Unified Communications Vendor Landscape – Top Players

Updated: September 10, 2010

A Focus Brief isn't the right forum to comprehensively define the UC vendor landscape, but I can at least break down the market into some basic segments here. Even at this level, the boundaries are fluid, but the following analysis provides a useful frame of reference for thinking about how UC can fit into your current environment. Given the importance of picking the right vendor, this landscape will be explored quite a bit further during our webinar.

At a high level, I would define the UC vendor landscape along the following lines:

  • Telecom-based
  • Software-based
  • Platform solution
  • Hosted/cloud-based
  • Open source
  • Web-based

Each will be briefly defined below, along with a listing of the major vendors/providers. It must be understood that unlike a PBX, UC is a service - not a product. As such, you are just as likely to deploy UC from a vendor - in the traditional, product-centric sense of the word - as you are from a provider of some sort. Providers come in many forms, and the main idea is that they are providing a service, not selling a product.

Telecom-based These vendors are typically incumbent telecom players, and are likely your current PBX, IP PBX or KTS provider. Most are legacy-based with long histories in TDM, but all telecom vendors are in the IP camp by now. This means that IP PBX is their current telecom offering to support VoIP, and to varying degrees, they are now offering UC solutions on top of this in order to keep your business.

Key players: Avaya (now Nortel as well), Siemens, Mitel, ShoreTel, Aastra, NEC. Cisco falls in this camp as an IP PBX player, but of course, they are not a telecom vendor by pedigree. In many ways, Cisco is a category unto itself for UC, but that needs to be explored in a separate Brief.

Software-based This category is not well-defined, but needs its own classification. Essentially, this really means Microsoft, since they have all the tools to provide and support UC. Many other types of UC providers partner and integrate with Microsoft, but for some, Microsoft could be the complete solution. To a lesser extent, the same can be said for the other major business software platform, IBM. This is where things break down a bit, as IBM takes us into the realm of CEBP - communications-enabled business processes - whereby UC is as much an operational solution as it is a communications solution.

Key players: Microsoft, IBM - and potentially the likes of SAP, Oracle, Adobe, etc.

Platform solution Another category that is not easily defined, but represents an important segment of the market. These companies are basically software-based, and are typically built around the CaaS concept - communications as a platform. Most of their offerings are solely focused on UC, although some come from the contact center world.

Key players: Interactive Intelligence, Zeacom, Esnatech, PanTerra Networks

Hosted/cloud-based Perhaps the fastest-growing but least understood segment of this market. Whereas telecom vendors offer premise-based solutions, these providers work on the premise that it makes more sense for the business to outsource not just telephony, but the broader UC spectrum of IP-based communications. Cloud is the nom du jour here, but both hosted and managed services fit very well in this bucket. There are important variations here to understand, but that analysis is beyond the scope of this brief.

Key players: Alteva, Ringio, Smoothstone, CallTower, Cypress Communications

Open source This segment is defined by the underlying technology, and merits separate consideration. Open source is fairly new for telephony, and the attractive economics have made it a popular choice among businesses facing cost constraints but also willing to deploy a technology that is still evolving. There is a lot of upside for open source-based UC, but it's not for everyone - at least yet.

Key players: eZuce, Shared Technologies, Fonality - and other solutions built around either SIP Foundry or Asterisk

Web-based Another work-in-progress segment, but distinct from the rest. Cloud-based UC is by definition Web-based, but has other moving parts, some being physical and some virtual. Web-based UC is not just an offsite solution, but the companies behind them are completely rooted in the Internet world. They lack the telecom pedigree of a PBX vendor, but have ample capability to deliver UC. Most businesses aren't ready yet to entrust this much of their mission-critical infrastructure to the Web, but these offerings are rapidly maturing, and will be viable options sooner than later.

Key players: for now it's Google, but the likes of Skype and Yahoo are very much in the mix

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