(Microscope Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)
While resellers are a little more cautious over the possibility of VoIP becoming mainstream (see networking, page 8), the vendor community is optimistic that IP has already become mainstream as the PBX reaches the end of its natural life.
But the market is being driven not only by technology expiring but the growing desire and investment in so-called triple (or even quadruple) play services of voice, video, data and wireless, which are increasingly being cited as reasons for customers to upgrade their networking and communications infrastructure.
MicroScope asked some of the leading vendors in the communications market for their predictions for 2006.
Ian Sherring, business development manager for IP communications at Cisco, said: "In 2005, IP telephony became mainstream. Towards the end of the year, Cisco was replacing 11,700 TDM PBX handsets every business day, and according to Synergy, became the worldwide leader in enterprise voice.
"The adoption of IP telephony in 2005 was spearheaded by mid-market organisations, mainly driven by compelling events such as moving to new sites or PBXs reaching end of life, and by large organisations that achieved cost savings through the reduction of intersite call charges and the consolidation and simplification of their distributed telephony services."
Andy Zollo, UK country manager at Extreme, commented: "Looking at our project pipeline, I think we'll see a lot of investment from service providers in triple-play networks in 2006. Some of the early adopters are already there, and with broadband revenues and renewed interest from the venture capitalist community, there's more money available for other providers to follow their lead.
"For many providers, triple play will mean significant infrastructure renewal in point-of-presence equipment, presenting resellers with experience of this market with a real business opportunity in the next 12 months."
Enda Keneally, EMEA sales director at Mitel, said: "We've continued to see lots of consolidation in the channel through mergers and acquisitions. [Also] channel revenues rose markedly in 2005, as proved by our growth rebate programme introduced earlier in the year. The first payouts from this scheme were made in November and demonstrated rapid growth in IP revenues among the key channel players.
"Discussions that the channel and suppliers are having with customers about communications are likely to move up a level in 2006. Conversations about IP will move beyond infrastructure and telephony to customer services, business processes, mobile working, and problem areas throughout the organisation, not just by IT. For those resellers with the right application skills there will be big opportunities for consultancy revenues and the chance to lock out the competition by moving beyond being a pure LAN partner."
Roger Jones, business development director for strategy and technology at Avaya, predicted: "2006 will prove to be the year that the convergence of fixed and mobile telephony really starts to take off. Mobile handset vendors are launching multimode phones that support IP over Wi-Fi wireless LANs. The communications vendors are building VoIP softphones for these converged handsets. In 2006 you will be able to put your desk phone, its functionality, its cost savings and its reach ability in your pocket.
"2006 will see mobile phones linking to your organisation's IP PBX, giving one-number reach ability wherever you are. The mobile will be able to access PBX features and use the PBX to get toll bypass for mobile phone calls."
Peter Tebbutt, UK marketing director at Alcatel, said: "VoIP and IP telephony uptake continues to increase, in a highly competitive market, and the debate is now moving beyond that of quality and cost-savings, to focus on the added-value services and applications that the technology can enable.
"In 2006, making margin in IP telephony will be about offering the right product portfolio and expertise to meet different user requirements and improving business processes by deploying applications such as unified communications and Web-based collaboration."
Robert Mackinnon, product manager at ZyXEL, said: "VoIP has already shown astounding growth and I believe we will see at least two-fold growth this year. There will also be increased demand for wireless technology on the back of this for remote workers, particularly now that standards are in place for wireless VoIP and ensuring voice quality.
"The key thing resellers need to consider to further drive growth and be seen as a trusted partner to customers is how to address VoIP security and customers' concerns around this. A lot of companies think that if they encrypt their phones that this will be enough, thereby focusing solely on hardware as opposed to the way the network is designed and the service provider's role. If resellers can educate their customers on the threats and solutions, VoIP will truly be a panacea for the industry in 2006."
Michael Keane, chief exec-utive at XOU Solutions, said: "The increasing prevalence of IP-based networking means service providers and ISPs are moving away from a world where "the infrastructure is the service" to one of differentiated services. As services become more complex, third-party providers need to present their customers with accurate performance data. But the solution needs to be scalable as the size and complexity of the operation grow.
"Clearly, resellers are directly affected since it's critical they have exact data on the composition of their clients' networks, both hardware and software, and real usage figures. Without this information it is impossible to estimate accurately future maintenance and upgrade costs and profitability is compromised from the start. And the need for ongoing network management is just as important for providing appropriate levels of profitable customer service.
"An accurate view of IT assets is paramount to ensure compliance with the raft of corporate governance regulations now coming into effect and to support due diligence during the mergers and acquisitions activity that is rife in the channel. XOU estimates that IT managers [on average] only know approximately 50 per cent of their IT assets, while in the telco market in particular, some older, more established operators, have a record of only about 15 per cent in the wider customer-based networks."