As technological advances accelerate change in the modern workplace, the technology of yesteryear gradually becomes obsolete. Just think, for a moment, about how much the technology you use has changed even in the last decade. What did your cell phone look like in 2007? Did you even have a cell phone in 2007? I’d be willing to bet that nearly all of the technology you used regularly in 2007 is obsolete at this point, with one small exception: your desk phone. Even the staid desk phone has changed. Does the infrastructure that connects your dial tone live in a closet full of circuits, or are you connected to the cloud where your voicemail and call forwarding are managed via a quick UI login?
Defying all odds, the desk phone has clung to relevancy, serving as the last true tether to your desk in this age characterized by mobility and anytime, anywhere collaboration.
As high-definition mobile conferencing looms just over the horizon, it is safe to declare that enterprise voice as we know it is in a state of flux. Let’s take a look at the contributing factors that have shifted enterprise voice to the cloud:
The Rise of VoIP
The rise of voice-over-IP (VoIP) technology paved the way for new methods of communicating both in the workplace and on the go. Back in 2004, VoIP technology became available to the masses, allowing users to utilize their existing broadband Internet access to place and receive telephone calls in a similar manner to how normal phone calls were being conducted via public switched telephone networks (PSTN).
For small businesses, VoIP represented an easy, affordable way to conduct business spanning various geographical locations without the need for a massive investment in hardware and on-premise infrastructure. For the enterprise, the bandwidth efficiency and low cost of VoIP technology provided an easy way to migrate from traditional copper-wire telephone systems and reduce their monthly costs.
VoIP naturally lead to the evolution towards unified communications and collaboration (UC&C); VoIP was an inflection point and drove innovation for UC&C. The flexibility associated with UC&C and VoIP today is not insignificant. In fact, one in three landline phones have been replaced by VoIP, with many enterprises still investing heavily in their IP PBX infrastructures.
While the rise of VoIP and the advent of Skype® brought IP telephony to consumers, enterprises were exploring a better way to stand up telephony without expensive infrastructure, leading to the birth of UC-as-a-service (UCaaS). In the enterprise, business phone lines and enterprise voice traffic remain pretty much stable, while the underlying technologies are changing from circuit switched to packet switched technologies, and increasingly more IP PBXes are moving to the cloud.
The Phone Call is Dying
Even excluding the changes in voice usage in the enterprise, the phone call itself is down in usage and popularity across the board. According to Nielsen data, voice usage is dropping in every age group except for those past the age of 54.
As Alexia Tsotsis for TechCrunch so aptly put it:
“Less obsolete but more annoying than a handwritten letter, the phone call is fading as a mode of communication, even if the nostalgic will be singing its praises for a while.”
Even US mobile carriers concur that voice is a commodity, altering their price strategies to give away voice at flat rates and turning to new revenue opportunities, like data, to adapt to the changing market.
And while those of us in the corporate world can’t entirely eliminate the need to make calls during work, the utility of UC&C solutions that enable chat have also reduced the number of calls necessary to make during your workday. As Christine Crandell noted for Forbes, “desk phones are for outbound calls only. Cellphones are for inbound calls. Need to get a hold of me urgently, use IM.”
The Mobile Takeover
While the phone call may be in decline, it’s not something we can ever get rid of entirely. The phone call is a key tool in the modern worker’s Swiss Army Knife®. However, the ubiquity of cellular phones has led to a massive overhaul of how we conduct our day-to-day business communications. According to recent mobile usage statistics, 75 percent of U.S. adults will use a smartphone in 2017 as market penetration continues to increase.
The desk phone used to be the end-all-be-all for conferencing. Your desk phone was your tried and trusted comrade in communication, delivering top-notch voice clarity and a quality of service unrivaled by smartphone newcomers. And, in a lot of ways, not much has changed with regard to call quality.
Chances are, your desk phone still offers call quality that far surpasses any audio experience you might have on your mobile phone. However, with 43 of the U.S. work force now working remotely at least some of the time, audio quality is frequently sacrificed for the sake of convenience.
In a recent pulse survey of our customers concerning their mobile habits, we found that 58 percent of respondents use their cell phones to join meetings when working remotely. Only 7 percent of respondents said they used a work phone to join a meeting. That means that 58 percent of our respondents are willing to sacrifice intelligibility and clarity in exchange for increased mobility.
The Quality Argument
The popularity of apps like Google Voice, Google Hangouts, Skype and more have made voice and video calls on mobile easier (and cheaper than ever). But these apps function “over-the-top” (OTT) of existing mobile networks, bypassing the network to use WiFi to enable free communication. For mobile carriers, OTT apps pose an obvious threat to their revenue. But for many businesses, from small startups to the established enterprise, these applications present a cost-effective way to enable workers to communicate on the go.
But what these apps offer in convenience, they sorely lack in quality. Clear audio is vital to productive communication, and applications that allow voice calling over WiFi do not offer the clarity and consistency of audio provided by standard voice options like the desk phone.
Desk phones have stuck around because they have been the only method for clear, reliable communication in the office. But with remote work on the rise, desk phone usage is down as mobile workers willingly sacrifice quality for the sake of convenience.
Voice over LTE (LTE), however, is bringing about a better way to conference on the go. A high-definition mobile conferencing option, hosted on an established LTE network, would allow for security, quality and convenience; whereas before, mobile communication options would only allow for one of the above — convenience.
VoLTE: The Voice of the Future
According to Gartner, cloud telephony spending will surpass on-premise spending in 2017. As on-premise PBXs become less utilized, network operators must focus on providing voice services in the cloud. Convenience is already built in to the mobile experience, and VoLTE brings quality to that experience. Enterprise voice has held on because it offers better quality, security and reliability, but as cloud continues to dominate the marketplace, our previous notions of enterprise voice must adapt in kind.
Cloud telephony provides a way to accelerate the depth of enterprise voice. Despite the advances in cloud telephony and mobile apps, many of the largest enterprises continue to manage on-premise telephony deployments. The control and security provided by the cloud, as well as the low cost of long-term and deployments, are all notable advantages for even the largest companies.
Let’s face it: telephony as we know it is changing. We are simply not making point-to-point calls anymore; decision-making has become more collaborative, and as a result, fixed-line telephony and on-premise PBXs are slowly giving way to cloud telephony and mobile collaboration solutions. Whether you are committed to an on-premise solution or looking at cloud options, the game is changing for IT teams and telephony. Will you be ready?
Looking for a way to enable your mobile workforce? VoLTE HD mobile conferencing may be just the thing for enterprises trying to transition away from on-premise telephony. PGi’s HD mobile conferencing solution, the mobile collaboration exchange, may be right for you.