As communication trends ebb and flow, it can be hard to pick just one that would be the most significant. For Brian Metherell, vice president and general manager of Toshiba America Information Systems, Telecommunication Systems Division, such trends may include the growing commoditization of the hardware portion of IP PBX systems; server virtualization gains; and mobility options. Metherell recently participated in a TMCnet interview in anticipation of the upcoming ITEXPO West 2010. When asked about the one product or service most needed, Metherell pointed to the provision of a client desktop application with one combined user interface.
As for unified communications going mainstream, Metherell believes it already has and the end user will win the smartphone/tablet wars. Social media has added to the number of ways in which Toshiba communications with customers, while widespread HD voice will likely continue to grow in 2011. Metherell is still unsure whether or not there will be widespread adoption of mobile video chat or conferencing and believes Android is gaining the most momentum in the wireless operating system space. As for wireless networks replacing wired networks, Metherell believes wired will always be useful.
The growth of cloud-based services has not yet significantly impacted business for Metherell, and he can see both sides of the net neutrality debate. He expects to see a lot more debate and compromise before resolution. As for the most overhyped technology, Metherell believes it might be cloud-based services. At ITEXPO West, Metherell is participating in a SIP trunking panel where attendees will learn how it can benefit their SMB. As for his bold technology prediction for 2011, Metherell looks to the growth of SIP trunks to continue in the U.S. and accelerate beyond the level of growth for any other telecom carrier service. The full conversation is provided below:
What is the most significant trend in communications today? Why?
It’s hard to pick just one. We see a few significant trends developing.
There appears to be growing commoditization of the hardware portion (servers, gateways, and telephones) of IP PBX systems, thus placing less emphasis on hardware and more on software, applications, maintenance and services which have greater potential for creating recurring revenue. This shift also tends to drive more benefits for the end customer as they have a software-based path to even more applications versus the older “rip and replace” model for new hardware.
Server virtualization continues to gain momentum bringing benefits in cost savings on equipment purchase and support.
Users will continue to demand more mobility options and more business communication functionality on their personal mobile smartphone devices.
What is the one product or service the market is most in need of?
Again, it’s hard to pick just one, but the industry can do a much better job at providing a client desktop application that does everything the user wants all in one combined interface. We see lots of call manager applications that provide call control from your PC, presence, IM, CRM integration, etc. Others provide video and collaboration, etc. Some do a better job than others in combining some of these functions. However, there is not yet a “does everything” client application. This will change in the future.
When will unified communications go mainstream?
If by mainstream you mean significant sales penetration of applications in the UC category, then it already has. However, if by mainstream you mean that the average buyer knows what we mean by UC before we explain it to them, then never. By the time the average person outside our industry knows what UC is, we’ll be calling it something else.
Who will win the smartphone wars? Tablet wars?
The end user customer is winning the war. Look at the selection and price points that we have in this market. It is spectacular. However, we don’t necessarily see one clear winner in smartphones. The growth of the iPhone has been tremendous, enough to overtake the lead from BlackBerry, which a couple years ago seemed insurmountable. Then we recently saw the growth of Android overtake the iPhone in a relative short time from its inception. What’s next? Who knows? There’s plenty of room for everyone in this vast market for smartphone devices.
The same is probably true of tablet devices. There will be lots of innovation and competition. The iPad is off to a great start, but many still don’t consider it a serious business tool. Netbook mini PCs are also off and running, but will likely evolve into something more iPad like on Android and other mobile operating systems. And of course, with Toshiba’s telecom, PC and Hard Disk drive businesses, we will continue to play a significant role in this technology evolution.
Has social media changed how you communicate with customers?
It hasn’t changed the way we communicate, but has added to the number of ways we communicate with customers. Social media isn’t just for personal use. It has become a business tool as well. Toshiba has implemented a social media policy for its employees and dealers and has launched an extensive social media program with visibility on Facebook, Twitter and Linked In. We have a team of extremely experienced sales application professionals who are on the social media networks every day. They help both dealers and customers get the answers and support they need.
Nearly every phone manufacturer is now incorporating support for wideband codecs. Will we finally see widespread HD voice deployments in 2011?
Probably not widespread use, but growing use. In the near term, we see the demand for HD voice ramping up slowly as customers weigh the cost versus benefit.
What are your thoughts on the viability of mobile video chat or conferencing?
It has viability, and we do expect to see it become available. We’re not sure it will have widespread adoption, but nearly all forms of communication seem to be finding their way to mobile smartphone type devices.
Which wireless operating system (Android, iOS4, Microsoft, etc) will see the greatest success over the next three years? Why?
In the short term, it appears to be the Android OS gaining the most momentum, so I guess this is the safest prediction. However, the others aren’t going to sit by idly and watch their share dwindle. And don’t count out other newcomers we haven’t even seen yet. We expect to see lots of interesting innovation in this area over the next few years.
Some have suggested wireless networking will soon replace wired networks in the enterprise. Do you agree? Why or why not?
Replace? No. Experience the most growth? Yes. Wired networking will always be useful for non-mobile devices like servers, desktop PCs, network printers/copiers, etc.
What impact has the growth of cloud-based services had on your business?
It hasn’t had a significant impact yet. Cloud-based solutions continue to get a lot of attention, but attention has not yet translated to a large revenue stream in our industry. This may change in the future, and to the extent it does, it will create more competition for customer premise based solutions.
What do you think of the net neutrality debate?
It’s a complicated issue that tends to be oversimplified by the proponents of each side, somewhat minimizing the concerns of the other. In principle, we agree with one side’s argument that all web traffic should get the same speed and unrestricted content. However, as a profit-making enterprise, we also can’t fault the other side that wants to create revenue from offering higher speed Internet connectivity. We expect to see a lot more debate and compromise before anything comes of this.
What is the most overhyped technology in your opinion?
It might just be cloud-based services. We see lots of discussion and marketing activity, but not a rush to revolutionize the industry in terms of implementation.
You are speaking at ITEXPO West 2010. What is your session about?
I am speaking in the panel on “Making the Business Case for SIP Trunking in the SMB.” SIP trunking is an alternative to traditional land lines that still provides quality of service at a reduced cost. For SMBs, it gives them more connectivity options at a more affordable cost. This panel will look at the business case for SIP Trunking, including deployment scenarios, flexibility, and cost savings. At Toshiba, we offer our dealers and customers compatibility with over two dozen SIP Trunking providers that are tested and certified as interoperable with Toshiba Strata CIX VoIP systems.
What will attendees take away from your session?
Attendees will learn how SIP Trunking can benefit their SMB, including how it can be deployed, flexibility it offers them, and cost savings. We will also provide some specific examples of customer deployments.
Please make a bold technology prediction for 2011.
I predict that the U.S. market growth of SIP trunks will continue to accelerate beyond the level of growth for any other telecom carrier service, even within the SMB space. This will be due to SIP trunk providers offering creative packaging with performance-based applications and services, such as high-speed Internet access and even long distance packages.
To find out more about Toshiba America, visit the company at ITEXPO West 2010. To be held Oct. 4 to 6 in Los Angeles, ITEXPO is the world’s premier IP communications event. Brian Metherell is speaking during “Making the Business Case for SIP Trunking in the SMB.” Don’t wait. Register now.