Cloud Communications Alliance – Good News for UC
Today marks the official launch of the Cloud Communications Alliance, and I’ve chosen to post this news here on the UC Strategies portal because I think it bodes particularly well for the UC space. I’ve been following cloud communications pretty closely lately, and having been briefed on CCA in advance of most people, this may well be the first you hear about their news anywhere.
Every market evolves in its own way, and the time is simply right now for the CCA. Lately, we’ve all been getting a variety of cloud-related announcements, and it’s getting hard to tell how much of the buzz is real. A big part of the problem is language and the lack of clarity around terms like “hosted,” “cloud,” “services” and “communications.” In some cases, the services haven’t changed much, and what used to be called hosted is now called cloud. In others, however, the services are new, and are very much Web-based and of the cloud. While many of us are living with these terms every day, it must be very confusing for businesses to make sense of all this, let alone make the right decision for their communications and IT requirements.
Addressing these concerns is a big reason why the CCA came into being, and I’ll provide a bit of background. This alliance has been in the works for several months, and is comprised of eight operators with a common vision about cloud communications. Details on the founding members are outlined in the press release, but briefly, they are Alteva, Broadcore, Callis Communications, Consolidated Technologies, IPFone, SimpleSignal, Stage2 Networks and Telesphere. An important common thread is their usage of the BroadSoft platform. I’m not saying this as a vendor plug, but rather to note that sharing the same applications environment makes their collective goals much easier to attain.
Beyond that, the underlying driver behind CCA is the simple fact that the value proposition of hosted has not been clear enough to gain mainstream adoption. One way to do this is banding together and creating critical mass among operators who have been successfully offering these services, albeit on a regional, and relatively small scale. Cloud is a hot topic right now, but to date, the focus has mostly been on computing or data, and not communications. As such, there are two messages to get across here for enterprises – first, hosted is right for their business, and second, cloud is right now for communications.
Collectively, the eight members of CCA are doing $100 million in business and serve over 110,000 end users. This gives them enough scale to make cloud communications viable for both large and small businesses anywhere in the U.S. None of these operators can claim that reach individually, but by federating on a common platform they create an interesting model with lots of new possibilities.
The CCA vision is much more than just scale. By embracing the cloud as the mechanism for delivering a full range of communications services, their goal is create something new, namely a national HD network. This isn’t about an amped-up hosted VoIP service – all CCA members are fully hosted, so there’s no legacy to accommodate. The concept is about having a consistent cloud standard among all members so they can provide carrier-grade QoS across the country.
With that QoS in place, they’ll be able to offer APIs to support third party developers and offer a common SLA anywhere in the network. Developers will be further supported by a sandbox environment where business customers can download new applications that work seamlessly with their existing tools. To make adoption easier on the voice side, they’ll be endpoint agnostic, and support the major IP phone vendors such as Cisco and Polycom.
There is no shortage of regional operators offering variations of hosted or cloud-based communications services. CCA is simply connecting the dots by scaling up the business to achieve national coverage. They recognize this is very feasible in the cloud, but economically impossible with a facilities-based telecom model. They trust the cloud to the point where they see it as a viable alternative to the PSTN, and from that comes the belief that value today is derived more from the applications than the network itself.
With the cloud, they have an affordable network infrastructure, and for the most part, the members provide service over private IP networks. This enables them to manage QoS and offer a carrier-grade experience. While this bodes well for supporting multi-site businesses with VoIP, I think the opportunities are even better for Unified Communications, especially with their focus on HD. For anyone who doubts the quality of cloud-based voice, it’s safe to say once they experience HD – whether for just telephony or video conferencing – they’ll be onside.
In my mind, this foundation really paves the way for broader adoption of UC. For CCA, service integration is just as much focused on desktop applications – many of which are already cloud-based – as telephony. One of their members, Alteva, gave me a demo last week of a voice-based UC integration with Microsoft Exchange. It was a great example of using voice commands on the fly to access your calendar, update appointments, make calls, and compose and send emails.
This capability isn’t entirely new, but delivering this level of Microsoft integration via the cloud is a compelling example of what CCA can do for UC. In short, this combination means that UC solutions can now be offered on any scale to any business. The possibilities are quite promising, and I think CCA is in a great position not just to bring cloud communications to a broader base of business users, but also to see the true value of Unified Communications.