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2/28/2011
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Enterprise Connect: Verizon Announces Cloud Unified Collaboration

The telco's Unified Communications & Collaboration-as-a-Service will be able to switch calls between mobile phones and IP desk phones.

Verizon is promising to deliver a cloud-based unified communications service by late Spring that is fit for businesses and government agencies with 1,000 employees or more, the carrier announced at the Enterprise Connect conference in Orlando Monday.

Verizon's Unified Communications & Collaboration-as-a-Service (UCCaaS) is currently being tested by organizations like the State of Virginia. In addition to predictable per-seat pricing, Verizon said it would deliver the flexibility to switch calls between mobile phones and IP desk phones. Verizon is introducing its own Mobile UC client, in addition to integration with phones from Nokia and Cisco (based on the iPhone).

Later this year, Verizon says it will also introduce hybrid extensions -- options for enterprises that want to mix-and-match on-premise and cloud hosted services for different parts of their UC strategy. The UCCaaS service works with Cisco and Tandberg phones and conferencing equipment.

Tom Daniel, group manager for UC&C product development, said in a briefing that many Verizon customers are in the middle of a transition to UC, but are finding it difficult to get all the way there. "They have email, presence, and audio conferencing, but in many ways these are still islands of communication services," he said. At the same time, they're under enough economic pressure to reconsider buying more equipment. "They're wondering, is it more effective for us to leverage cloud-based solutions, as opposed to us trying to handle and become a telecom provider?"

That makes this the right time to offer cloud UC services to larger enterprises; previously most hosted UC was targeted at small to midsize businesses, he said. Because many enterprises have already purchased UC equipment, Verizon wants to offer an a la carte model where organizations can choose hosted services that will smoothly integrate with on-premise technology.

"That approach makes a lot of sense because that's the way companies are really rolling out these technologies," said Robin Gareiss, an executive vice president and senior founding partner of Nemertes Research and a speaker at the show. Even companies with aggressive UC plans often can't extend the technology to remote offices, where there is little IT support available. So they might purchase cloud services that would bring remote office workers into the UC fold -- provided that Verizon can really deliver a service that interoperates smoothly with on-premise deployments.

Gareiss had not been briefed on Verizon's plans, but she said the carrier would have to significantly change the economics to make cloud UC cost effective for large companies. At least, that's her conclusion based on a study of on premise and hosted costs for Voice over Internet Protocol deployments. "It's usually the smaller companies where it makes the most sense for them to use hosted services," she said in an interview.

While pricing is subject to negotiation, Verizon did release a cost estimate scenario as part of its application for a Best of Show Award at Enterprise Connect.

For a hypothetical 1,000-person organization subscribing to the base service plus voicemail, Verizon said the cost would be about $34.53 per person, including the cost of the phones as well as subscription fees. Verizon estimates the comparable three-year cost of a do-it-yourself VoIP setup at $1.5 million, or $43.15 per user per month.

The estimate uses the same figure for buying and installing phones in both instances, about $235,000 or $6.53 per user per month over the three year period, so the difference comes from eliminating IT costs like architecture, administration, servers, maintenance, battery backup, air conditioning, and power.

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