Can Cable Grow in the UC Sector?


BTR_Feature_Art_Cable_2-3-14 The cable industry has reached out to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) - and, increasingly, enterprises - with robust and sophisticated connectivity options. It seems, however, that operators still are struggling to connect with potential customers on the applications and services that ride on that connectivity.

Over the years, an entire industry segment focused on providing both general and highly specialized business applications has developed. Sophisticated unified communications (UC) packages come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, but at the highest level, do the same thing: Integrate voice, video and data applications into holistic packages.

During the past few years, the UC sector has begun integrating collaborative tools deeply within specific platforms, such as workforce automation (WFA) and customer relationship management (CRM). This new approach is known as unified communications and collaboration (UCC). The idea is to make the collaborative element as central as the task the application is designed to carry out.

The question is how deeply the cable industry is marketing these advanced platforms. It's a natural fit: Instead of just providing a certain amount of bandwidth, operators can offer applications that enable a customer service representative to locate a content expert and conference him or her onto a call with an unhappy customer, for instance. Or an operator can offer businesses mobile applications that enable a sales person to do real-time checks of inventory, find and conference in experts who can determine how long it will take to get a provide a particular service and other details - while sitting across the table from the person whose signature is needed to seal the deal.

These are powerful products, and the sense is that the cable industry isn't as deeply committed to the underlying UC and UCC segment as the telcos.

Michael Finneran, the principal of dBrn Associates, said cable companies aren't his first choice when he advises enterprises on their communications strategies. Finneran said the main difference is the nature of connectivity between the players. Voice still is king, and from Finneran's perspective, the telcos' architecture predominates.

He considers cable, but certainly doesn't see it as a go-to choice. "It depends what other options are on the table," he said. "If it's a choice between a cable modem that gives you asymmetrical service that won't work when the lights go out and FiOS - which is generally fast, has an equal or lower price and a symmetrical service - FiOS is the choice. With the larger clients I deal with, if I look at cable companies, it's primarily the role of backup or service at a small site."

The cable industry, said Irwin Lazar, the vice president and service director for Nemertes Research, has not become a player in the UC ecosystem. "I see the cable providers aggressively going after the small business market for telephony," he said. "They are not going after desktop video or IM, not supporting mobile clients."

Those are two  damning positions: That the cable industry doesn't have the preferred underlying infrastructure and that cable operators' product development and marketing departments haven't taken up the challenge of creating packages that will entice SMBs. Operators certainly would take exception to those positions. Regardless, it is important that they know these opinions exist among consultants and analysts in the UC and UCC sectors. In other words, operators may not be adequately presenting their value proposition.

Last week, GENBAND introduced Smart Office 2.0, a cloud-based UC platform that works across a wide array of devices and with Web-RTC-compliant browsers. Greg Zweig, the director of solutions marketing for the vendor, said the UC sector is moving toward a hosted/cloud model that adds efficiency and cuts costs, particularly for the SMBs in which cable operators specialize.

Zweig sees the industry as a potentially strong player as a provider of hosted services. "UC has morphed into something that is very amenable for the cable operators," he said. "They don't have to do the heavy lifting to be in a position to deliver these services. They have the core infrastructure and in many cases good business relationships with a company. Why not put a high value service on top of it?"

The bottom line is that the emergence of IP as the protocol that all applications use and the parallel emergence of the hosted model provide cable operators with a great opportunity to level the playing field with legacy UC and UCC providers. Zweig thinks the industry is in the game. "I think they've become much more savvy over the last year or two," he said.

Carl Weinschenk is the Senior Editor of Broadband Technology Report. Contact him at

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