Taking Alexa (and the Amazon Echo) to Work

All the recent talk about the Amazon Echo got me wanting to put Amazon’s personal agent to work for the company PBX.   Being able to control PBX features using voice commands is a nifty trick, and one that is easily accomplished by creating a Alexa Skill that connects to the SkySwitch Voice API.

The video below shows our first attempt at doing this.  In the video, I am asking Alexa to call Blake, a contact in my PBX account.  The skill looks up the contact information for Blake, asks me which of his numbers I want to call, and then places the call for me by ringing my extension first and adding Blake after I answer.

Alexa skills can be used to voice enable almost any hosted PBX feature, such as forwarding calls, checking on the status of an extension, or adding participants to a conference call.  We plan to expand on this concept and make voice commands an integrated part of our white-label UCaaS solution for SkySwitch Resellers.

 

Office Space Trends Point to Less Hotdesking

In recent years, open floor plans have all but taken over corporate workspaces.   Driven by a millennial workforce that values fun and collaboration over privacy, a majority of offices in the United States have adopted this mode of working.  According to Forbes, this design promotes transparency and fairness: Fewer walls and doors make management seem more approachable and encourage information to flow freely.

Due to this trend, one of the most asked-about features in the business phone system market has been hotdesking, an extreme version of open floor plan working where people sit wherever they want in the work place, moving their equipment around with them.   In the PBX context, this means that a worker can sit down at any desk and have all calls and calling features available at whatever handset happens to be at the desk, simply by logging-in.

According to the BBC, however, hotdesking may become less important as the Millennial generation starts to age and the pendulum begins to swing in the direction of privacy.  A recent story published by BBC Online reports a backlash against open floor plans.  According to the article workers are 15% less productive, have immense trouble concentrating and are twice as likely to get sick in open working spaces.  Support for this assertion is building.  A recent study found that nearly 40% of employees in an open office wish they had more privacy. Another study concluded workers in an open office are less focused and experience higher levels of stress.  The BBC story goes on to detail the many other downsides of an open work space.

While the SkySwitch Web Centrex platform supports hotdesking (sometimes called hoteling) among hundreds of other hosted PBX features, the important lesson to take away from this article is that working trends change.  Especially in the UCaaS world, it’s important to have a system that’s sufficiently flexible to change with the times.

 

In 2016 Mobile VoIP Clients Still Lacked UC Integration

Here is an interesting article from Tech Target that discusses the current state of UC integration with mobile clients.

As I previously opined, things improved in 2016 when Apple introduced a CallKit API in iOS10. Unfortunately, more needs to be done before mobile apps can truly replace the desk phone.

Nearly all unified communications vendors offer an iOS mobile application for iPhone and iPad. But Nemertes Research has found that use of such UC mobile apps is low. Why? Largely because UC mobile apps lack integration with Apple’s native apps and operating system, creating a poor user experience.

For example, users could not answer a UC call without unlocking the phone, they cannot make a UC call from Apple’s contacts app and UC calls drop when a cellular call arrives.

Given this poor experience, most people have relied on their native dialer and contacts apps, which means calls aren’t routed through the enterprise UC platform, aren’t logged in call data records and can’t be associated with enterprise customer relationship management applications.

But, earlier this year, Apple made its CallKit APIs available within iOS 10. As a result, IT leaders could potentially improve UC mobile apps on iOS devices.

UC vendors step up Apple integration
CallKit allows iPhone and iPad users to place UC calls via Siri or via a call button in their contacts app, as well as answer incoming UC calls without unlocking the phone and see UC call history in their recent-calls list. If users are on a UC call and a cellular call arrives, they can switch between calls or decide not to answer the cellular call. Users can also designate UC contacts as favorites to enable quick dial.

CallKit doesn’t solve all the challenges of UC mobile apps.
Cisco was the first UC provider to offer CallKit integration. Its Spark app, demonstrated at its Cisco Live customer event in July, added Spark calling information to iPhone contacts and enabled iPhone users to place calls via Spark using Siri, or by tapping on Spark numbers within contacts. Cisco does not yet provide CallKit support for its Jabber UC client.

Following in Cisco’s footsteps, Microsoft announced CallKit support for its Skype for Business iOS app at its September customer conference. Vonage, too, announced CallKit support for its UC-as-a-service offering. Other UC vendors will probably follow suit by delivering CallKit support in the next several months.

But CallKit doesn’t solve all the challenges of UC mobile apps.

Still lacking full UC integration
Users still can’t route certain calls through their enterprise UC platform, such as calls made via the native dialer or calls to numbers not in the corporate directory. To do that, companies would need to invest in something like Tango Networks’ Kinetic Communications Platform or Verizon’s recently announced One Talk, an integrated cellular and wireline service.

CallKit also doesn’t support integration with Apple’s native messaging app, which means accessing corporate instant messaging still requires launching a dedicated app.

Still, with more than 50% of companies either deploying or planning to deploy UC mobile apps by 2017, Apple’s CallKit is a step toward providing a better user experience for iPhone owners, even if it doesn’t yet offer full UC integration.

Metaswitch or Boat Anchor?

A post on the Voice Ops mailing list provides a stark reminder that technology risk is real.

voice-ops-boat-anchor

This is just one of the many reasons why the White Label business model is so powerful. If you are thinking about providing hosted voice services, sidestep the very real risk of betting on the wrong technology horse. Consider a white label provider with a proven track record of managing technology.

Yealink “S” Series Supports Opus Codec

Yealink TXXsWe recently received the new Yealink T4x S series phones into our lab for testing.  These are upgraded versions of the T41P/T42G/T46G/T48G.

Appearance-wise they look identical to their predecessors.  The big news is that they they support the Opus codec.  Opus is the first royalty-free adaptive codec to gain support from major telecom and software industry players.  This means that, unlike other codecs that performed well but were avoided by telecom equipment vendors due to commercial, patent and royalty requirements (think of Skype’s SILK codec and Speex, the low-bandwidth codec of choice among Asterisk users), Opus is being widely adopted by equipment and software makers in many industries.

The fact that Opus is adaptive means that it delivers high-quality audio when bandwidth is available, and delivers good audio in environments where bandwidth is constrained.  Opus delivers better quality audio than G.722 in high-bandwidth conditions, and performs better than iLBC in low bandwidth situations.   Having a single codec that is versatile enough to perform well in all network environments means that networks can be designed with less complexity, and therefore greater reliability.

Opus is also the codec of choice for WebRTC.  This means that multi-media sessions initiated by a browser will always have Opus as an available codec choice.  Although other codecs may be available as well, they may not, and this uncertainty will cause havoc to service providers when a WebRTC sessions needs to connect to the PSTN.   In a perfect world, WebRTC sessions will be able to “bridge in” standard SIP desk phones and PSTN users in a uniform way.  Having this capability in Yealink phones means that wholesale adoption of  WebRTC is one step closer to reality.

The other notable features of the new series are:

  • Support for HAC (Hearing Aid Compatible) handsets
  • The T41S & T42S have an additional USB port in preparation for upcoming support (by a firmware upgrade) of USB recording, Bluetooth (via the BT40) and Wi-Fi (via the WF40).

New Research Shows the Inevitability of Cloud in Contact Centers with Three Quarters of Companies Having Adopted or Planning to Adopt Cloud-based Systems | Telecom Reseller

The research in the article below really shows that the transition of the contact center from premise-based solutions to cloud-based solutions has left the “Early Adopter” stage and is well into the “Early Majority” stage.

Here is what I see as the big take-away from the research:

Three quarters of companies have recognized the value of the cloud, with 25 percent of contact centers having fully deployed cloud today and another 28 percent partially transitioned — either migrated some functionality or moved a subset of their agents to the cloud. In addition, 21 percent have plans to migrate within the next year

It is now a given that a cloud-based solution or Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) delivers Business Continuity, Scalability, and Cost Savings, along with the concept of work-from-anywhere agents built into the core of the system.

This transition affects small call centers as well as centers with hundreds of agents.  In the same way that small companies now expect that their Hosted PBX have all the features that in the past were only available to enterprise systems,  small companies with only a few agents now want the same features that large enterprises have as part their systems.  The best way to satisfy these customers will be through Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS).

For white label providers of communications service, adding CCaaS to their offering will be a key driver for capturing these small customers who want big features at a cost they can afford.

New Research Shows the Inevitability of Cloud in Contact Centers with Three Quarters of Companies Having Adopted or Planning to Adopt Cloud-based Systems | Telecom Reseller.

What to Make of BSFT’s Acquisition of VoIP Logic

Broadsoft (BSFT), the leading maker of UCaaS software, announced today that it was acquiring VoIP Logic, a white-label service that runs atop the BroadWorks platform.

Here’s what the BSFT press release said about the deal:

“We see that a large percent of data consumed by today’s business is through cloud services, which is why BroadSoft has become the go-to cloud transformation partner for service providers seeking to rapidly shift their legacy telecom infrastructure to a network capable of delivering enterprise cloud applications for mobile unified communication, team collaboration and customer engagement,” said Taher Behbehani, chief digital and marketing officer, BroadSoft. “VoIP Logic further strengthens our BroadCloud UCaaS solution portfolio, and the ability for our service provider customers to fully benefit from the cloud.”

Sounds good as far as it goes…  But I found myself wondering why BSFT, with  revenue of $284 Million and telco behemoths such as Verizon as customers, would bother with a relatively small white-label provider  like VoIP Logic.   BSFT states that the acquisition would add $0.8 Million to 2016 top line sales.  Extrapolating from that suggests that VoIP Logic has annual revenue of less than $4 Million. Why is that interesting to BSFT?

My answer to that question will not surprise anyone that has tried to buy any type of customizable anything from a large telco – they just can’t sell it.   Large telcos have been genetically engineered to be good at selling standardized, cookie-cutter services like dial-tone.  Hosted PBX and UCaaS are anything but cookie cutter.

And, although it touted Verizon’s recently launched One Talk service as a win in the cloud space during the last earnings call, I suspect that  BSFT foresees headwinds if it relies solely on its large telco customer base to grow the UCaaS market (for the record, I predict that One Talk will go the way of the Verizon Hub in the not-too-distant future).   In the U.S. today, there are close to 30 million small business, and upwards of 90% of these businesses have employees that work away from the office.  Outfitting these organizations with UCaaS is not a job that anyone should give to Verizon or any other large telco.

And that’s where VoIP Logic comes into the picture.  As a white-label platform provider, VoIP Logic enables organizations  that are already selling complex IT solutions to small businesses to easily add UCaaS to the mix.   If I were BSFT CEO Michael Tessler, I would start rolling up all the BroadWorks white-label platform providers and let them do what they do best.

CCaaS Reseller Powers MyPillow’s Growth

mypillow-05082014SkySwitch Reseller, Davco Technologies Inc., is featured in a Customer Magazine case study about the solution it designed for online pillow powerhouse MyPillow.

Davco used the SkySwitch CCaaS platform to create a unique solution that allowed MyPillow to handily exceed its goals.

According to Mike Lindell, CEO of MyPillow, “[t]he system … is a game changer. Since word spread about the new MyPillow work environment job-seekers have been stacking up like “cord wood” to apply for open agent positions because we give them the flexibility to work when and where they want, and they know that hard work has tangible results here.”

The SkySwitch CCaaS solution is a true multi-tenant cloud service that delivers all of the features and functionality of an enterprise grade contact center platform in a format that maximizes a reseller’s opportunity for success. Resellers can leverage SkySwitch to empower any small business, such as a doctor’s office or a real estate agency, with the same advanced contact center tools used by the largest corporations. More than that, by building on the system’s open architecture, resellers can create innovative bespoke solutions such as the one that Davco created for MyPillow.

The SkySwitch Call Center as a Service offering has an open API that allows SkySwitch Resellers to integrate and customize applications system-wide or on a per tenant basis. With these options, it is possible to tightly integrate 3rd party applications, such as CRM or ERP, into agent desktops, as well as allow business customers to build and execute their own custom applications.

To read the SkySwitch case study, download it here.

 

Using SD-WAN to Optimize VoIP with Bigleaf Networks

dynamic qosWe are pleased to include Bigleaf Networks as a SkySwitch Ecosystem partner and to be included as a member of Bigleaf’s Cloud Assurance Program.

Bigleaf’s solution is ideal for use at customer sites with two or more Internet connections.  Bigleaf provides real-time failover and load-balancing with seamless mid-session re-routing based on ISP circuit quality.

Although the public Internet is always getting better, it is still not possible to say that it can consistently provide business class QoS for VoIP and UCaaS deployments .  SD WAN technology, while still in it’s infancy, is becoming the accepted way to make over-the-top (OTT) VoIP work and provide reliable QoS to smaller, outlying locations, that normally wouldn’t warrant direct MPLS connectivity.

Our experience with the Bigleaf solution so far has been exceptional, and we look forward to helping SkySwitch resellers continue to succeed with yet another proven tool.

 

Improvements in Yealink Interoperability are Coming

We are happy to be making progress in our ongoing interoperability tests with Yealink.    By mid-October, we expect to have new firmware that will fix some of the outstanding issues that SkySwitch Resellers have experienced with Yealink phones.


 

SkySwitch and Yealink Announce Solution Interoperability and Evaluation Program

Relationship will allow SkySwitch Reseller Network to Deploy Yealink SIP Phones with Confidence

Xiamen, China and Lakeland, Florida USA – September 27, 2016 – Yealink, the global leading unified communication (UC) terminal solution provider, and SkySwitch, the Ultimate White Label Platform for Hosted PBX Resellers, jointly announced today the certification of ten Yealink desktop IP phones with all major features of the SkySwitch WebCentrex platform. The supported Yealink endpoints, including the business-grade T2 series and the ultra-elegant T4 series, greatly expand the certified device options available to SkySwitch Resellers.

“The cooperation with Yealink addresses the overwhelming demand from our Resellers,” According to Jayson Jones, VP of Business Development for SkySwitch, “Yealink has grown to be a top choice for ITSPs looking to deploy a SIP Phone with premium business features at an excellent value.  Today’s announcement means that SkySwitch Resellers can deploy Yealink phones with the knowledge that all of our platform features are fully supported.”

“We are very pleased to see the successful SkySwitch certification,” said Stone Lu, Yealink Vice President. “SkySwitch offers a proven, solid platform, and extending our endpoints to SkySwitch resellers’ users demonstrates our shared goal to consistently support our customers with the best possible solutions and services,” he added. “We look forward to deepen cooperation with SkySwitch.”

In addition, the companies announced plans for a demo program whereby SkySwitch resellers who have yet to deploy Yealink phones can obtain evaluation units at a discount.

Yealink’s business-grade T2 series are compact, robust and economical phones, while the ultra-elegant T4 series represents the cutting edge of VoIP technology. Together, they offer ten model choices for businesses of any size, budget and technology needs. Customer can choose from entry-level phones to Gigabit phones to touch-screen color phones. More details about Yealink IP phones, visit http://www.yealink.com/. For more information about the SkySwitch platform, please visit www.skyswitch.com.

 

About SkySwitch

SkySwitch (http://www.skyswitch.com) is a US-based, next-generation communications platform provider. SkySwitch delivers Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Back office support to our Resellers. This enables our Resellers – communication, telecom, IT service providers – to offer a branded, cloud-based, unified communications and collaboration service (UCCaaS) to their subscribers without the requirement to invest in or manage the platform from which the service is offered. The SkySwitch platform includes not only the infrastructure to deliver feature rich voice, video, text and fax communications, but also, all operational and business support systems necessary for a reseller to experience rapid growth and profitability. This includes billing, carrier services, DID porting services, and regulatory compliance.

 

About Yealink

Yealink, the global leading unified communication (UC) terminal solution provider, helps businesses of all sizes make the most of their UC experience and embrace the power of “Easy Collaboration.” Yealink One-stop UC Terminal Solutions unify voice, video and data, and satisfy diverse customer needs and usage scenarios. The company’s comprehensive product portfolio includes video conferencing systems, conference phones, desk IP phones, wireless DECT phones and accessories. Customers from more than 100 countries enjoy Yealink’s reliable UC terminal solutions through its global sales and service network. For more information, please visit: www.yealink.com.

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