SIP trunks should be ‘flying off the shelves’ with the shutdown of ISDN support a mere handful of years away and with the forecast increase in hosted/cloud telephony uptake by Research and Markets between now and 2023 with an equally nascent market in IP and SIP based phones.
Telco incumbents across Europe are all seeing decreases in fixed line revenues, especially those who are on a migration to an all-IP network. Cavell Group notes that major telco’s such as KPN, Proximus and Orange have all commented on this trend in recent quarterly figures.
BT Group reported a reduction in the overall group revenue, down by 1% from 2017 as they delivered £17.55 billion of revenue for the nine months to 31 December 2018.
The decline in enterprise business was a contributing factor as BT mentioned that this was driven by the ‘continued declines in traditional voice and other legacy products, lower equipment sales, and sale of cables business’.
Developments in technology rarely happen in series but occur in overlapping parallels so we should consider, but not comment upon here other than to say that as well as the shift to all IP networks we are seeing a similar trend away from any kind of fixed line service for both voice and data towards mobile based communications. This is a move that is most likely to be accelerated, particularly in the case of data communications, by the progressive worldwide introduction of 5G networks.
SIP trunks are a mature, productised market offering; service quality is miles away from products introduced say, ten years ago, so how does the channel view the market today?
Is this a price, feature or quality led market?
“Any voice service is a mission critical application,” says Paul Wakefield, SIP Trunking Product Manager at Gamma.
“Therefore, first and foremost, SIP trunks must deliver, no matter what features they come with and whatever the cost may be, crystal clear voice. Conversations with customers on quality may include features but the service has to have great voice quality – it’s what users expect.
Now, having said that, it is a price driven market and in that respect Gamma has been disruptive in the market. As a technology, SIP is better and cheaper than ISDN in terms of flexibility in use, scalability and features – such as disaster recovery. SIP offers tangible cost reductions over ISDN – users can save 50% to 60% on the cost of existing ISDN.
Gamma is at the premium end of the price market and that has worked for us but quality and value does fall in to a user feature conversation.”
Wakefield says the market is shifting with users not spending more than they did ten years ago but expecting more for the same money and as the market moves forward customers are looking to increase technology and functionality, for example, Unified Communications.
“Services that were niche are now commoditised; Gamma has been offering calls to mobile numbers free of charge and, for the last seven years, free geographical number calls based on a long-term contract.”
“There is a difference between SIP Trunks and SIP handsets,” says Paul Tailor, Sales Director at Voiceflex.
“SIP Trunks are connected to either an on-premise telephony application or a hosted single instance or multi-tenanted application. On-premise will normally use a proprietary handset, hosted will use either a proprietary or SIP based handset. At Voiceflex the SIP Trunk market continues to grow; we are seeing a small shift to trunks being connected on telephony applications in a data centre as opposed to on-premise and we envisage the shift will grow as more customers move to hosted telephony.”
Ian Brindle, Head of UC Device Sales at Nimans, reminds us that SIP connectivity obviously covers two areas; on-premise and the cloud.
“With the ISDN switch off looming this predominantly affects the on-premise arena and leaves resellers and their customers with a stark choice. Do they upgrade their on-premise systems to facilitate SIP Trunks or do they deploy SIP handsets in the cloud? Commercially there’s a crossroads ahead for lots of resellers - for upgrades and additional revenue.
Price and features depend on the environment. Warehouses and manufacturing sites would be more entry level and price driven, compared to offices which tend to be more focused on features and functionality. The choice is there, not only from a ‘voice’ point of view but also desktop video and broader integration which used to be much more cost prohibitive.”
Iain Sinnott at VanillaIIP says it depends who you think is leading the market, the customer or the reseller.
“I think the evolving market will become increasingly driven by the working environment. If you are a worker with a changing environment, be that flexible working or mobile around the site, I expect mobile and PC phones to be the choice. If you work from a traditional office desk, I see PC phone or call control apps linked to CRM having more of an influence; downgrading the need for high levels of functionality in the handset. The physical handset may find its strongest long-term position is in physical work environments, like garages and workshops where they form a more practical answer for potentially grubby hands.”
Rob Smith, Technical Director at Nuvias, says it is a combination of all three.
“End users will naturally expect the required level of feature support on the IP phone as a baseline. The device needs to provide the appropriate level of integration with the cloud or hosted service, to not only enable consumption and control of the services, but it has to be intuitive to the user and provide a good experience. If a feature is not easy to access and simple to use, it just won’t get used.
To provide the required level of user experience the device must also be of suitable quality, not only in terms of look and feel, but in terms of reliability of the hardware and software. The service provider, supplier of the IP phone, and end user will all be impacted if the hardware failure rate or software defects are not kept to a minimal and acceptable level.
Finally, the price of the IP Phone has to be competitive in the market. The cost of devices is naturally a large element of this and of course influenced by the handset vendors themselves, although different commercial models can be important to help the reseller and end users adopt the devices. Nuvias provides a highly competitive Device-as-a-Service (DaaS) oﬀering to help this, which includes aﬀordable payment over time packages for endpoints, plus any associated services.”
Are SIP/IP Phones still tied in some ‘proprietary’ way to host phone systems and platforms?
Rob Smith at Nuvias explains what he sees as being two main offerings in the market, in terms of the cloud environment to which IP phones are integrated with.
“IP Phones that support an open SIP environment such as Broadsoft (now part of Cisco) BroadWorks or IP Phones which are designed specifically for integration with Microsoft Skype for Business or Teams.
Those handsets, which are designed for open SIP can work with a large variety of commercial and open source platforms, as well as a significant number of cloud service offerings. What makes these devices specific to a particular platform or service, is the customisation of the device configuration. This enables tight integration of the device capabilities to the hosted service capabilities, including feature synchronisation between the device and service. This will ensure the optimal user experience is achieved, and providing consultancy services in achieving this is something the engineering team in Nuvias is highly experienced in. This customisation can be controlled and delivered through the Nuvias Dovetail service, through the hosted platform device management capabilities, or a combination of the two.
Those handsets, which are designed for working within a Microsoft Skype for Business or Teams environment, such as the Poly, AudioCodes or Yealink range, will be specific to that service. Although these are not from Microsoft as the vendor, they will be tied to the Microsoft environment. Within this deployment model the setup of the devices in terms of line configuration or service integration is taken care of by the Skype for Business or Teams service itself. There is a range of additional device customisation however, as well as other operational aspects such as managing firmware upgrades, collection of log files, or monitoring and reporting on the device status that needs to be considered.”
Ian Brindle at Nimans, “In terms of on-premise systems the big manufacturers tend to build their technology around their own platforms. You can deploy third party SIP devices but in some cases the functionality is limited. Hosted is much more flexible.”
According to Paul Tailor at Voiceflex, a proprietary handset will always have a larger feature set than a non-propriety handset.
“However, many hosted platforms don’t have a proprietary handset offering which could be viewed as a disadvantage, but with the market moving to WebRTC applications the intelligence is within the app or web interface for UC and collaboration features. All being said, the UK loves a phone on the desk, it is of the utmost importance to only use approved/tested handsets. Testing is all well and good, but the handset needs to be connected to the hosted authentication server - you don’t want to manually configure every handset at set up or every time there is an upgrade.”
Iain Sinnott at VanillaIP says that any device needs to compliment the functionality of the service it sits in front of.
“There is no point deploying a device that makes it hard to exploit the full functionality of the platform. Equally the device needs to work smoothly with fraud protection and remote management tools, otherwise the cost to manage will cause margin erosion.”
How important is interoperability testing?
Rob Smith, Technical Director at Nuvias believes that interoperability testing is an important aspect, which needs to be undertaken for every device firmware release to ensure the expected quality of experience is maintained for a hosted or cloud platform.
“This is typically catered for by both vendor and service provider. Firstly, the vendor interoperability testing needs to be completed to ensure all features and interaction with the cloud service work as designed and secondly, the service provider will typically run regression testing to verify their device configuration and the device firmware version against the cloud platform or service. Many vendors will make available a pre-defined test plan that can be executed as the basis to verify all basic and advanced call scenarios, including audio and video, telephony services, call control services, and feature synchronisation capabilities are confirmed functioning as required. The engineering team at Nuvias provides extensive support to our reseller partners to ensure the successful integration and testing of IP handsets with their chosen cloud platform or service.”
Paul Tailor at Voiceflex maintains a proprietary phone will always have a better feature set.
“The SIP protocol is more or less standard for handsets, so most will work, it’s all about the feature set. The handset is only half the story, the hosted market is growing, however there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors. A telephony application may be in a Data Centre but if it’s a single instance it still has a single point of failure.”
Htek UC926E is a Gigabit colour IP Phone and supports up to five-way conferencing. The vendor says it is optimised for executive use for major decision makers, administrative assistants and those working with bandwidth-intensive applications on collocated PCs. Programmable keys could be configured as IP PBX features such as BLF, SCA, intercom, call pickup, call park and many other features. The high-resolution TFT-LCD and HD Voice bring you an enhanced visual and audio experience. Fully certified by Broadsoft, 3CX, Alcatel-Lucent, MetaSwitch, PortaOne, Yeastar.
Polycom VVX 250 Business IP Phone
The Polycom VVX 250 business IP phone is a modern, four-line, basic IP desk phone with colour display (320 x 240-pixel resolution), 2x Gig-E ports and 4 soft keys. The vendor says it is ideal for home office/SoHo and cubicle workers.
The SIP trunk market is still growing strongly in terms of installed numbers. The headline percentage growth figures are tailing off as a result of the statistics – you’re growing a far bigger base each month/quarter/year etc. There are some great points made by the channel players here and Rob Smith’s succinct analysis of the two main offerings in the market, in terms of the cloud environment to which IP phones are integrated with, is spot on.