Convergence has been one of the great IT buzzwords for a decade. Whether describing the merging of MP3 players with mobile phones or running voice data over an IP network, it is happening across the industry at an ever increasing rate. It seems every vendor has a story to tell.
When Gary McLaren thinks specifically of IP telephony, however, he doesn't believe it has been converging with data networks fast enough. He said SMB represented an incredible opportunity for canny resellers.
Director of marketing and products at AAPT's channel arm, iProvide, McLaren said it came down to the size of the business in question. The larger the company is, the more likely it has already taken on a professional VoIP implementation. "At the higher end of the scale, which might be businesses with 100-200 employees, there's certainly more progression in implementing VoIP systems. At the lower end, say 5-50, there's hardly anything," he said.
McLaren said many resellers focused on selling to larger customers but, although less lucrative, many smaller sites were ripe for the picking. D-Link marketing director, Maurice Famularo, said VoIP had undoubtedly arrived but questioned how long it would take for some businesses - especially at the lower end of the market - to catch on.
"VoIP in general meets everyone's requirements but the question mark is, how long will it take?" he said. "From a consumer point of view, it's here already and just a matter of people getting used to it. At high-end it's here already, too." Where Famularo sees the VoIP equation currently failing is the SMB market.
"From an SMB point of view, I think VoIP is still probably a couple of years away but that could be accelerated quite quickly when they start using VoIP at home and working out ways to get handsets into their business," he said. "I do think the biggest push will be when people start bypassing the PABX and having a few VoIP phones in the office connected to their broadband."
TOUGH NUT TO CRACK
iProvide data suggests there are 200,000 local businesses looking to upgrade their communication systems. But the market remains difficult to crack for systems integrators and resellers who lack the necessary expertise to handle the complexity of modern telecommunication services and wrap them up as solution bundles.
The iProvide view is also supported by regional channel account manager of SMB at Avaya, Gavin Milton-White, who said that the term VoIP might be clouding the benefits of convergence to some degree.
"SMB customers are starting to realise they need to maintain the same competitiveness of those businesses already jumping on the convergence bandwagon," he said. "Of course, the term VoIP is becoming tired because it's more than voice becoming an application on your data network. It's about being contactable to your customers anywhere, anytime, anyhow."
Famularo offered a possible explanation for the dearth of convergence projects at the lower end of the market due to the price of installation of professional equipment.
"There's still a long way to go in convergence, especially on the telephony side of things because there's still a disparity between pricing and expectation," he said. "The larger organizations that have call centres and huge infrastructures can put it together quite easily, but smaller SMBs struggle with cost."
iProvide's McLaren said it was always interesting to learn where a customer first came across the idea to revamp their network.
"These businesses might be a bit technical, or hear about someone else doing it and wonder why they can't get it for their business," he said. "Others might dabble with engin or Freshtel or even Skype before realising the user experience isn't good enough for business."