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Are Desktop Voice and Unified Communications Becoming Irrelevant?

November 17, 2011

It is no secret that voice revenues are under pressure almost everywhere in the world. In the business customer segment, the need for high-quality voice remains substantial, but some now argue that enterprises are shifting voice to mobile devices, and reducing the number of desktops they support.

One byproduct might be less need for unified communications, less need for enterprise phones and switches, though demand for mobile service will remain high as users shift to mobile for voice.

Although Frost & Sullivan expects the unified communications market to show double-digit growth over the next five years, the number of UC clients expected to ship by 2016 is only around 30 million, about 20 million fewer than Frost & Sullivan earlier had expected.

Also, 30 million clients represent less than 10 percent of the total number of office workers worldwide. So why the slow rate of adoption? Some would argue that the return on investment has not proven to be as easy to grasp as one might think. UC now includes so many different elements that users seem to be spot adopting tools, such as videoconferencing, rather than undertaking full UC implementations.

"Companies think of unified communications as much more than just integrating voice, e-mail, and presence/IM,” says Diane Myers, directing analyst for VoIP and IMS at Infonetics Research.

The ability to work remotely has become more important, she says. “The strong theme threaded throughout our new survey is the importance of mobility; vendors that effectively integrate mobility into their UC solution in a simple and easy-to-use manner will be best positioned for success in this market," says Myers.  Mobility more important

To be sure, the economy has been an issue since 2008, Frost & Sullivan says. By the time many companies will be ready to spend on UC, they may also be ready to leap-frog the technology altogether in favor of mobile clients that deliver many of the same capabilities, says Melanie Turek, research VP at Frost & Sullivan. UC future

The firm recently surveyed more than 200 C-level executives about their use of enterprise communications technology and learned that mobile devices are a primary communications endpoint in 68 percent of organizations.

The study also found that almost 10 percent of tablets purchased today are used for business purposes. Frost & Sullivan expects that to reach about 70 percent by 2016.

Other trends might be considered worrisome, from an enterprise voice or UC perspective. By 2016, desktop phones will go from representing 37 percent of the enterprise endpoint market to only 20 percent.

The clear implication is that the need for a UC client like Lync or Sametime on the PC desktop will decrease, since fewer employees will use a PC on a regular basis, if at all. And UC clients on a desk phone will all but disappear, says Turock.

On the other hand, some think enterprise purchasing of phone systems is growing. The global market for PBX systems in 2010 was $59 billion. This is $7.5 billion larger than 2009, Eastern Management says. The argument is that buying a PBX in 2010 equated to a vote for ratcheting-up employee productivity, argue analysts at the Eastern Management Group.

A new PBX, costing $1,200 per seat on average, gave companies permission to hold the line in other areas, according to John Malone, Eastern Management analyst. 

The big question is what the apparent upsurge in phone systems might mean. Is unified communications now bundled with the phone system in some manner that essentially means UC is "free," or are suppliers discounting phone system prices to maintain UC revenue?

Enterprises ramp up phone system purchasing


Gary Kim is a contributing editor for unified communications. To read more of Gary’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves

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