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NEC and the 3C Advantage

In 1996, an Internet search project called Backrub offered a revolutionary new approach to Internet searching. After various tests and prototypes, Backrub was poised to become a major new public search engine. Its creators, Larry and Sergey, decided the name Backrub had to change, and Google was created in 1997. It's hard to admit it, but names can make a difference.

In 2007, NEC acquired Sphere Communications, and its core product known as Sphericall. NEC maintained that Sphericall was to become its next-generation UC platform. However, its primary telephony and UC solution remained rooted in its family of SV-8000 appliances. Then, earlier this year, NEC introduced the new brand UNIVERGE 3C. The brand "Sphericall" disappeared.

UNIVERGE 3C utilizes the Sphere technology at its core, but 3C represents the combination (convergence?) of selected NEC and partner software technologies into a single solution. It's available as standalone virtualized software built around a service-oriented approach; as a development or application extension to the existing appliances; or imminently as a hosted service.

3C is an alignment, or perhaps culmination, of many NEC initiatives. The solution combines various NEC software applications such as NEC's advanced contact center suite, and now features a rich set of collaboration capabilities. The company will leverage the same software for its UNIVERGE Cloud Services offering. The solution is standards based, SOA compliant, and utilizes modern web architectures and clients.

The ink is still wet on the brochures, but the technologies and products behind UNIVERGE 3C are all reasonably mature. Where Sphericall was an option, 3C is more of a strategy.

About a year ago, NEC announced its strategy for UC&C "User-centric" architecture which used a web approach to deliver a common user experience. Leveraging SIP standards just for audio and video media, the system exposes its features and controls through its web interfaces--these show up on PCs, Tablets, Smart Phones, and even on Desktop Web Phones with a common look & feel. This approach simplifies how easy it is for NEC to provide client options in the form of SIP devices.

Advantage: NEC?
NEC Advantage, the company's conference held last month, started with a report card delivered by Larry Levenberg, VP of North American Sales. It was a tough year for NEC--the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, and floods in Thailand impacted many NEC divisions. A major factory in Thailand was under 8 feet of water, and swiftly moving production to Japan wasn't enough due to component shortages. Despite this, Larry reported that worldwide market share for NEC telephony actually grew, particularly in UC. Larry also shared projections for 2012, and how 3C is aligning with current trends and market forecasts.

Among those forecasts are increasing cloud communications. The last of the major premises vendors are jumping into hosted services, but strategies and approaches differ. NEC's stated goal is to create the most channel-friendly cloud offering while leveraging its own technology to do so. Though UNIVEGE Cloud Services are still in controlled pilots, it was a big part of the program at NEC Advantage.

NEC's go-to-market approach, whether cloud or premises, is designed to keep the dealer front and center. It provides economic considerations for dealers to embrace cloud services while still allowing them to sell and service premises based equipment. It also intends to open up more of the NEC portfolio to the dealers including displays, servers, storage solutions, and potentially even tablets. NEC is also offering a relatively aggressive payout schedule.

What is potentially most compelling about the solution is a planned hybrid future option. NEC demonstrated how its 3C Cloud Services will interface directly with its premise appliances using its native CCIS protocol. This enables a tight coordination of services between premise equipment and the hosted aspects of the solution, and could even go so far as to transition appliances into robust gateways under centralized control.

The NEC Advantage event is more about content and access than hype and celebration. Even the dealer awards were fairly downplayed. There was a lot covered in the nine general sessions and 24 break-outs packed between meals and receptions. The exhibit hall was filled with NEC partners and a few other NEC divisions including a very friendly NEC robot that recognizes people. NEC had some prototype products on display including phone docks for tablets and an Android-based IP phone.

Although NEC comes from a proud hardware heritage, this conference was about software: applications, software assurance, vertical needs, virtualization, and new features.

UNIVERGE 3C and UNIVERGE Cloud Services were announced in Q1, effectively sold to the dealers in Q2, with a roadmap of additional capabilities planned throughout the year. The company has a lot of heavy lifting ahead. But it was clear that NEC intends to proceed while carefully listening. Even Advantage was a dialogue, and some new tweaks are under consideration as a result of dealer and partner feedback.

Dave Michels is a contributing editor and independent analyst at