Von Show Put Spotlight On Hosted VoIP Partnerships

At the Fall VON 2005 conference in Boston last week, both Microsoft and Avaya unveiled partnerships that aim to tie in their technology with VoIP offerings from service providers.

Microsoft said it is jumping into the hosted VoIP arena through a new partnership with Qwest Communications International that will create a suite of services aimed at the SMB market. Avaya, meanwhile, is teaming with Sprint to develop and deliver hosted VoIP services to North American businesses.

Jeff Hiebert, CEO of ROI Networks, a San Juan Capistrano, Calif., Avaya partner, anticipates a scenario where he can resell hosted VoIP, gain recurring revenue, and lose the headaches involved in implementing IP telephony rollouts from scratch.

"It would be a lot easier. When you deploy a network for the first time, you don't know what you're going to get," Hiebert said. "Here, the service provider has got all the hard work and heavy lifting."

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In addition to the monthly revenue stream that would come from reselling a carrier's VoIP services, Hiebert expects to be able to add routers and Power-over-Ethernet-enabled switches, modify DHCP servers and implement TFTP servers at the customer site. End-user training opportunities should also abound, he said.

Hosted VoIP services are such an attractive option for small businesses that it will be impossible for solution providers to stay out of that market, said Mark Ritchie, president of Prime Business Systems, a San Diego-based Avaya partner.

"It's going to be required for us to be involved in that space at some point because it's going to erode the small-business [VoIP equipment] market," Ritchie said. Still, Ritchie isn't convinced that being an agent for hosted services will be as profitable as implementing premise-based VoIP solutions. "It's difficult to build a profitable business reselling someone else's managed services," Ritchie said.

The combined offering from Avaya and Sprint should open VoIP to a new customer base, said Christopher Logan, vice president of on-demand voice services at Avaya, Basking Ridge, N.J. "Many customers want to move to VoIP but are reticent to make capital investments," Logan said during a press conference at the show.

The first offering, Sprint Hosted Messaging, should be available in the fourth quarter, followed in 2006 by Hosted IP Telephony and Wireless Integration. Only after a complete services bundle has hit the market will Sprint make the new offerings available through channel partners, said Kent Turner, group manager of advanced voice solutions at Sprint, Overland Park, Kan.

Earlier this month, Avaya took the wraps off an alliance with Equant to build and deliver hosted VoIP services worldwide.

Microsoft and Qwest, for their part, are working to develop a channel strategy and training efforts around their services suite, which is expected to debut early in 2006, said Michael O'Hara, general manager of service provider business at Microsoft, Redmond, Wash. "Working through channels to bring these services to market will be key," he said.

The new partnership combines Microsoft's Solution for Enhanced VoIP Services with Denver-based Qwest's OneFlex VoIP services to create a bundle of VoIP, e-mail, Internet access, collaboration, presence, instant messaging and desktop services.

Microsoft already offers hosted versions of its applications and Microsoft TV video services through service provider partners. The missing piece was hosted voice services, O'Hara said.

The Microsoft solution is comprised of hosted versions of several products, including Exchange Server 2003, Office Live Communications Server 2005 and Windows SharePoint Services with Sylantro Systems' Application Feature Server.

For example, through Office Communicator, Microsoft's enterprise IM client, customers can view the presence of other users and initiate phone calls, tapping data from Outlook calendars and contact lists. Calls also can be launched via Microsoft's other desktop applications, including Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

The end result of combining Microsoft's technology with hosted VoIP services is that SMB customers can deploy VoIP without investing in on-premise infrastructure, O'Hara said.

Pricing for the new services has not yet been disclosed. Qwest is the first service provider to integrate Microsoft's Solution for Enhanced VoIP Services. Others will likely follow, O'Hara said.