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Can We Finally Cut the Phone Cord in 2020?


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If your last business meeting was held on Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Webex, Circuit, or any other UCaaS/IP-based communications platforms, no doubt your old friend, the telephone, is sitting forlorn on your desk, just waiting for you to jump on the next conference call.
The reality is the telephone, and the PSTN federated networks (and SMS) that it represents are still critical to many businesses. There are 200 million Office 365 subscribers with access to Teams, and there are around 10-25 million Zoom and Webex users each. In comparison, there are 4-6 billion PSTN/SMS users. The ultimate creation of the phone age was a federated network that reaches essentially everybody, albeit with lousy audio and little security/identity. Regardless of the value and usage rates of new employee communications solutions, businesses will need to retain access to the PSTN for many years to come. It’s the least common denominator (LCD) of communications, and it will be a long time before we can simply shut it off.
But, here's the catch. While utilization of the telephone/PSTN network continues to drop in many organizations, the cost declines aren’t matching the utilization and value reduction. For example, in late 2017 at the BC Summit, I argued that, by 2023, 45% of all business communications would be initiated by an application communications process, not a human being. While some of these may use the PSTN (notifications for customers), most employee ones will be instantiated in an application, either web or device-based. At the beginning of 2020, we are only a third of the way to 2023; however, the CPaaS hype curve portends an explosion of applications communications coming. We are increasingly seeing new types of communications events emerge as business processes, applications, and communications converge, again indicating growth in total business communication “time,” but not time on the telephone.
What I didn’t address back then is the communication modality of the remaining “business-provided” employee communications. Clearly, UCaaS-based platforms are rapidly delivering enhanced video/text/collab communications solutions for events that, until recently, would have been done using the phone and the PSTN. Every Webex/Teams/Zoom meeting we attend this year would have probably been a conference call in 2015. The explosion in video and text-based communications is rapidly moving communications minutes away from the desk phone and PSTN. While this is a trend that impacts knowledge workers more than information and service workers, the advent of easy IP/device guest access to a range of communications events will further reduce the use of the LCD PSTN. For many employees, the advent of personal cell phones has obviated the need for a business-provided telephony/PSTN solution. Finally, application communications and the emerging front/firstline worker initiatives from a number of the UCaaS vendors assure even less phone/PSTN dependency in that group in the near future.
Yet telephone phones/lines (as represented by business DIDs and phone/PSTN premise/cloud sales volumes) haven’t dropped at nearly the same rate as the reduction in the usage of those facilities. While costs have come down for telephony generally, they haven’t nearly equaled the actual reduction in business value that has occurred for telephony/PSTN over the last decade. When I talk to telecom teams, often the question I get asked is how to reduce the cost of their PBX and PSTN, now that most of the communications are being done in an alternative 2020 universe. What they’ve realized is many of their most valuable conversations have already moved from the PBX/phone/PSTN to the range of new UC modalities, and that trend is accelerating.
Reducing PSTN Reliance at Enterprise Connect 2020
During one of my Enterprise Connect 2020 sessions, I will explore the emerging options that reduce both the need for and the overall cost of maintaining a telephony/PSTN presence for organizations migrating to a UC-based communications paradigm. We will discuss strategies and options to reduce desk phones, PSTN trunk usage, and even eliminate the need for traditional call control. Vendors that are delivering telephony/PSTN solutions that have low-cost augmentation value to UCaaS services will be looked at. Finally, the option of moving current and future telephony/PSTN communications out of the traditional PBX framework into a CPaaS-based solution will be examined.
While a strategy to eliminate the phone and PSTN from your business is premature, now is the time to plan for the PSTN transition and usage reduction. Organizations should begin to develop a strategy to balance the ongoing need for PSTN connectivity while allocating more of the budget to business-transforming communications solutions that don’t include PBX/PSTN usage. The challenge is maintaining telephony levels for employee communications for those that need it and transitioning the majority of high-value communications to this new paradigm. At the session, we will also discuss key factors to consider in your strategic analysis, including identifying the usage needs and alternatives, technologies, and vendors, as well as cultural and organizational issues.