UC Vendor as Regulated Telco: Not as Rare as You Might Think
Microsoft has been catching a lot of grief for its new 'telco' status, but look around and you'll see it's in good company.
When Microsoft introduced PSTN Calling for Office 365, it explained that the ability to place and receive PSTN calls would initially be limited to the U.S. That's because to offer the service Microsoft must first register as a regulated telco, country by country, and so far it has only cleared domestic regulatory hurdles. Elsewhere, the regulatory approvals process is apparently furthest along in Germany, Netherlands and the U.K., where Microsoft says the service will launch as soon as July.
Over the past several weeks I've heard a number of UC vendors use Microsoft's new status as a "telco" as a strike against it. The argument runs along these lines: "In registering as a telco Microsoft is competing directly with its service provider partners. We, on the other hand, love our service provider partners. They do their thing and we do ours. We drive business their way and never, ever compete with them."
It's good marketing, if not a watertight argument.
I mean, Cisco recently expanded Spark to include some basic PBX functionality that technically competes with providers' hosted PBX services even if Spark relies on others to provide the PSTN connectivity. And telcos continue to partner with Microsoft around Office 365 and deliver their own hosted Skype for Business services, despite the introduction of PSTN Calling. Plus Microsoft isn't itself deploying the switches and other infrastructure on which its PSTN connectivity services are based. Telco partners are working in the background. But generally speaking, in registering as a telco Microsoft is entering into a co-opetition relationship that's lighter on the co-op compared with Cisco and others.
That said, it's by no means unheard of to have a vendor registered as a telco and offering services in direct competition with those offered by operators. I've been asking around about it lately, and have come up with some surprising examples. So let's take a look at a few.
First, what does being "registered as a telco" really mean? Speaking solely in terms of the U.S. regulatory environment, the term typically applies to a company that has filed as a provider of interconnected VoIP services. Interconnected VoIP providers:
- Deliver an IP-based voice service that can both place calls to and receive calls from the PSTN
- Provision and directly assign phone numbers
- Port lines between carriers
- Provision SIP trunks and long-distance/international calling services
- Bill customers directly for all PSTN-related services
All this accelerates the process of setting up and changing business voice services since the vendor registered as an interconnected VoIP provider doesn't need to get the numbers from a traditional telco. Perhaps more importantly, the vendor also can be the sole point of contact for ordering new service, changing existing service, providing technical support, and billing the customer.
So it's the classic "one-stop shop" and "single throat to choke" scenario that benefits both the customer, which gets all services from one place, and the provider, which controls the customer relationship end-to-end.
Registered Interconnected VoIP Providers
Many immediately recognizable providers of business comms services are registered interconnected VoIP providers, including 8x8, Comcast, Masergy, Vonage, and West. An increasingly large set of vendors supplementing their traditional maintenance services with hosted offerings fits this role as well. These include:
- ShoreTel, which became a provider of interconnected VoIP services in the U.S. and Canada when it acquired M5 Networks. The service has now morphed into ShoreTel Connect Cloud, which still requires the company to register.
- Toshiba's Telecommunication Systems Division, which registered as an interconnected VoIP provider in mid-2012 coincident with launching its VIPedge cloud-based telephone solutions and I-VoIP SIP trunking service. The company can provide the services in 48 states, with availability in Alaska and Hawaii slated for later this year.
- NEC, whose NEC Univerge Blue service (previously Univerge 3C Cloud) requires the company to register.
- HP Enterprise, whose services arm has been offering Skype for Business, as well as SIP trunking, on a hosted basis for a few years now. The company isn't only an interconnected VoIP provider in the U.S., but is similarly registered as a regulated entity in more than 20 countries. These include Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore, Spain, and the U.K.
Continue to next page for a look at Mitel, Avaya, and Cisco