selling directly into the enterprise commercial and public sectors. This also includes enabling CSPs to leverage the broader Cisco portfolio including security, networking, and IoT to deliver more value to customers and ultimately greater ARPU to the CSP.  

So, the second differentiator I would highlight is the investment we have made in building complete offers that cater to the needs of the service provider channel.   

Sullivan: Besides the ability to white label everything, I think the top reason why 2600Hz gets selected is reliability. Our distributed technology has been architected to remove any single points of failure. We know servers or even data centers go down, so building software to embrace “graceful failover” allows our customers to sleep. As long as the overall cluster is up, calls will be directed to the next available node. 

The second reason is flexibility and that's flexibility in the sense that your UCaaS, CCaaS and CPaaS platforms are all on the same code base. So, you don't have to set up a different user, if you're using a call center and then set a different user, if you’re using our UCaaS solution. It's literally the same codebase so it allows our service providers to land and expand—they get their foot in the door with UCaaS then they can upsell their customers with CCaaS and then they can also upsell with professional services to do customizations with CPaaS. 

Carabello: Customer and partner feedback, ideas, and collaboration continually inspire us to raise the bar and shape Teams to better serve our customers. More than 400 new features and improvements have been added to Teams in the last year and since launch, we have added hundreds of Teams features that were directly influenced by customer and partner feedback. 

Our Solution Partners are highly valued in bringing this innovation to customers. Partners are core to our strategy, and we work closely with operators, system integrators, and independent software vendors to deliver and extend the value of Teams Phone. Operators in particular have strong brand and distribution reach with businesses worldwide along with reliable, high-speed fixed and mobile broadband networks and are increasingly adding value by partnering with Microsoft. 

Through Operator Connect and Teams Phone Mobile, we’re working with operators to provide customers with fully managed solutions for them to connect wireline and mobile numbers with Teams. 

Through our Azure for Operators initiative, we are modernizing operator networks—enhancing scale, efficiency, security, and new monetization opportunities. Hundreds of operators support delivery of business voice and UC from our MaX UC solution and are enabling Teams calling and PSTN connectivity from our newly launched Azure Communications Gateway. 


Final Thoughts 

I strongly believe that the market requires diversity and multiple cloud communications platforms will co-exist for the foreseeable future. The different vendors and cloud communications platforms bring different skill sets and capabilities to the market, which provides them with a competitive edge in different market segments and among different types of customers. 

The service provider channel is likely to remain hugely important to all platform vendors. CSPs enable broader market reach as well as enhance the vendors’ value to customers by offering additional products and services. Therefore, effective CSP support will be another key differentiator in the maturing cloud communications space. 

To continue the conversation, join me for another cloud communications platform vendor panel at Channel Partners, Las Vegas on May 2, 2023. This time it will be Cisco, Microsoft and Zoom talking about what makes their platforms successful in this highly competitive marketplace.