Mavenir Analyst Day - Quick Take and Pix

It’s been quite a week - or two, actually. Last week, I drove to - and back - from Florida for a much-needed family visit. A day after that, I was off to Dallas for Mavenir’s analyst day, then to San Francisco for Twilio’s SIGNAL conference. Both events were first-timers for me, and Mavenir was of particular interest since I’m not that strong on wireless, so this was a good way to get caught up.

That said, the event was pretty much under NDA, so I don’t have a narrative to share. There certainly is a good story here, especially to give carriers an alternative to the Tier 1 mobile vendors, and Mavenir is one of those “best kept secrets” kind of players. Over time, my learnings will come out in other ways, so for now, I just have some photos to share.

First, some pix from the event, both during the sessions and the demos. And then, there’s this fantastical “George” poster. Take a close look - “master of magic” - and deep in the heart of Texas - kinda has that travelling medicine show look, and it’s not a stretch to say that sometimes applies to tech companies selling complicated solutions that buyers don’t really understand. But no, not here at Mavenir, right? :-)

The event was held at the hotel - Zaza - and it’s one of the most eclectic hotels I’ve been to. Definitely gotta come back here for fun. All kinds of quirky sculptures, paintings, photos and knick knacks. Check out their shuttle vehicle - soooo Texas. And then, my friendly man at the front desk. This hotel has a cool, retro vibe - really - really slow elevators, and on the desks in our rooms - pencils (not pens), paper clips and staplers - when was the last time you saw or used those? And for the topper, he’s showing off their manual credit card imprinter, which they actually use. Millennials have probably never seen one of these analog relics, but hey, they still work - even if the broadband is slow!

Upcoming Webinar - "BYOD Mobility or Bust"

I do my share of webinars, but for a change this one isn't mine. Am just doing a friendly shout-out for Voxvalley, who is doing their own webinar this Thursday.

The topic is a familiar one for me, and wanted to help get the word out. It's got a catchy title: "The Death of the Desktop IP Phone. BYOD Mobility or Bust!" Am not sure if that's a promise or a threat, but it's not hard to make the case that the desk phone is in terminal decline. If you accept that premise, then developing a business plan around BYOD should be a priority for 2016.

To learn more about why this is important and what businesses should be doing, sign up now. Here's the registration page, and after that, mark your calendar for this Thursday at 2pm ET.

ITExpo Shout-Out #3 - Turning UC into Revenue

I don't mean to confuse you, as this message isn't meant for IT managers deploying UC - although that could be a worthwhile topic to explore - creatively. What I'm talking about here is for service providers - how they can leverage Unified Communications as a way to drive new revenues. This is pretty much a mobility story, where operators are struggling to keep up with our ever-changing wants - you can call them needs, but we've survived for thousands of years without these goodies - to satiate our smartphone and tablets obsessions. There's definitely money to be made here, and UC actually provides a lot of value to businesses trying to make sure their employees stay productive when out of the office.

That's the set-up, and for the rest, you'll have to join us next Thursday at 3:30 for our panel. I'm moderating, and will be joined by Chris Carabello of Metaswitch, Leslie Ferry of BroadSoft and Payam Maveddat of Taqua. These are all familiar faces for me, so it should be a lively session.

So, where and when? Almost forgot - Miami Beach - you ok with that? Of course, it's TMC's ITExpo, and this is the third session I'm moderating at the show, so I won't be hard to find. As with my earlier posts about my sessions, you can get all the details here - just scroll down to Thursday and you'll find us on the Service Provider Solutions track. See you there!

Metaswitch launches Accession at MWC

This is Super Bowl week in the wireless world with Mobile World Congress, and everyone there is trying to get and keep your attention. I'm not at MWC, and I don't usually post about launches tied to the event, but I got an advance briefing of Accession, Metaswitch's latest value proposition for mobile operators.

It's a heady word, and a lot of interesting ideas to kick around, but the overall spin for Accession is pretty good from what I can tell. The goal is clear, and operators know they can't drop the ball with mobility - the field is shifting too fast to stand on the sidelines and watch subscribers figure things out without their carriers coaching them along. If you happen to drop by Metaswitch's booth, you'll know why I'm saying these things - otherwise, let's just punt this para and move on.

So, if you want to get into the details, go straight to the Accession website, and the easier-to-digest press release that ran this morning. There are lots of new acronyms in this tech-heavy announcement, but the standout for me is IMT - Immersive Multimedia Telephony. Ultimately, this is about delivering a mobile experience that is as close as possible to what we get on our PCs or video monitors in the conference room.

That's asking a lot, I know, but Metaswitch understands the pain points of carriers, and mobile operators have a distinct set of challenges. Mobility delivers so much more utility than most fixed environments, and wireless operators know they have to move on from simple voice to keep subscribers happy. End user expectations are so high now, and the smartphone explosion has put operators in perpetual catch-up mode to upgrade their networks and deliver the services that make these must-have devices so popular.

As such, Accession is all about enabling an IMT experience so carriers can stay relevant with their subscribers. At the end of the day, operators really just have two things that matter - a phone number to assign subscribers and their trust. That number can be incredibly valuable if you can wrap all these other services around it - much like designating your favorite website as your home page. Accession does this in many ways, and I'll just cite a few examples.

One is how their platform is RCS and IMS-based, meaning that the subscriber's phone number can seamlessly connect across various mobile networks, screens, and support the modes we're used to on the PC - messaging, IM, presence, video, etc. Nothing really new here, but Metaswitch is positioning this in a way that makes the phone number more valuable. They've had good success with Thrutu, which now has 28 options to make the in-call experience richer. This adds a lot of stickiness and value to what once was an ordinary phone call, and provides the caller with the aforementioned IMT experience.

Another way they do that is enabling the operator to centralize the storage of the subscriber's contacts. So, whenever you update your contacts, those changes are propagated to all your other devices associated with your mobile number. Now things get interesting with FMC-type handoffs from mobile device to desktop softphone - or even other mobile devices - smartphone to tablet. Related to that is what Metaswitch calls the "new twisted pair", the idea being to twin your mobile device with your softphone for any screen, anywhere communications - but with the mobile number being the driver.

These capabilities are really important, not just to play in the emerging world of LTE, but also to co-exist with the OTT interlopers who are siphoning away minutes and revenues like never before. Savvy operators need to find a way to partner with those who are really in demand with subscribers, but also to add their own value and participate in the new revenues that LTE will make possible. Again, this is where that phone number has value, since all the subscriber's data and history are attached to it. So long as operators use that data responsibly, trust will be retained. That's other key asset they have, and it makes all the difference for getting subscribers to adopt new services.

There is a lot more to consider there, but the main thing for operators is that Accession can provide all this now, without the need to invest in new/costly hardware. OTT is both a threat and opportunity, and Accession opens up new possibilities, not just for operators to keep their fingers in more revenue pies - both from subscribers and advertisers - but also in creating new business models built around private labelled offerings that could in fact be done in partnership with OTTs. With the right moves, mobile operators can get the best of both worlds here - theirs and what OTTs are getting - and on that front, Metaswitch has a good story to tell with Accession.

ShoreTel Conference Recap – Brilliantly Simple, Sort Of

ShoreTel is a company that’s definitely doing things right, and while I’ve only been following them closely for about three years, they’ve come a long way during that time. Having come from Cisco’s event last week, the market share lines are clearly drawn in the IP telephony space. In North America, Cisco and Avaya/Nortel hold about 75%, which doesn’t leave much for everyone else. The playing field has inevitably thinned out, and for anyone else to crack double digits in share, that would be a pretty big achievement.

As in any market with this type of structure, there is room for a few Tier 2 players that will collectively grab maybe 20%, and the remaining 5% will go to a fragmented field of Tier 3s who are barely hanging on, or have found a defensible niche. ShoreTel is clearly in the Tier 2 group, and the case can be made – and they had industry data to show it – that they are the top player in that stratum of the market. Sure, there’s a huge jump up to the Cisco/Avaya league, but Tier 2 is still a big space, and ShoreTel can do very well here without worrying too much about who’s above them or the multitude of Tier 3s down below.

Just like last year, it was easy to see the strong rapport that ShoreTel has with their partners, and that goes a long way to explaining their momentum. Being a public company, there were plenty of proof points to support this, and I tweeted several of them during the event (#shor11). In terms of my key takeaways, I’m going to focus on the messaging we heard, both in the keynotes as well as the various personal briefings and hallway banter.

I’ll start at the top, with CEO Peter Blackmore. He came across as a serious, credible leader, and presented a pretty sound vision for ShoreTel to make the most of their market opportunity. The unspoken message is to beat Cisco – where they have had their share of success – but the clearer message is to present a great offering that the market can understand and see value in. This is the root of their “brilliantly simple” tagline, and with all the complexity around making IP technology actually work, it resonates nicely with both customers and channel partners.

I’m not going to rehash the details, but he set the stage explaining the market drivers they’re trying to capitalize on. Mobility is the big one, and this was a strong theme during the event. Video was big too, but secondary to video. They’re a bit behind the curve on these fronts, so there’s a lot of hasty catching up going on here. However, we have to remember that a lot of businesses wouldn’t know what to do with a soup-to-nuts collaboration solution, so there’s a still a window here for ShoreTel.

Peter Blackmore stated an ambitious goal of reaching 20% market share from their current level of 9%, and that would really put them in the big leagues. A lot would have to go right, especially in moving up-market – and wrong for their competitors – and he identified building the right mix of channel partners as the key for doing this. There was a lot of talk around how they’re supporting their channels, especially in terms of having no conflict. This clearly is a pain point for channels with other vendors, and ShoreTel looks to have a good plan here.

I could go on and on about all the positives their executives shared with us (I need to be balanced and fair!), and taken at face value, it’s not hard to understand why they’re winning business and why their stock price has doubled. If you’re a fan, the strong financials make them poised for a good run, and possibly to make some acquisitions. If you’re a doubter, and still think about the old ShoreTel, you’ll point to their lack of profitability, and perhaps say they can’t scale enough for enterprise customers. You didn’t hear much about the latter at the conference, but given the history, these things can’t be ignored either. Overall, though, I like their chances.

So, what’s to worry about? Well, “brilliantly simple” can be a differentiator so long as you can deliver it. Clearly, ShoreTel has done this, but it’s largely been with voice and fairly basic deployments. On one hand, there’s a huge market around this, and their CEO noted that only half of the market has moved to IP. The opportunity is easy for businesses to understand - and for channel partners to sell/support. If that was the extent of the business, we could all go home happy.

As mentioned, mobility and video are just now being added to the mix, and while it’s early days still, these are much harder to keep simple. I have no doubt they will get all these pieces to work, but as we saw from various demos and briefings, there’s a ways to go still. Their acquisition of Agito gave them some FMC expertise, but mobility is not native to ShoreTel’s R&D DNA. When the bigger players talk about collaboration, conferencing, social media, mobile UC, SIP trunking, etc. it’s pretty clear what these look like and how they work. You don’t have the same sense of that yet with ShoreTel. For example, their Polycom videoconferencing endpoints only work with each other, and aren’t yet integrated with the desktop. That’s ok – they’ll get there, and I think they’re realistic about where they can compete successfully here.

I guess it all depends what you’re comparing this against. CEBP is not on the ShoreTel menu yet, but does it need to be? They know their market, and they know what their partners are willing/able to support. These capabilities are really not big drivers yet among their core customers, so they don’t have to be best-in-class here. The challenge comes in trying to make mobility and video as “brilliantly simple” as voice. I don’t think anyone has been able to do that yet, so if they can truly pull this off, they’ll really have something special.

I’m not alone in wondering how quickly all this will come together. If their roadmap takes too long, there’s a real danger of businesses finding ways to do what need to do with Lync, at which point ShoreTel doesn’t have much to offer beyond voice. Similarly, if mobility and/or video take things from simplicity to complexity, they’ll undermine their core business. That’s a tricky balance to strike, since they need to succeed with both channels and customers.

Now it’s easier to understand why they’re using a two-tier channel model, and why so much emphasis is being placed on expanding/enhancing their partner base. It’s no secret that data VARs are not created equally when it comes to voice – and vice versa. This is a different sales pitch, and it has to work for the channel as much as for the customer. ShoreTel certainly isn’t alone here, but they definitely have a lot riding on keeping things simple.

In short, I think ShoreTel has a strong hand, and the market is theirs to lose. They’re also late to virtualization, and that’s a dual-edged sword. If it happens too quickly, the core business is cannibalized, and the XaaS model is harder for channels to understand and monetize. On the other hand, if other vendors have better virtualized offerings, the business may go that way among customers who decide to go all-in.

On the upside, there’s a lot to like about ShoreTel – the little engine that could. This also came out in the closing keynote by Joe Theismann – yeah, the football guy. Boy, was he good. Motivational speakers are pretty predictable, but I thought his message worked really well. He talked about teamwork and the need for channels to work closely with ShoreTel to get the results. He had great analogies and stories from his playing days, and they apply very nicely to what the conference was all about. So, lots of positives to build on, and it’s pretty simple for me – if they can keep it simple, they just might get their 20% share – and if they do, Joe will no doubt double his fee to come back, but it will be worth every penny.