Monday, October 11, 2010

What Happened To Them All?

Recently, I attended IT Expo West, supposedly THE show for telecommunications in the US. Fanfare billed it as the show for all telecom VARs and carriers to attend, bringing all the world of telecommunications together for conference sessions and exhibits. While not the smallest show I have attended, it definitely was less than I expected. The first thing I notices was there were almost no phone system vendors there – no Avaya, no Cisco, no NEC, no Toshiba, no Panasonic, no Mitel/Intertel. About the only ones I found outside of the open-source guys were Interactive Intelligence and Shoretel. The entire floor was filled with carrier billing companies, SIP Trunking vendors, resellers of all kinds of services for telecom, and a large number of booths with more acronyms that I know existed but no mention of what they were actually promoting. I had to ask – Where are all the phone vendors?

True, the past few years have seen a consolidation in the marketplace like the PC vendors experienced in the late 90’s. Were there used to be 15-20 big name vendors, we now only have about 4-5 and then only a few others that really compete with them. You would expect with all the SIP talk at the show that there would be at least a small presence for Microsoft’s Lync or Cisco UC products, but there were none. If Avaya owns something like 75% of the SMB market after acquiring Nortel, wouldn’t you expect them to have someone there to prove they still care about the marketplace? I saw plenty of products and services for phone systems, but not very many system vendors. I guess one reason might be the continuing slowness in the economy and very little purchasing of new systems going on, but there are companies looking for new equipment or at least upgrades to support all the nifty toys and products that the other innovative companies were displaying.

Coming out of the show, I got the feeling that the world is going hosted and we will be returning to the Centrex scenarios we had in the 70’s and 80’s. Central office control and billing with only handsets at the customer premises. AT&T and GTE had everyone on these services and it looks like there will be more choice, but little variety in the new SIP world that this show seemed to portray. As a hardware vendor, it was sobering to realize that the hardware market may be going way. I have heard it said that voice has become just another application on the data network and that rings true with the promises of vendors I talked to. If phone vendors don’t see the writing on the wall and focus more on applications, services, and support, they will very quickly find there is not much left for them to sell.

Hopefully the economy will get better and companies will start purchasing new equipment again, but until then, it does not bode well for customers that have legacy systems and few VARs to turn to when problems arise. Perhaps communications as a service or CloudComm is the wave of the future, but for the millions of customers out there with phone systems on the wall, there still needs to be support for their current technology from the companies we have grown to love and hate.

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