PBX vendors have historically distributed TDM telephones through authorized channels. This made sense as telephones were only purchased by existing customers and customers often required additional hardware or services to make them work. The same was true with early (proprietary) VoIP endpoints.
SIP promised to change the arrangement, as it enabled interoperable IP phones. Vendors such as Aastra, Polycom, and snom emerged as early purveyors of independent SIP phones that could be used on third-party voice platforms. These and other phone providers directly targeted prospects that weren’t already customers by using open (Internet and wholesale) distribution meaning non-authorized dealers and even end users could directly purchase them.
As enterprise UC vendors slowly embraced SIP endpoints, it was largely expected that they too would embrace open distribution. It was also assumed customers would freely adopt whatever brand SIP endpoint preferred without allegiance to the vendor of the voice platform – neither of these predictions turned-out to be true.
For the most part, enterprise customers of Cisco, Avaya, Mitel, NEC, and Siemens Enterprise still purchase like branded endpoints from authorized resellers (Cisco has multiple lines, and some lines are available through open distribution). In other words, despite the standard, simplicity, and general compatibilities of SIP endpoints, most enterprise endpoints are still sourced through closed distribution networks.
Does closed endpoint distribution for SIP endpoints still make sense?
Dealers enjoy the account control and profit from endpoints, but lower prices might stimulate more demand (and licenses). More importantly, the Internet has generally flattened distribution across multiple industries. If endpoints could be distributed more efficiently (without the proverbial middle-man), shouldn’t they? Particularly since many independent brands are sold through open distribution at lower prices.
Endpoints are peripherals similar to printers and keyboards. The ability to protect such distribution channels with closed distribution is rapidly disappearing. It seems inevitable that IP endpoints will move to open distribution, possibly driven by the vendors themselves. Manufacturing is always about quantity, so if a vendor can significantly increase sales volumes (by selling into more platforms) then it will realize cost savings potentially creating a self-feeding cycle.
Softphones continue to grow in popularity resulting in increased costs associated with manufacture and distribution of hard phones. It may even make sense for some vendors to drop out of the endpoint business as something needs to give.
A current barrier to overcome is the SIP standard for endpoints is limited. Many vendors address this with various software loads that narrow the gap between SIP and proprietary IP phones. This is keeping endpoints from becoming commodities.
We are likely nearing the tipping point where the benefits of open distribution will outweigh the costs for vendors. It will be a big impact to dealers – potentially the final straw for some.
Is open distribution good or bad for the industry?
What are the potential impacts of open distribution of major brand SIP endpoints?