Bawcutt sees similarities between the PBX market and the computer industry. Just as the latter went from mainframe to minicomputers to the PC, monolithic PBXes will eventually be replaced by industry standard servers running communication software that also can be integrated with other business applications, such as workflow engines.
As the shift occurs, PBX vendors are likely to partner or acquire the technology they'll need to change with the industry. "They'll either need to acquire those skills, or partner to provide the capabilities," Bawcutt said.
Microsoft sees other dramatic changes taking place in the area of mobile communications. Wireless carriers today maintain a tight grip on access to their proprietary networks. In addition, particularly in the United States, they have avoided selling phones with Wi-Fi support that would bypass carriers and make calls over an Internet connection.
Microsoft sees businesses negotiating service contracts forcing carriers to open up their networks. Businesses will push for change because they will want the benefits of an IP network, and will also want to have control over access of their data. "I see an erosion of [carriers'] walled gardens over time," Bawcutt said. "It's only a question of when."
In the meantime, mobile phone makers are working on interim technology. Motorola, for example, is testing software that would automatically switch an ongoing call between a Wi-Fi connection and a cellular network without interruption. A person, for example, could begin a call on their wireless broadband connection in their house, and then have it switch automatically to the cellular network if they were to walk outside. Motorola describes the technology as providing "seamless mobility," and has not said when it would become available, a spokeswoman said.