Giving Up On Mobile – UC Vendors Move On To IoT

Giving Up On Mobile – UC Vendors Move On To IoT

Michael Finneran JPG 125
Giving Up On Mobile – UC Vendors Move On To IoT by Michael F. Finneran

For the past few years it seems that every UC vendor was “mobile first.” After dozens of failed attempts at coming up with a mobile capability any user was interested in, last year something important finally happened for mobile UC. We had figured out long ago that the reason UC vendors couldn’t come out with an acceptable mobile capability was that they were boxed out of the key component for success, access to the device’s native dialer. You could get access to the Android dialer, but the variety of Android implementations almost ensured you would not get support across all Android devices. However, roughly two-thirds of enterprise mobile devices are Apple, and Apple wasn’t letting anyone into its dialer.

All of that changed with the release of iOS 10 in late 2016 with the addition of Apple’s CallKit APIs, which essentially opened access to key capabilities in the dialer to VoIP and mobile UC app developers. Now rather than requiring the user to open a separate mobile UC app to make and receive business calls (something that almost no one did more than once), CallKit would allow apps that announced calls on the lock screen and allowed them to be answered with a single swipe. The user could also have the option of dropping an in-progress call to answer a new one, or put that first call on hold and answer the second. In essence it delivered the same user experience on VoIP and mobile UC calls that it did on regular cellular network calls.

CallKit also delivered that same native dialer experience on outgoing calls. Calls could be placed from the native address book; you hold the “Call” button in the contact page, and all of the available ways to make the call pop up. Calls are captured on the Recents list, and can be blocked or marked as Favorites. So at long last we would not have to settle for a second-class user experience for mobile UC. Too bad most of the UC vendors haven’t gotten on board.

In the run up to Enterprise Connect in Orlando later this month, Brent Kelly of KelCor and I put together a survey of CallKit-based mobile UC apps and distributed it to every UC and UCaaS vendor we could think of. The full results will be presented in the session we’ll be moderating at the show titled Optimizing Apple in Your Enterprise. While you’ll have to attend the session to get the full results, I can give you a little teaser ahead of time.

Of the old line UC vendors only Cisco, Microsoft and Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise have introduced upgraded apps with CallKit components; ShoreTel says they’ll have theirs out in June. Microsoft actually has two, and regrettably, the one for Skype is slightly better than the one for Skype for Business. When Apple announced CallKit back in November, I wrote an article titled “Good Morning - You’re Now a Year Behind Cisco in Mobile UC.” I guess we can now make that a year and a half. So if the UC providers aren’t laying on the CallKit, who is?

Roughly two-thirds of the CallKit adopters were newer UCaaS providers like RingCentral, 8x8, Broadvoice, Fuze and Vonage (powered by BroadSoft). You can also add Facebook and WhatsApp to that list, but what would you expect?

The other aspect of this is the comprehensiveness of the capability that was delivered. Going in, we knew that CallKit was not a yes-or-no proposition. CallKit enables a range of capabilities and it’s up to the developer to decide which functions to incorporate. To shed some light on that, we asked a number of detailed questions about specific functionality based on preliminary testing we had done. When we saw the range of answers we got back, we developed a scoring system applying weights to the various capabilities.

Of the traditional UC vendors, Cisco was the only one who scored with the leaders, both on the Jabber and the Spark versions. Virtually all of the UCaaS implementations were at the same level as Cisco.

My guess is that the UC camp isn’t focused on CallKit, because they’ve already given up on ever being relevant in mobile. So “mobile first” is now de passé, and they’ve moved on to a new bandwagon: IoT! Yes, Internet of Things will now supplant mobile as the technology all UC vendors will tout while having almost nothing to contribute – that was the model with mobile, right?

Actually, Cisco might be the one UC vendor capable of making a meaningful contribution to IoT. I mean they’ve already changed Rowan Trollop’s title to, “SVP & GM - Internet of Things (IoT) and Applications Division at Cisco Systems.” Cisco already builds hardware devices and it makes WLAN products (two different types). Last month Cisco bought Jasper Technologies, an industry leading IoT service platform for enterprises and service providers. And some of the newer collaboration tools like the Spark Board incorporate IoT-type capabilities like having the Spark Board recognize your smartphone when you walk into a meeting room.

IoT is going to be big, but I’m waiting to see where the UC vendors fit into it. The mobile operators are certainly going to be in it, and some, like AT&T, already have tens of millions of IoT devices connected. There are also a bevy of new wireless technologies that are being targeted at IoT including: 5G (that will support a 10x increase in device density over 4G), Bluetooth Mesh, Wi-Fi HaLow, and cellular-based Narrowband IoT. We could also mention beacons and indoor location capabilities like Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Location that will integrate location capabilities into access points without the use of separate location appliances.

The reason I’m watching this is that I’ll be hosting a panel on IoT at Enterprise Connect later this month featuring representatives from AT&T, Miercom, NEC, and Mitel. I know AT&T will have a lot to say, and NEC has announced IoT initiatives in a number of areas, but it's hard to see where UC might fit into them. 

I’m reserving judgment on whether IoT is something real in UC or just another attempt by the UC vendors to jump on a bandwagon where they have nothing to contribute. They’ve clearly blown it on mobility, but another year- another buzzword.  Hopefully the UC play in IoT works out to be something more than what they did in mobile.


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