Removing the dependency on physical equipment has been a catalyst, enabling far greater flexibility and innovation, as well as opening up the market to more service providers, who do not need to own or build their own networks. Traditional IT, telecom – even energy utility resellers – are realising the vast potential of this market. However, it is not just new market entrants embracing cloud IP UC and FMC, but also existing or incumbent service providers (where present, existing SIP trunking relationships can be ported across).
For B2B end users, this means more choice than ever before, with service providers keen for their business. As a result, we are seeing more progressive thinking around pricing and more customised solutions. The flexibility of cloud technology also means that service providers can offer SMEs the kind of sophisticated telecoms that would previously have only been within the budget of much larger enterprise customers.
Apart from technology, another driver is the growing realisation among the industry and customers that the progressive switch-off of ISDN lines across Europe is forcing a rethink of voice and data comms. Moving to IP-based solutions will not be an option and rather than just replacing ‘like with like’ type services, the switch-off of ISDN gives everyone an opportunity to embrace new innovations, including more mobile-centric services, seamless integration with IT applications and true independence of device, network, app or platform.
Let’s look at each of these in more detail, starting with mobility. Traditionally, mobile has usually been a bolt-on or afterthought to a company’s comms services. That has all changed with the latest generation of cloud-based fixed mobile convergence (FMC) technology, which enables businesses of all kinds to adopt ‘mobile-first’ strategies. This makes sense, given that many workers are increasingly mobile, but even office-based workers use their mobile handsets a lot of the time. Within a decade, our mobile phones have gone from being a handy way to make phone calls to become mini ‘offices’, part of how we now carry much of our ‘lives’ around in our pockets.
Here is a good example of true FMC in action: a mobile worker could start a conference call in the car on the way to work, for that same call to seamlessly transfer from cellular to the office WiFi or fixed phone or conference phone without anyone on the call being aware of the transition. Users can also have one voice-mail across all services and devices, even a mobile number that acts as an extension of a PBX. That said, many organisations continue to choose desktop-based IP phones. Regardless of the route chosen, the user is at the heart of the experience, rather than having their comms dictated or limited by networks, applications and devices.
Users are in charge
Services like this can be augmented by presence-based controls, which put users in control of how and when they are accessible in real-time. For instance, they can opt for calls to go to voice mail, converted to an email message, or forwarded to a colleague. Team members can instantly see each other’s availability too.
Via a menu-style app on their handsets, they can share their location, availability and preferences to other users and that information can be integrated with their main business applications, such as CRM, collaboration systems or video-conferencing tools like Zoom. A ‘one touch’ experience means that they do not need to keep switching between different app views, lots of clicks, keystrokes or log-ins.
While the theory all sounds very positive, there are some considerations that both end-users and service providers need to keep in mind. Here are some of them:
Whatever the solution a business or its service provider chooses, there is no doubt that we are experiencing one of the fastest-changing periods of change in the telecoms world, perhaps since the advent of mobile networks back in the Eighties. The next few years will continue to bring more innovation and while it is difficult to predict exactly what the future will bring, for sure the traditional barriers that previously limited comms have been broken down. FMC and UC are no longer just a vision, they are well and truly here.