Verizon’s Managed Services Play in Unified Communications

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Unified communications managed services providers view carrier Verizon’s entry into the UC managed services space as a threat, but also see a big upside to carrier market entry.

Communications service provider Verizon Business has entered the managed services fray with a unified communications offering aimed at enterprise customers.

Available immediately, Verizon’s unified communications service adds services such as instant messaging, presence, Web conferencing and voice over IP (VOIP) to a user’s existing business communications, according to Verizon. The service is based on the recently released Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2 platform.

The Verizon Business Application Management for Office Communications Server, as the new service is called, includes On-Premise Web Conferencing—which allows users to create, join and modify Web conferences in real time, with instant messaging, audio, video, application sharing and slide presentation features included—Enterprise Voice, a VOIP-based offering that allows users to interact via phone or computer; and Enhanced Presence, which provides with employees information on another’s status, location and availability. With Enterprise Voice, users can place a call by clicking on a contact in e-mail or instant messaging or access voice mail from their computer and e-mail on their phone. Such a service can help users save on long-distance costs by enabling calls through a computer with an Internet connection.

As part of the offering, Verizon Business can host the service at one of its data centres or manage it remotely at the customer’s premises or from a third-party colocation facility, according to the company.

The service competes directly with the unified communications offerings of managed services providers, who don’t believe it will impact their business too much.

“We don’t see this as a threat at all. Rather, we see it as an opportunity,” said Bob Leibholz, vice president of sales and business development at Intermedia. “A lot of larger companies have been bringing out their own versions of other offerings, and we discovered that they bring a lot more awareness to the field of the technology and of companies like us. We are the ones that reap the benefits. The marketing cost of creating awareness is greater than any MSP can afford.”

Charles Weaver, co-founder of the MSP Alliance, put Verizon’s announcement into historical perspective.

“This is not new. The first threat to managed services was in the period of 1998 to 2000 when the telecom industry pushed fiercely into managed services, so much so that the thinking was these guys are going to take over,” he said. “People thought this was going to decimate managed services, but it turned out to be nothing.

“It is impossible to have a relationship with a telecom, and that is the primary reason why companies work with managed services providers,” Weaver said.

Verizon’s entry into unified communications as a managed service comes as little surprise, considering the market opportunity. According to In-Stat, the unified communications market is expected to grow to about $18 billion (£12.6 billion) by the end of 2012 from $1.5 billion (£1.05 billion)i n 2007.

Carriers have been dabbling in unified communications for some time, but Verizon is the first to offer it as a managed service. Struggling carrier Nortel, for its part, just last month released its Communication Server 1500 solution, a carrier VOIP hardware solution for regional carriers offering features such as unified messaging, single number service, subscriber Web portal and on-demand conferencing, according to the company.

Such technology paves the way for second-tier carriers to enter the unified communications fray, Leibholz said, and effecting major changes to MSPs.

“I don’t think MSPs are going to go away,” he said. “At the end of the day, as technology evolves and gets more complex, the idea of the trusted adviser becomes more important. MSPs are going to be adding more value in the services side. Even if Verizon weren’t doing this, MSPs still would have to put more emphasis on the ‘services’ part of their managed services provider name.

“Their world is going to change, but it’s not going to go away,” he said.