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Fact-checking 2020's Biggest UC Predictions

Leading up to 2020, the trade press and Internet were full of all types of predictions on the future; the telecoms industry being no exception. But should we believe them, and should they influence our thinking for the coming months and years?
The key sources of predictions in our industry are analysts and vendors, and it’s worth considering why they make predictions. For analysts, it’s simply an extension of what they do. Their role is to interpret the industry and set-out facts and trends for their customers (who may be users or vendors). So, predictions should simply be an extrapolation of the trends that they identify and monitor. I’m somewhat more cynical about predictions made by vendors. In most cases, the predictions miraculously support their product strategy. Presumably, the belief is that if they tell us that something is the future often enough and loud enough, we will eventually believe it. But it’s not always so. One major vendor has been predicting the death of voice-only telephone systems in favor of video solutions for nearly 20 years now. I don’t doubt that that prediction is now coming to pass, but it certainly didn’t do so in the timeframe suggested by that vendor.
So what predictions are likely for the telecoms and unified communications (UC) industry in 2020? Well, the truth is that my crystal ball is no better than anybody else’s. But as a consultant, I’m more at the coal face in respect of what our customers are doing than analysts, who are often focusing on new product and service releases and believed intentions.
So rather than making a fresh set of predictions, I have looked at some of the key predictions made by others and considered whether there is any evidence or basis for them based on what my fellow consultants and I are seeing daily:
  1. 5G – Many predictions see the '20s as the decade that 5G will take-off in a big way. That may be so – a decade is a long time in this industry. But we aren’t seeing any evidence that it will happen in any major or mainstream way in 2020 itself. 5G is seen as a potential replacement for both 4G cellular networks and some applications of Wi-Fi networks. However, the solutions aren’t sufficiently defined yet for either of these applications. Our clients are still undertaking both cellular and Wi-Fi renewals based on predecessor technologies, albeit with a watching brief on 5G.
  2. Devices and wearables – Various predictions foresee an explosion in wearable technology from watches/fitness trackers to clothing and smart spectacles. Most predictions acknowledge that this trend is largely going to be in the consumer space. We aren’t seeing any trend towards businesses issuing wearables to its staff. However, we are seeing a growth in the role of smartphones in the business space. There is a definite trend towards utilizing smartphones as a preferred or only telephony device in the workplace and a move towards using smartphone apps for business processes in preference to laptops or tablets. There are inhibitors to these trends. The major ones being device ownership policies and device management capability. We expect to be working with many clients in these areas over the coming months and years.
  3. Cloud UC – The tipping point from on-premises to cloud-based UC solutions has been predicted for several years. According to vendors, this is what all customers need and want. There is no doubt that cloud-based solutions now dominate the small and medium enterprise (SME) market, but we haven’t yet seen the tipping point reached in respect of large enterprises. There is no doubt that the benefits of cloud deployments are recognized by all our customers. However, the commercial models are just too painful in many instances; particularly, for organizations with a small number of very large locations. This is one area where I suspect the major vendors do now have the power to tip the market. Major vendor development is increasing exclusively around cloud-based services. When there is a need for a major investment, it’s increasingly hard to make the case for on-premises solutions, which may have a limited life expectancy. We are advising our customers to start planning for the new commercial models that they may find imposed on them.
  4. Video – I haven’t seen any specific video predictions this year. Perhaps the industry is tired of delivering this message. However, we are now seeing our clients pay more attention to video than in the past. Many telecoms and UC strategies that we are developing include video within scope, if not as a major driver. Most enterprises are providing video at one of two levels. First, video is a capability within desktop UC clients. There is little drive to force or even encourage users to use video on a 1:1 basis, but the benefit of being able to participate in video conferences from the desktop is widely recognized. This is also driven by the increased use of smart mobile devices, as discussed above. Second, we are seeing increased provisioning of video-conferencing capabilities in meeting and conference rooms. Many of our clients are equipping all their meeting spaces.
  5. Contact center – Contact center is a topic in its own right. Key predictions include a continued shift towards social media channels, increased use of artificial intelligence, and a shift to cloud contact centers. I’m at one with the predictors here. These are all trends that we are seeing our clients adopt at all levels. However, I’d also like to throw in one trend that hasn’t specifically been predicted that we are seeing within our client base – the growth of micro-contact centers. New consumption models are enabling customers to deploy small contact centers throughout their business. The hunt group of the past is becoming the multi-channel contact center of the future.