The Cavell European VoIP summit was held in Amsterdam on the 11th October, with most of the major providers of IP Voice services in the world present. The conference continues to grow in size and stature largely as a result of the burgeoning market for business class IP telephony and the hard work of the organisers, Cavell Group.
VoIP phone services have been around for about 20 years now, and of course the last 5 years in particular have seen huge growth in its adoption by business. This is being fuelled by the widespread closure of traditional telephony networks (see previous post about the death of ISDN), and increasing demand for sophisticated voice services linked to growing awareness of the capabilities of IP voice.
VoIP itself refers to voice over IP networks – a way of making phone calls using an internet connection. IP telephony or IP voice means the same thing, and in the past few years, Unified Communications (UC) has become a buzz word, with most providers referring to their services as UC.
UC generally means a method of integrating the various means of communications to include fixed and mobile voice, instant messaging, SMS, email etc. Everybody claims to have a UC solution, but frankly nobody really links all of these channels together in any kind of coherent manner.
For Blueface UC has meant bringing Mobile and Fixed voice together with a single number, voice mailbox and cloud control of number routing and intelligent call handling.This is something that Blueface does very well and we are one of very few companies in the world who do it.
However, we don’t handle some of the other channels, such as mail – even though we could – as there are already great mail solutions out there. Perhaps this will change with time but for now, we are focussed on areas like CRM where we believe we can offer something different. But there are major changes taking place in the industry and a lot of potential new entrants from adjacent industries.
It is interesting therefore to examine the various changes which are taking place in the market, which was the main focus of discussion at the VoIP summit.
The elephant in the room as it was called was Microsoft’s Skype for Business – was it a threat, a direct competitor or another tool to enable IP voice to be sold to the enterprise? What about Slack – how was Slack affecting internal company communications and what was happening with voice and Slack? And how about Google, Facebook and dare we say it Yahoo?
Microsoft, Google and Facebook have all presence in the business communications market already. Microsoft in particular with Skype for business have made steady penetration into the business UC market and many believe that they could choose to become an operator themselves. Blueface, of course, offer a native Skype for business connection, enabling Skype for business users to make and receive calls to and from the public telephone network.
It would seem like a logical next step for Microsoft to begin offering this type of voice service themselves. That, however, would require a significant change of policy for Microsoft, and potentially leave them open to all sorts of regulatory issues.
These are the same issues which faced Google with their acquisition of GrandCentral, a promising VoIP provider in the US. They mothballed that project and continued for a while with Google Voice, before shutting that service down also.
Now we have Google Hangouts which is a peer to peer service like Skype, but without the ability to call out to the telephone network. Facebook’s Whatsapp service is another VoIP product which could potentially be combined with Facebook Messenger and offered as an alternative telephony service.
The big issue facing all these companies, however, is the thorny subject of regulation. Although the EU set out to create a single market across Europe, for telephony purposes each country is a separate entity. Indeed our closest neighbour and most comparable regulatory environment, the UK is about to leave. And so becoming a carrier would require each company to register in each state and comply with individual regulations – including legal intercept and porting requirements which is also required in the US.
Legal intercept in particular causes a major headache for Skype as a peer to peer service – it is a very difficult thing to achieve with peer to peer services. And the EU is currently considering making it a requirement which would have obvious implications for the free service, never mind Skype for business.
The more likely option therefore is that these companies remain as providers of software services, and rely on companies like Blueface with the necessary technology and regulatory capacity to fulfil customer needs. In fact, the multi-territory capabilities of Blueface were highlighted as key to meeting the increasingly sophisticated cross-border demands of business. Nevertheless, there will be big changes in the coming years in the market as voice continues to transition to a software application with tight integration to other cloud services.
The growth of Slack is a perfect example and its voice capabilities were highlighted on numerous occasions. We love Slack, and like many fast growth technology companies we see it as a wonderful communications tool. The problem with all voice enablement in applications like this, however, is adoption. Just like the original MS Messenger, Skype, Hangouts and any other application, they need to talk to the public phone network and at the end of the day, everyone has a phone. So nobody will ditch that in favour of an app which only 1% of the world use with any consistency.
The upshot is that API driven voice services are going to grow rapidly, while the current migration to Cloud Voice services will continue apace. And so for Blueface it’s a great time to be at the cutting edge of the voice world.