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UCaaS and Cellular Together in Perfect Harmony
Earlier this month, Verizon became the first U.S. operator to launch Microsoft Teams Phone Mobile. It is a new service that integrates an organization’s mobile devices with Microsoft Teams. This is a fairly significant launch, and it should stimulate interest and sales for both UCaaS and enterprise cellular providers.
This Verizon offer is a version of what I’ve been describing as a UCaaS Mobility 3.0 solution. This generation of UCaaS mobility blurs UCaaS and cellular services. It’s not that Verizon and Microsoft have merged, but they have converged their offerings into a single solution. Unlike the second generation of UCaaS mobility, available today from most UCaaS providers, this new approach requires no smartphone app nor use of an internet connection.
Verizon and Microsoft are not the first to market a solution like this, but they are two of the largest names in enterprise communications, so this will change market dynamics in several good ways as both cellular and UCaaS need a boost.
It seems like it was just yesterday when UCaaS was new, shiny, and exciting. Today, UCaaS is considered mature. The differences among the providers are few and diminishing, and competitive pressures are increasing. Businesses question if smartphones have entirely eliminated the need for business phone systems. When they do reluctantly select one, implementation sizes are getting smaller.
The days are gone when every employee with a desk gets a phone. First physical phones became softphones, and now those are disappearing too. It’s becoming common for teams, even departments, to completely skip the business phone system. Instead, employees are provided apps for chat, calling apps limited to internal calling, and/or an allowance to use their personal mobile phone for business.
It’s a similar story for business cellular services. I clearly remember when Steve Jobs launched the iPhone and the subsequent excitement that lasted for at least a decade. But, today smartphones are less interesting, and 5G didn’t do much to reignite the excitement. Corporate cellular plans are also shrinking as many organizations favor the allowance and reimbursement model.
The result is disjointed enterprise communications. Conversations are occurring over way too many apps and modalities to keep things straight. Employees are using their personal numbers for work-related calls and texts which opens a Pandora’s box of issues. Adding insult to this cacophony of apps and devices, are higher costs. Businesses are paying more due to diminished buying power — not to mention the cost of generating all those allowance reimbursements.
Many of these problems are a result of separate solutions for UCaaS and cellular. IT decision-makers have to select (at least) two providers and deploy separate, overlapping systems. The work-from-anywhere pitch works well for laptops on broadband, but is flawed in wireless mobile situations. UCaaS apps on smartphones are not intuitive, nor does OTT wireless provide the quality we require when mobile.
Now imagine a single solution for calling, messaging, meetings, and cellular. A single, enterprise-wide solution that relies on one application for both users and administrators. That’s what Microsoft and Verizon just announced, and the single application is Microsoft Teams.
Administrators can configure employees to use any combination of meetings, messaging, and/or calling — and calling includes telephones, softphones, and any Verizon mobile device. The Teams phone number becomes the native number on the mobile device, no app necessary. Imagine, placing work calls (from your work number) with the native dialer on your cell phone. The mobile device can be a simple phone or smartphone because the Teams number is paired to the device’s sim card — a physical sim or an e-sim.
. For example, everyone can have access to Teams Chat. A set of those individuals may require calling, and of those, some may require a cellular phone. While the Teams app is optional for calling, the app does provide access to the Teams suite of features including messaging and meetings as well as dialing from a directory.
The mobile device can be company-owned or not. For organizations that allow BYOD, an e-sim can be added to the employee’s phone for business use. Personal calls go in/out of the personal sim, and work calls go in/out of the work sim. Only the work calls are logged in the UCaaS system. At the end of the day, the user can change their status to unavailable, and business calls and notifications will stop. Regardless of whose device, it allows employers and employees to retain control of their communications.
The key is really the dual sim phone, and they are more popular than many realize. “With the growth of dual-SIM smartphones, the viability and need for a separate phone for business needs diminish,” according to Aaron West of Omdia. In his research note published last month, West reported a stark decline of single SIM devices. Most new phones now support two or more sims.
Verizon is the first US wireless provider to integrate with Microsoft Teams. It’s a backend integration that requires no software on the mobile device. Rates, roaming, and other terms are set in the master agreement with Verizon.
Last year, similar UCaaS-Mobility 3.0 services were launched in the US including AT&T Office@Hand by RingCentral and Cisco Webex Go. All of these providers took different approaches, but they all put the UCaaS number as the native cellular number. Also, they all prioritize wireless services instead of public internet for UCaaS connectivity. AT&T and Verizon directly integrated their cellular services with the UCaaS providers. Cisco Webex launched its own Webex wireless service on AT&T’s network in the US.
Learn more about Cellular Fixed-Mobile Convergence and UCaaS Mobility 3.0 at Enterprise Connect.
This new integration of UCaaS and cellular creates a number of powerful benefits. For example, it will bring advanced UCaaS features to mobile-first users, including organizations that have gone all mobile. It allows for a more powerful blend of devices across an organization and can reduce the number of communications apps. It provides greater control over numbers, for example, field staff can call customers and send out their dispatch number as the caller-ID. It also creates differentiation among wireless providers, as currently, only Verizon has this feature with Teams.
I expect significant interest and adoption of UCaaS Mobility 3.0 solutions in 2023. The UCaaS providers that offer it will see an expansion of their available market as more remote and mobile workers become UCaaS-enabled. The cellular providers that support it will have a better form of competitive differentiation than just coverage and rates.
Most importantly, organizations that adopt it will have more effective communications and collaboration, and they will likely reduce their costs in the process. The savings come from one system replacing two. UCaaS integrated with cellular just might provide the final push to retire older PBX equipment that continues to mostly meet an organization’s needs.
Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.