Most small and medium enterprises — SMEs —
have so far been denied the benefits of full unified
communications services, but know they must now join the party
if they are to remain competitive.
This provides operators with a great opportunity to seize the
moment and offer the SME market UC services in a package that
works for both sides, avoiding the costs and complexities of
on-premises client-server based solutions when most SMEs have
no IT department at all.
Many large enterprises have already begun deployment of
complex UC solutions, bringing together calendaring, email,
mobile communications, and voice over IP, along with video
conferencing or presence-based applications, but these are
based on multiple applications such as Microsoft Exchange 2007,
MS OCS 2007, MS SQL, MS Active Directory, MS, Nortel VoIP or
IBM's suite of applications and partners to complete a UC
Such UC implementations require a massive up-front cost for
licensing and integration between different components, such as
PBXs, VoIP and client technologies which might mean three to
five applications on the desktop alone.
These suites of applications require maintenance of large
numbers of client and server components. This can be
realistically accomplished only by a large IT department
comprising multiple skills.
Smaller companies with up to 500 employees may still have a
significant number of clients and servers to look after, but
will usually lack the internal IT resources to cope with the
integration and management complexities involved with UC. The
result is that while many SMEs are well aware of the benefits
UC can bring, they are struggling to work out how to deploy it
Fortunately the best way forward for SME corporations has
become clear: it is to access UC as software as a service. The
SaaS model scores heavily on all fronts, being easier to
deploy, more reliable, and more manageable for the SME
customer, while allowing future expansion in both user numbers
This last point is important because UC is constantly
evolving, and is likely to deliver a range of new functions
over the next few years as mobile bandwidth continues to expand
and become more ubiquitous, coupled with the evolving
sophistication of portable devices. Over the next few years
SMEs will no longer be at the lower end of the technology
spectrum compared to large enterprises in terms of messaging
As UC services become fully distributed and affordable for the
SME sector, companies will be able to perform better and
operate in a virtual fashion less bound to fixed offices. This
will create new opportunities for SMEs to build regional or
global operations that until recently were restricted to large
Carriers and service providers in turn need to position
themselves now to take advantage of these opportunities,
especially as SMEs represent their best chance to exploit the
broadband bandwidth that they deliver widely but can no longer
make much money from directly.
The delivery of bits over fixed line services has become
commoditised, with many operators selling bandwidth at below
cost price to attract customers, as is happening in France,
where competition for DSL based services is particularly
Even mobile data services, which have been a cash cow for
operators in recent years, are going the same way, with "all
you can eat" packages incorporating both voice and data and
spanning the globe emerging over the next few years.
With telecom tariffs for business and residential packages
likely to fall below the levels of current broadband internet
subscriptions, the big question for operators will be how to
make up the lost revenues. Consumers may be prepared to pay for
TV and digital entertainment, but not for messaging and
communications services, which they will obtain virtually for
nothing from the likes of Google and Skype, financed by
advertising or a model below the market rate.
SMEs however could fill the breach network operators are
facing, for many will be prepared to pay €60 a month or
more per user for robust UC SaaS services that deliver all the
features they require.
The next question for operators is how best to provision these
SaaS services, with several key requirements. Firstly the
platform must be flexible and able to deliver the UC
applications SMEs need, which revolve around presence,
availability, and seamless integration between messaging
formats, incorporating scheduling and calendaring with the
For most SMEs, presence is still conspicuous by its absence,
with little ability yet to determine the availability of people
For example, within a law firm, a busy partner may be talking
on a mobile while having several IM sessions open. The last
thing this partner wants is a call on a fixed line phone even
if this is available, unless the person calling is senior or
has some higher priority. In this case an intelligent UC system
might divert the caller to a colleague according to the
priority, or alternatively the caller can be presented options
to barge in.
UC systems can take presence information and decide what to
use for alerts, such as an SMS or perhaps a display on a
computer or an IPTV set. Such capabilities would be highly
valuable for many SMEs.
The other primary requirement for an SaaS platform is efficient
scalability, along with support for virtualization or
multi-tenancy, which is the ability to provide many customers
with dedicated secure services and delegated rights within a
single system image for the main administration.
On these fronts all is not always quite as it seems. Some
service providers do offer hosted SaaS email and UC services
based on Exchange, Microsoft OCS, and VoIP systems from maybe
Nortel or Cisco for example, and these services indeed do
scale, and can support multiple customers when you throw
hardware and money at it.
But this scalability comes at a massive price for SaaS
providers, for Exchange or Notes are best suited to single
large enterprises with systems on the premises involving
complex integration requirements.
Adding additional customers to such an infrastructure is
expensive in terms of hardware and management resources, and
unlikely to be cost effective for SaaS services aimed at SMEs.
Quite simply the cost of scaling may exceed the incremental
For this reason a growing number of carriers are turning to
CommuniGate Systems, which delivers proven efficient
scalability with its CommuniGate Pro Mobile Unified
Several key aspects separate CommuniGate Pro from other
platforms, starting with its completely agnostic support for
all the core system and media components of a UC ecosystem,
including IP PBXs, VoIP, email, calendaring, collaboration,
presence, IM, voicemail, conferencing, and mobility.
CommuniGate Pro also runs on Solaris and Linux, delivering the
higher density and performance that network operators need
compared to enterprise class platforms like Windows.
Client support for CommuniGate Pro spans the spectrum of
Windows, Linux and Mac and includes native support for Apple OS
X clients such as iCAL and Apple Mail, which is highly
significant given the mass migration occurring from Microsoft
to Apple PCs and servers.
This migration is particularly prevalent in the US, where one
in three laptops sold are now Macs.
Although this performance is not matched in other countries,
there are signs worldwide that the power of its brand, combined
with disenchantment with the cost and poor robustness of some
Microsoft platforms, is driving customers Apple's way.
When it comes to features, CommuniGate Pro can actually offer
more than the likes of IBM, Microsoft or Cisco, especially when
it comes to the ability to develop new applications on the
platform for emerging value added services limited in scope
only by the imagination.
There is one very powerful feature that does set CommuniGate
Pro apart — and that is very interesting for the SaaS
provider: the Pronto! Flash-based UC Client.
This is the only genuine Web 2.0 client capable of delivering
carrier-grade UC services as well as media-like IPTV and video
Pronto! really does deliver on the promise of Web 2.0, by
allowing users to access their voice, video, groupware,
messaging and rich media services from any internet browser
anywhere in the world, using a single managed account and one
In fact we have now added support for digital entertainment
with Pronto! 2.0, which can include movies as well as
work-related content such as training videos and speeches from
CEOs to employees.
CommuniGate Pronto! is based on Adobe Flash and Adobe Flex
technology, which means that it can deliver UC services with
the same look and feel across any combination of operating
system and browser.
It is clear then that Pronto! 2.0 is much more than a feature,
for it underpins our ability to provide a UC SaaS platform that
is scalable both in being able to support fast growing numbers
of customers and to add additional functions.
Applications developed both by CommuniGate Systems and third
parties can be snapped into Pronto! as modules, just as new
applications can be plugged into desktop operating systems.
Pronto! delivers new value added services and applications by
Web 2.0 making it ideal for SaaS providers.
Pronto! is essential for successful delivery of UC via a SaaS
model, since it avoids the need to install software on PCs or
other devices. This removes a huge support burden for ISPs and
network operators, which would otherwise require dedicated call
centres to support customers, with the inevitable problems
arising from client misconfiguration and
The unique capabilities of Pronto! have been acknowledged by
analysts as well as major carriers around the world. A major
endorsement has come from BT, whose lead business and technical
consultant Simon Edwards said that it "gives our people, and
our customers, powerful tools to do their job with a huge
Such endorsements are echoed for the CommuniGate Pro platform
as a whole, which has also enjoyed positive reviews from
testing companies. According to CT Labs, which specialises in
converged communications systems, CommuniGate Pro "sets the bar
for massive scalability and quality of service for large scale
deployments of IMS, VoIP applications and presence
So while, apart from Pronto!, we make no claim to have any
unique magic ingredient, we do strongly believe, backed up by
numerous endorsements, that we offer the best overall platform
for delivering UC via a SaaS model to SMEs from the desktop to
the mobile. GTB