HIP to fuel unified messaging: report

When the concept of unified messaging (UM) burst onto the IT scene several years ago, the response was less than enthusiastic.

But with hosted IP (HIP) telephony on the horizon, analyst firm The Yankee Group says it sees renewed potential in this technlogy.

“One of the things we found out is that the technology [for hosted IP telephony] is finally mature. It’s become more of a delivery challenge as opposed to a technology challenge [as it was] in the past,” said Daniel Klein, analyst with the communication, network and infrastructure group at Boston-based Yankee Group.

“We think that there’s going to be a tremendous amount of momentum offering services such as UM.”

Once known as IP Centrex, hosted IP telephony has been changed by the industry because of the negative associations with Centrex, Klein said. Traditionally Centrex offerings were restrictive in geographic distance and expensive because of moves, adds and changes.

“HIP relieves a lot of that because all of you have to do is take your IP phone and plug it into your Internet jack, and the phone automatically registers itself so you can move as much as you want, and you can self-adminster those moves so you don’t have to rely on a service provider,” he said.

“The cost to moves, adds and changes in an HIP environment can be reduced 90 per cent.”

Klein said in the past telcos competed in price point, but now the pendulum is going to swing toward competition in services.

Klein said Canadian and U.S. telcos, including Bell Canada, will be starting to roll out hosted IP telephony offerings in the next 12 to 24 months, adding that Canada is a prime target market for such services. “Canada has a substantially larger Centrex customer base than the U.S. I think Nortel has been very successful there,” he explained.

In the past when it came to offering unified messaging, Klein said telcos faced logistical challenges integrating wireless, local, long-distance and Internet networks – all must collaborate to offer UM – but these issues are starting to get resolved in IP environments.

John Seliga, vice-president of IP solutions at Telus Corp. in Calgary, agreed that the uptake of IP telephony would further the adoption of applications such as unified messaging, but said customers aren’t interested in it as a standalone service. Telus currently offers unified messaging services and Seliga said the response has been underwhelming.

“However with the advent and the maturity of [IP] offerings…I think it’s far more likely that you’re going to see a greater uptake in applications such as unified messaging, as services like IP Centrex or other IP telephony services are adopted by the marketplace.”

He said he would expect to see comparable uptake of IP telephony and unified messaging over the next few years.

“If you can integrate your voice mail and your e-mail and other forms of messaging along with your IP telephony services, then absolutely I think you’re going to see a parallel behaviour in terms of market traction.”

Klein said the vendors responsible for these IP solutions often include messaging in their offerings, and that would also help increase customer uptake.

Lucent Technologies in Murray Hill, N.J. and Nortel Networks Ltd. in Brampton, Ont. dominate the hosted IP market with products for old legacy systems, while start-ups Broadsoft Inc. in Pointe Claire, Que., Vocal Data, based in Richardson, Tex., and Sylantro Systems Corp. in Campbell, Calif. are ahead in the market. However Cisco Systems Inc. uses Sylantro and Broadsoft products when it needs HIP products.

In order for unified messaging to reach its full potential, Klein offered some tips for the industry. He recommended that carriers and vendors work together to market it, and advised equipment vendors to ensure their technology is mature, and meets carrier-class requirements.

Klein said the target market for HIP encompasses everyone from the small- to medium-size enterprise space to large enterprises.