Brent Kelly
Brent Kelly is president and principal analyst at KelCor, Inc., where he provides strategy and counsel to key client types...
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Brent Kelly | February 22, 2017 |


Cisco Meraki Voice: A Simple Cloud-Controlled Voice Offering

Cisco Meraki Voice: A Simple Cloud-Controlled Voice Offering Does Cisco need another voice platform? Perhaps… because this cloud-based phone system is as simple to use and manage as it gets.

Does Cisco need another voice platform? Perhaps… because this cloud-based phone system is as simple to use and manage as it gets.

Cisco Meraki Voice is a Cisco communications offering that never appears on the radar for most of us in the communications and collaboration space. I ran across it almost by accident and had the good fortune to interview a Cisco Meraki product marketing manager to find out more information. So what is Meraki voice and how is it positioned in Cisco's product portfolio?

For readers unfamiliar, Meraki is a division within Cisco (purchased in 2012) that provides a cloud-based, managed networking solution for connectivity, security, mobile device management, and communications. The division sells its own wireless access points, switches, cameras, security appliances, and telephones -- all of which connect to the Meraki cloud management software. The Meraki dashboard provides a single pane of glass to configure and control the functionality and operation of all of these devices. In a Meraki solution, only device management data is exchanged between an organization's private network and the Meraki cloud, making Meraki compliant with HIPAA, PCI, and other security initiatives.

Meraki's target market is the small- to medium-sized businesses employing limited IT staff. The Meraki management platform, the cloud dashboard, and Meraki devices are ideal for this market because they make it relatively simple to manage, configure, and upgrade devices, policies, and private network operations. Furthermore, because the Meraki dashboard is cloud-based, there is no software to install on-premises and the solution is nearly infinitely scalable. Redundant data centers provide 99.99% reliability, and even if the Meraki dashboard went down, the local network still functions using configuration and policy information contained within the local devices.

One could legitimately ask why Meraki is launching a voice product given that Cisco acquired it to focus primarily on cloud-based network management. It's particularly confusing because Cisco already has several other voice solutions, including Unified Communications Manager (CUCM), Hosted Collaboration Solution (HCS), the BE6000/7000 SMB offering, and now Spark with PSTN access.

The Meraki product manager I spoke with told me that Meraki is an "innovation center" for Cisco, and that Meraki listens to its customers. Being an innovation center provides the division with considerable flexibility in the how it operates and in the products it develops. Enough Meraki customers asked for a simple voice solution managed with the Meraki dashboard, that Meraki felt compelled to create the Meraki Voice offering. It has been several years in the making.

What Is Meraki Voice?
Meraki Voice consists of an MC74 SIP telephone. The device sits on a person's desk. It is easy to use, and there is no training. That's it, at least on the customer premises.

Figure 1: The Meraki Voice MC74 telephone (Source: Cisco Meraki)

Meraki drop-ships the phone to the user's location where it is plugged into the Meraki-based network. The phone "calls home" to the Meraki cloud and a configuration is downloaded which includes a directory (populated from Google Suite or a .csv file, but no LDAP directory integration ... yet), speed dials, and so forth. There is absolutely no configuration by the end user.

Call control lives in the Meraki cloud. This cloud handles call setup and tear down. PSTN access is provided through a relationship between Cisco and IntelePeer. Meraki points out that it does not support unified communications or call center functionality, and its phones do not support video (unlike many other Cisco phones). Meraki Voice does support IVR trees as well as announcements, meaning that all phones or a group of phones can be configured as an announcement group.

Figure 2: The Meraki Voice user interface (Source: Cisco Meraki)

When asked about how Meraki positions Meraki Voice against Cisco's existing voice/UC portfolio, Meraki responded that it is very conscious of customers who already have Cisco communications equipment. Customers who already have a Cisco voice investment are not interested in migrating to a Meraki Voice installation. Meraki is looking for a different kind of customer -- a smaller customer who may have only deployed smartphones but may also need phones in conference rooms, public rooms, lobbies, etc., and wants a very simple solution that works with Meraki's cloud management platform. Hence, the target market is existing Meraki customers that are not existing Cisco voice customers (Meraki now has approximately 140,000 customers – a 10 fold growth figure achieved since Cisco bought Meraki).

Meraki Voice requires the hardware phone and a user license. The phones are priced at $599 MSRP. The annual license is $150 list price. A separate agreement with IntelePeer for PSTN access is $8.95/month/user. The Meraki VAR bills for the phones and annual license fees; IntelePeer bills customers for PSTN connectivity services.

It will be interesting to see if Cisco allows Meraki Voice to continue being sold because it seems to compete with Cisco's own products, particularly Spark, a product in which Cisco is investing heavily and making strategic bets. Both Spark and Meraki Voice are cloud-based offerings.

Meraki says that there is some cross fertilization going on between the Spark team and the Meraki team. For instance, Spark has developed a cloud-managed capability similar to that offered by Meraki. It is early days for Meraki Voice; the product has been available for only a few months. For existing Meraki customers that just want a basic voice solution, it will likely be cheaper and simpler to operate than other choices in the Cisco product family.

Learn more about cloud communications trends and technologies at Enterprise Connect 2017, March 27 to 30, in Orlando, Fla. View the Cloud Communications track, and register now using the code NOJITTER to receive $300 off an Entire Event pass or a free Expo Plus pass.


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