Can Unified Communications Solutions Become More Popular Than the Pipe That Enables Them?

No one loves gadgets, cool services and devices more than I do. In fact, I have had a "one-number" service in play off and on since the early days of cellular phones, circa ’96. I think I may have just dated myself. Despite my own infatuation with the latest and greatest communications solutions, I was very surprised to learn that consumer interest in Unified Communications during much of "˜07 eclipsed interest in the very telco products/services that enable them.

Unified Communications (UC) is defined by Microsoft as technology that offers customers choices in how their communication and collaboration software is delivered, managed and maintained. UC companies such as CallWave, Inc., Microsoft, GrandCentral (Google), OneBox®, Genesys® (Alcatel-Lucent) centralize all messaging email, voicemail, SMS, fax and even video into one inbox. These messages are instantly accessible from various, user defined devices such as a computer or mobile phone. How could any mobile professional, small business owner, remote worker or field agent ignore the value add of such a service?

But does all of this spell higher interest in UC versus voice services, broadband and bundles?

The graph below illustrates online consumers’ interest in a number of UC company sites and Telco company sites. Specifically, the relative interest in UC solutions and Telco bundles from April ’07 to April ’08 was measured.

UC company consideration was on average 70% higher than Telco company consideration 2Q thru 4Q ’07 with peaks in 3Q ’07. The peak in UC interest is attributed to buzz in the marketplace among of IT professionals, marketers and procurement departments in major corporations. In fact, it has been reported that more than a quarter of all enterprises in North America and Europe now have some form of UC initiatives in play. During a briefing with CallWave, Inc. at NxtComm ’08 recently, a representative indicated that the spike in interest about their firm was driven by the introduction of free UC widgets and increased marketing spend during 3Q ’07. This demonstrates that lesser known companies can peak interest in new product/services with trial offerings backed by marketing dollars.

In late Q4 ’07 the trend in UC interest normalized and then "˜yielded’ to Telco interest. Despite this, Telco companies have an opportunity to leverage the UC excitement among the consumer and small business base of customers who are seeking simplified communications in their busy lives. After all, everyone gets excited about killer apps"¦

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