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Cloud PBX changes face of telecoms market

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“Things change, sometimes very quickly and not always out in the open,” says Rob Lith, Director of Connection Telecom. “So it is with hosted or cloud PBX solutions.”

Rob Lith, Director of Connection Telecom (image: Connection Telecom)

Since BMI-TechKnowledge published the latest SA PBX market report (April 2011), there has been a marked growth of cloud solution models and vendors in this space, pointing to an increasing need to accommodate cloud in the next study.

As the research firm begins gathering input from vendors and integrators in preparation for the 2012 report, industry consensus is that it will likely have a very different structure and outcomes.

Early signs

Signs of these developments were already evident in the April report. In it, BMI-T observed that converged PBX (CBX) solutions, otherwise known as Voice-over-IP solutions, had moved beyond the early adopter phase and entered mainstream ICT budgets.

* At the high end (more than 128 ports), CBX solutions had begun claiming the market, with unit shipments approaching digital shipments.

* By comparison, within medium-sized companies (32 to 128 ports), CBX showed growing strength compared to analogue and digital platforms. CBX was the only category to grow amid a flattening of growth in overall shipments and a decline in digital PBX sales (recession-related).

* However, digital shipments still outstripped CBX shipments by far in this segment.

How far CBX?

So how far have enterprise evolved in their CBX adoption? Is hosted an option? What forms of hosted solutions – public or private – are preferred, and what vendors will win? Again, the research offers clues to the future:

* At the high end of the CBX market, Cisco had increased its lead considerably (from 40% in 2008 to 69% in 2010) at the expense of all the other vendors that are traditionally strong in the enterprise – Mitel, LG/Marconi Ericsson, Siemens, Alcatel Lucent and 3Com.

* Within the medium-sized segment, Mitel and NEC-Philips were the big winners.

The value of hosted solutions

But hosted solutions are a growing threat to Cisco’s strength. In the poll, vendors reported perceiving cloud as a threat.

Platforms like Telviva offer a high level of local expertise and support, cost-effectiveness, greater choice over system components than proprietary vendors can typically offer, managed service levels, and upgrade assurance.

It is these factors that will probably lead to the inclusion of hosted solutions in the next report.

Implications of including cloud

In leaving out cloud, the study excludes perhaps 20% of volume shipments in the important CBX market. Indeed, it concedes that in its measurement of handsets, it has left out third-party vendors such as Polycom.

Other than the expected increase in the sample group of 14 PBX/CBX vendors and providers for next year’s study, the inclusion of cloud may also lead to a change in categories. Traditionally, the PBX market has been segmented into number of ports, but the flexibility of cloud solutions will mean the end of this classification.

Additionally, the tradition of excluding PBX spend from total market spend in telecoms will also fall by the wayside, as PBX/CBXs are an integral part of telecoms spend.

New meaning

In view of strong new market undercurrents, the accepted view of the PBX/CBX market in South Africa could change significantly in the next year. This is to be welcomed, as new realities inject new vigour into strategic planning in this industry.

Rob Lith, Director of Connection Telecom

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