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The Future of UCaaS Can be ‘Seen’

“Video is the new voice” is hardly original, and it’s proven untrue for decades. The hard part about predictions is timing. Of course there’ll be flying cars and robots that wash our dishes, the question is when. While there’s a lot of interesting new technologies to get excited about, it’s video that’s quietly transforming the way we work and collaborate.
It wasn’t long ago that video communications were limited to science fiction. On Star Trek Captain Kirk brought video communications into our living rooms, and other shows highlighted the concept of portable video on watches and tablets. In “Back to the Future,” when the 1955 Dr. Brown saw a 1985 camcorder, he quipped, "This is truly amazing. A portable television studio. No wonder your president has to be an actor.”
Today, we carry these television studios in our pockets. Our kids are more likely to interact over video than audio-only. Not to mention, HD video is often free or cheaper than PSTN-based audio.
Video isn’t just for consumers -- it’s pervading enterprise communications, too. Strike that. Rather, it’s taking over enterprise communications. Instead of leading with voice and adding video, there’s a clear shift to video-first communications.
What does it take to make a trend? A few companies? A few market leaders? Consider the following:
  • Microsoft Teams leads with video and messaging, offering voice as a n optional add-on
  • Cisco Webex, an established leader in video and Web conferencing, now includes Webex Calling as an optional add-on
  • Video provider Zoom recently added Zoom Phone as an optional add-on
  • Amazon Web Services recently made voice and PSTN service an optional add-on for its Chime conferencing solution
  • Google Cloud launched Hangouts Meet last year, and this year made Google Voice available as an optional add-on
These are the giants of the industry all coming to the same conclusion. The roles have reversed: Video is now the burger and voice is the fries. If you need any other evidence, consider Zoom, an eight-year-old company now worth about $20 billion following its IPO.
I love fries, and neither they nor voice are going away any time soon. It’s just that we need to rethink our priorities: Rooms must come before desks. We’re changing how we communicate and collaborate, and it’s a reasonable evolution. We came from narrowband voice, to wideband voice, and video is the next logical step up in fidelity.
Why did it take so long? Because modern video thrives on the shoulders of broadband networks; HD displays and cameras; and chips that can compress, manipulate, and enhance images. All of which have gradually become readily available.
Video communications is immensely more accessible than ever before. Not only is there no or small incremental cost to using it, but the equipment and bandwidth (wired and wireless) are ubiquitous and available. Virtually every laptop, tablet, and smartphone has a camera. Offices, homes, hotels, airports, and even fast-food restaurants have high-speed bandwidth.
Video-first communications doesn’t necessarily require a new video solution and voice-add on. For example, last year Vonage acquired TokBox. Its plan, presumably, is to replace its Amazon Chime offer with its own, native video solution integrated into its other offers. 8x8 and Fuze are leveraging open standards to create integrated solutions. LogMeIn created its new GoTo communications service by coupling a video and voice service.
The desire for providers to own their own stack has increased as customers demand more integrated experiences. Additionally, this year’s Gartner UCaaS Magic Quadrant criteria required providers to own and control their technology.
Customers don’t need to select a new video-first solution, they can create their own. Solutions from Highfive and Blue Jeans, for example, can be used to create a video-first implementation with other UcaaS or even premises-based voice solutions. Video-first isn’t brand-specific, but an encompassing approach to making collaboration and communications richer across devices and locations with visual content.
This isn’t technology trying to find a purpose, rather it’s filling the needs of modern work. Video facilitates multiple trends such as distributed teams, teleworking, and deskless worker inclusion. It’s not just about talking heads either; after years of digital transformation initiatives, most work is now performed on a screen that can be easily presented for sharing and collaboration.
We are entering a renaissance in video communications. WebRTC, AV-1, and other standards have the support of the major vendors, and the browser wars are behind us. Enterprises are racing to video-enable common rooms by adding cameras to existing display units and providing audio devices as peripherals or connected to a control unit. Considering that most meeting areas aren’t currently video-ready, this will be a high-growth area for some time.
Video solutions were a major theme of Enterprise Connect 2019 in March and many new product announcements are expected again at InfoComm in June.
After decades of delays, video has arrived, and is becoming the new voice.
Dave Michels is a Contributing Editor and Analyst at TalkingPointz.