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Sunday, June 05, 2016

The rise of Managed Voice Infrastructure... or perhaps VIaaS or UCaaSaaS ?

Over the last year or so, I've watched the emergence of a new category of communication service - but it's quite hard to define a decent name for the trend.

In essence, it's where telcos/SPs offer some form of VoIP, either for consumer telephony or enterprise UC/hosted-PBX... but don't actually manage the infrastructure internally themselves. Instead, a vendor manages and delivers the capability via its own software/cloud-based platform. The SP sells (perhaps customising / integrating / bundling) the "outsourced" service to final end-users. It's not really the same as a straightforward channel play (eg resale of SaaS applications), because there's typically various network and OSS integration aspects, such as the need for SBCs, link with numbering and perhaps QoS, coupling with emerging NFV strategies etc.

The most prominent providers are probably:
  • BroadSoft BroadCloud
  • GenBand Nuvia
  • Alianza Cloud Voice Platform
  • Metaswitch MetaSphere Cloud Services
In addition to these, there are probably more that I'm not fully aware of. Alongside this, various other vendors are offering managed/hosted VoLTE, API/PaaS platforms and other applications (yes, even Jibe's hosted-RCS, now owned by Google) also intended to be offered through SP channels.

But for me, the main event here is service providers outsourcing their "core" telephony functions - including business-oriented comms which typically go beyond just voice - to vendor-controlled cloud platforms.

If you take the view that it's too difficult for SPs to develop their own innovative and differentiated consumer-voice or UCaaS platforms, then the next question is whether they really add any value by deploying their own servers for somebody else's application either. This is especially true for "vanilla" applications like PSTN telephony, SIP trunking and basic hosted-PBX functionality.

The answer is probably one of scale, risk-appetite, and the ability and willingness to attract software developers - as well as the target audience of end-users that a given SP faces. Larger operators ought to be able to have the resources to develop unique and well-customised propositions, even if they are based on a vendor's application platform or straightforward standardised telephony functions. 

Smaller providers - especially in rural areas - may find the idea of such hosted/wholesale offers more intriguing, especially as the cost-models may allow then to phase in such products over time without heavy upfront investmentment. 

In developing countries, the initial user-base for UCaaS might be very low as well - especially if broadband infrastructure is still being built-out and adopted by small businesses. Again, a wholesale offer might make sense, assuming the data-centres are close enough and long-haul links suitable.

There may also be a fixed/mobile divide here - it could be argued that residential fixed/cable operators have better things to focus on than infrastructure for delivering a commodity telephone service that few people use. Or, perhaps, mobile-centric operators may not have the ability and willingness to deal with the hybrid fixed/mobile nature of most UCaaS.

I think we're still at early stages here. Vendors are mostly being quite cautious, to avoid looking as if they compete with their SP customers, or are taking too much of the available profit-pool in that sector. Yet as NFV matures, both telephony and UCaaS do start to look a bit more like today's other SaaS offers - which can be hosted in telcos' own data-centres, but are more often anchored in Microsoft's or Amazon's.

It's also hard to come up with a pleasing category-name for this. Some people have suggested "wholesale telephony", but that's too closely-similar to various other traditional bits of the wholesale/transit market. "White-label voice & UC" is another option, but I've spoken to some people who recoil from that. "Cloud voice" can apply to about a dozen separate intersections of communications and cloud, so is too vague in my view. For the business side, I quite like UCaaSaaS but that's too much of a mouthful, although it looks fun on screen.

Maybe "VIaaS"?
Voice-Infrastructure as a Service? Or my current favourite: MVI, Managed Voice Infrastructure? Some will grumble that it makes the video and messaging/collaboration bits look like second-class citizens, but I think it perhaps captures the essence of what's occurring - and it also spans both consumer VoIP telephony and UCaaS.


Kevin Mitchell said...

We definitely see this as a definitive new category and expect more to join in as market realities and aging infrastructure push service providers to a new way to deliver and monetize voice and UC. My blog post earlier this year highlights some of the vendor growth in this space. Service Provider Voice - On the Road to the Cloud http://www.alianza.com/call-to-the-cloud/service-provider-voice-on-the-road-to-the-cloud

Brian Dowd said...

I have met with all of the leading vendors in SBC space and for the last 12-18 months many have been developing PaaS/IaaS but with very little success. The larger SPs are not interested for their businesses, Enterprises are very interested and there are some hybrids also interested. Most vendors are doing this on AWS with regional coverage which is not bad, but currently there are a few use cases where communication services during failures will not have any high availability and being real-time communications most do not like having limited redundancy and disaster recovery.

Antonio de Sousa said...

The developers and operators that provide a cloud based service are trying to get into the telcos networks because of issues with security teams and boundaries and quality of media by being close to the softswitch.

Kevin Mitchell said...

For what it’s worth, I like VIaaS over MVI as it captures the business model and cloud delivery aspect more clearly.

MVI could be the buy, build, operate model that Ericsson and other vendors employ (sells you kit via CAPEX, installs it on prem and then manages it day-to-day); it doesn’t scream cloud.