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Verizon One Talk Revisited
It was 2016 when I last wrote about Verizon’s One Talk mobile business service, though I have been tracking its progress both through Verizon and with my clients. While none of my clients have gone beyond the investigation stage of the service (though some user departments may have deployed it without our knowledge), things appear to be pointing up for the service, as evident by a recent Verizon analyst webinar with Derek Peabody, One Talk product manager.
First, let’s do a quick refresh on One Talk, or more specifically, the two versions of One Talk. Each version offers a form of wired-wireless integration, and both are powered by the BroadSoft (now Cisco BroadSoft) UC platform that Verizon has integrated into its cellular IMS core. Verizon notes that its BroadSoft implementation has 30+ customizations to power One Talk.
The version of One Talk that first caught my attention provides a wired Yealink VoIP desk phone and an integrated Apple or Samsung Android smartphone. Incoming business calls ring on both devices. What differentiated One Talk from the 50+ mobile UC apps that preceded it was that a user could place an outbound business call using the native dialer on the mobile device. This wasn’t news on the Android front, but it was one of the first mobile UC offerings to utilize Apple's CallKit API. Most of the other UC mobile clients have now incorporated Apple’s native dialer capability as well.
There is also a second version of the One Talk service targeted at BYOD users that requires an app on the mobile device, provides separate business and wireless numbers, and uses call forwarding to provide a simultaneous ring function that rings business calls on the mobile device. This is essentially the same mobile UC capability we have seen offered time and again with close to zero user uptake. The use case there never cleared the bar with regards to providing a benefit sufficient to outweigh the inconvenience.
Verizon apparently has the same disdain for the mobile app approach, as they highlighted the fact that while the total number of One Talk lines has increased by 63%, the number of activations of the native dialer version has increased 1800%. Further, the average line size on recent orders is topping 700, so the service is showing promise with large as well as the oft-cited SMB customers. That picture was fleshed out with some interesting use cases.
Expanding to Text
Along with the report on sales, Peabody also talked about the roadmap for planned enhancements. When I had last reviewed One Talk, I lauded the integrated voice calling experience but cautioned that we were still only talking about phone calls here. In modern business, voice is just one mode of communication, one that is increasingly being overtaken by text. As a point of reference, voice, video, text (both Apple Message and SMS), and email are beautifully integrated on my iPhone.
The two features that most caught my attention both dealt with SMS integration. First, the roadmap includes what Verizon is calling SMS-enabled hunt groups. The idea is that an incoming text can be sent to multiple stations, any one of which can respond. The response is seen by all other members of the group. I can think of lots of ways that can get used in SMB environments.
Verizon is also promising SMS-enabled desk phones. Of course, responding to SMS without a keyboard does present some problems. However, consumers are very interested in communicating via text, so any integration with the business telephone is a plus. From there, the recipient will have any number of ways to reply besides the desk phone.
There was also a lot of talk about the new PC client that will include interesting integrations with Zoom and Blue Jeans. The fact that Verizon has agreed to purchase Blue Jeans makes the Zoom integration look a little dicey, but Zoom’s exploding exposure due to the pandemic may make them a permanent entry on everyone’s “must-have” list.
The PC client’s ability to store a user’s Zoom or BlueJeans credentials once and then forward them to contacts via SMS was pretty slick. The other neat feature was the ability to provide a window or “sidecar” with an incoming call continuing contextual information about the caller. Along with the basic name and number info, the sidecar can display recent emails, upcoming meetings, and even CRM events from Salesforce.
Conclusion — Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day
It’s scary to think, but I’ve been tracking this mobile UC capability for well over a decade, and while the idea of an integrated wired/mobile service for business users has great appeal, it’s still unclear what capabilities users really want out of it. We’ve had copious examples of what people don’t want, but at long last, we might finally be focusing in on what capabilities will really help users get their jobs done more efficiently and effectively — without driving them crazy in the process.
I fully believe that a truly integrated capability requires the full participation of the carriers, particularly the mobile ones. While Verizon presented some interesting use cases, I’ve yet to see anything that would hold the potential for a real break out capability. I’m pretty certain that the breakout capability exists, it’s just that we haven’t found it yet. And when we do find it, we might not recognize its potential until someone uses it in a way we never envisioned.
The idea is that we need to keep pecking away at the problem and keep trying out new things. Frankly, most of the productivity-enhancing capabilities for business communications have been found in the smartphone’s native functions, and the fact that the user had the same tools for both business and personal communications virtually sealed the deal.
However, the wireless network knows where you are, and where the party calling you is. We’ve seen a million examples of how location, SMS, and things like shadow numbers can power services like Uber, but all that seems to be done despite the carriers!
One Talk as we have it is a good first step, but hopefully, it’s an indication of direction. Implementing BroadSoft was a little bit out of the box for mobile carriers, but carriers are going to have to throw the box out the window if they intend to have any real impact on the enterprise communications market. Having started my career in the carrier environment (including a stint at AT&T), I know how hard that will be for them. But if they’re going to be in this game for serious, it’s time to get the cleats on.