Emerging VoIP Player 3CX Touts Channel Gains Around Uptick In Cisco, Microsoft VARs

The North American channel footprint of emerging VoIP player 3CX has grown steadily since the launch of its 3CX partner program in 2007. In an interview with CRN this week, the Nicosia, Cyprus-based company said that growth underscores its ability to give partners a unified communications (UC) solution that's purpose-built for the SMB space in a way that competitors, like Cisco, simply can't.

"If they are a Cisco reseller, we find that they are kicking our tires now," said Brian Conway, head of the North American channel at 3CX. "A lot of resellers, they just know that Cisco is backing out of the SMB space."

Cisco did not immediately respond to CRN's request for comment.

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3CX, whose flagship product is the 3CX Phone System, a VoIP-based PBX for Microsoft Windows, currently has 15,000 partners worldwide. In North America, a market the company didn't penetrate until 2007, the year after it was founded, it has roughly 5,000 solution provider and MSP partners.

Conway said 3CX, a member of CRN's 2011 and 2012 Emerging Vendors list, added "between 300 and 500" new partners in 2013 alone. He said he hopes to see similar growth next year. "We are always looking to add partners," Conway told CRN.

Jason Ulm, vice president of sales at Appia Communications, a Traverse City, Mich.-based managed service provider (MSP) and member of the 2010 and 2011 CRN Fast Growth list, has been selling the hosted version of the 3CX Phone System since February 2012. Appia's 3CX customers range from four to 900 seats, but Ulm said the 3CX Phone System definitely resonates with SMB customers in a way Cisco's UC offerings don't always do.

"Cisco's platform is a wonderful platform. It's feature-rich and does a lot of great things for an enterprise environment, but it generally requires people to be able to manage things on their own, and they usually have a big IT staff," Ulm said. "But the customers buying out the hosted [3CX] platform maybe have one IT guy, or maybe they don't have any. They need the service, but they don't necessarily want to do the service."

Ulm also said Appia was drawn to the 3CX system because of its flexible licensing model and ease of use. He said the company saw "hockey stick" growth with the 3CX product, and is currently acquiring between 10 and 15 new 3CX customers each month.

The 3CX Phone System, available in both a hosted and on-premise model, provides an open-standard UC platform for Windows that works with standard SIP phones and replaces a proprietary PBX. It was developed specifically for Windows and is based on the SIP standard, making it easier to manage and allowing users to use any SIP phone.

3CX also offers 3CXPhone for Android and 3CXPhone for iPhone platforms that integrate with the 3CX Phone System and allow users to make and receive office calls from their Android or iOS-based smartphone and tablet.

NEXT: 3CX Partner Program, Growing Product Portfolio

The company's stickiness with Windows, 3CX's Conway said, is reflected in its partner base. Just as it's seen with Cisco partners, 3CX has seen a mass migration of Microsoft partners embracing the 3CX Phone System as a way to fill the SMB UC gap.

"Our software is Windows-based. We only run on a Windows machine. So, if you are Microsoft partner and are working with a customer, why not be able to provide a VoIP solution or IP-PBX solution?" Conway said. "It's kind of just been a no-brainer for a Microsoft reseller to resell the 3CX Phone System."

Conway said many of these Microsoft partners also sell Microsoft Lync, the software giant's own UC platform, but target it more toward the enterprise.

Bruce Kreeger, president and CTO of Clarity Technologies Group, a Mine Hill, N.J.-based solution provider is a Microsoft, Cisco and 3CX partner. He said he "absolutely" sees 3CX winning over both SMB and vertical market customers, and attributed those wins to the competitive pricing advantage 3CX has over its competitors, along with the system's interoperability with other telephony vendors.

"We have been able to interface things with 3CX that we couldn't interface with Avaya, couldn't interface with Cisco, and couldn't interface with Microsoft Lync," Kreeger said.

Kreeger also said Clarity's 3CX sales in 2013 were four times what they were in 2011.

"We're literally doubling in installations on an annual basis," he said.

George Bardissi, president of Bardissi Enterprises, a Philadelphia-based solution provider, said he has converted between 400 and 450 customers to the 3CX platform from other competing platforms, including ShoreTel and Avaya, over the past 17 months.

Bardissi, like Kreeger, also said customers' interest in 3CX stems largely from it not requiring proprietary hardware.

"I love the fact that with 3CX you have so many options with devices," Bardissi said. "You should be able to find a phone that meets what your customers are looking for and then in the odd event that you run into a weird application -- like they need a phone that fits this application -- you aren't locked in."

The 3CX Partner Program consists of three different partner levels: Registered, Preferred and Premier. Partner discounts and other perks, like being included in the 3CX partner locator and having access to leads, vary based on those levels, with Registered being the lowest and Premier being the highest. Conway said 3CX has roughly 25 Premier partners in North America, with "the bulk" being at the Registered or Preferred levels.

To remain in the partner program, partners need to sell at least one 3CX license every six months, Conway said.

Upon a partner's first 3CX sale they are automatically upgraded to the Preferred level. Premium partners, meanwhile, are distinguished by both performance and selling higher volumes of the 3CX system.

3CX, moving forward, is taking steps to broaden its product portfolio, meaning more sales opportunities for partners, Conway said. This effort most recently resulted in the launch of the 3CX Mobile Device Manager, an MDM solution for managing, monitoring, securing and tracking iPhone and Android mobile devices. The solution, which can also be used to remotely wipe lost or stolen devices, is available in an on-premise or hosted model.

Early next year, Conway said, 3CX is planning to roll out a video and Web conferencing platform, as well.

"We really want to be able to provide an offering for anyone to do video conference, collaboration and screen sharing," Conway said. "And it will definitely be something 3CX offers through the channel."