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Uniquely Hosting VoIP

It wasn't long ago that just having hosted voice as a deployment model was enough to stand out. That's when the competition was selling big-ticket capital items that required minions to deploy and maintain. Now every major premises-based vendor has a cloud-based angle on its menu, and there are hundreds of hosted alternatives.

Providers need to keep innovating, adapting, and evolving just to stay competitive. The past few years have been focused around core features such as presence, mobile clients, and video. Moving forward, the path will be more about complementary services and integrated solutions. The opportunity for differentiation lies in appealing to more granular segments with targeted and compelling value-add. Here are a few ideas:

Personal Assistant: Particularly in a mobile world, being able to speak (rather than type) to an "assistant" regarding meetings, calls, and message processing is helpful. AVST CX-E is a unified messaging platform with a personal assistant called Atom. The CX-E also enables cloud-premises hybrid deployments, since it interoperates with most call control and email systems on-premises.

Collaboration: It is a general catch-all term, but increasingly used with regarding to messaging and content sharing. There's several interesting add-on applications emerging in this space. The goal is to empower teams to communicate and seamlessly share content regardless of location or device. Many collaboration solutions are stand-alone, but some can be integrated with hosted VoIP. Vobi here offers WebRTC-based collaboration that supports video, chat, and content sharing, and it can be integrated with IMS based UC offerings.

Video: There's no shortage of hosted video solutions. Acano offers a traditional approach in which providers can purchase hardware and offer customers interoperable meeting minutes. In addition, the Acano coCloud enables a brandable hybrid solution. Enterprises can use the cloud provider or their own premises-based hardware depending on their needs. The hosted portion is a multi-tenant solution with granular reporting and invoicing.

Ad-hoc Video Rooms: Personal collaboration solutions can be effective on desktops, laptops, and mobile devices, but sometimes group collaboration involves participants in the same location. Traditional video meeting rooms are expensive, but there's some low-cost, SIP oriented options emerging that facilitate small group collaboration. Both Mitel's MiVoice Video Unit and Vaddio's HuddleStation facilitate video, and they also function as a SIP conference saucer.

Cloud Integrations: Integrating into business applications makes customer accounts sticky. Click-to-dial from Outlook and are fairly well supported, but Google Apps integration can be still be difficult. gUnify offers providers a cloud-based middleware approach that delivers one-click integrations. With gUnify, it's possible to get one touch conferencing and click-to-dial from Google Apps (without a client), and automatic call logging in

Endpoints: Despite reports to the contrary, the soft client has not killed hard phones or other physical endpoints such as wireless handsets, speaker saucers, or attendant consoles. Many of the early hosted providers discouraged hard phones because they saw them as low-margin commodities that could only complicate the sale and installation. Hard phones also threatened or diminished the "no up-front costs" portion of the value proposition.

Providers now embrace endpoints as a means of differentiation. There's opportunity to differentiate with the actual endpoints themselves, as well as the provisioning and support processes. Most providers now offer endpoint-rental programs to ensure their capital avoidance proposition.

To simplify provisioning, consider a distributor that can preconfigure endpoints before shipping--many do. NetXUSA, for example, can configure a wide variety of SIP endpoints and insert custom documentation before shipping the units directly to end users. Relatedly, CounterPath's Client Configuration Server centralizes provisioning for soft clients.

Differentiation is difficult, and it is increasingly complex to achieve through core UC features. Providers want to be transparent, and that makes building loyalty difficult--particularly without the crutch of capital commitments. First comes reliable services, and then comes strategies for loyalty. Becoming broadly embedded into business workflows reduces the risk of competitive displacement.

Dave Michels is a Contributing Editor and Analyst at TalkingPointz

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