Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) has been on an accelerated growth path the past couple of years. Vendors like RingCentral, Dialpad, 8×8, and others aggressively growing. Their explosive growth comes from converting premises-based phone system customers to Internet based VoIP and collaboration solutions. There are wild fluctuations in analyst estimates of the total market size. This is partially due to a lack of consensus over exactly what qualifies as “UCaaS”. The common thread is that all available research agrees that the market is growing fast.
Voice communication, of course, is a key building block of UCaaS. Voice over IP (VoIP) and the Internet, though, are strange bedfellows. The core protocols of the Internet don’t naturally lend themselves to VoIP. VoIP is a latency and packet loss sensitive real-time service. The Internet is designed for resiliency, not for performance, with Internet routing metrics designed to avoid “down” networks. The Internet turns a blind eye to congestion and thumbs its nose at packet loss avoidance. UCaaS vendors have not sat idly by. They use low bit rate, loss tolerant codecs like iLBC. iLBC can not only withstand moderate packet loss, but also employs smart capabilities to make VoIP over the regular Internet viable. Packet loss concealment is a classic example.
UCaaS Vendors: Feeling The Churn
Just the same, though, UCaaS providers should be braced for the threat of a significant churn rate. (Churn is the percentage of subscribers who discontinue their service within a given time period). In a recent Frost and Sullivan survey, 26% of all respondents were considering replacing their UCaaS vendor. Above all, the stated reason for this is quality and reliability issues. It’s no trivial thing to replace your phone system: it’s time consuming and costly. Retraining users and IT staff and the drag placed on productivity while the transition happens are big cost factors. An enterprise that takes that step is experiencing significant pain.
iLBC and WebRTC on the whole are great advances. They will continue to push forward innovations in real time communications over the Internet. However, a root cause of this agitation is that the Internet itself still presents challenges. Congestion at key domestic and international interconnects cause significant latency. This is especially true for mid-haul and long-haul paths (paths greater than 1000 miles from endpoint to origin). BGP inefficiency and routing loops (see BGP convergence and the Internet Backbone Problem) continue to cause packet loss. And these are all “middle mile” problems: issues that are happening within the Internet Backbone, which compound any last mile issues.
SD-WAN Benefits To The Rescue! Sort Of.
This is where an SD-WAN solution ostensibly comes to the rescue. SD-WAN vendors use a number of techniques, like dynamic path steering and tuning TCP windowing, to prioritize VoIP and other real time protocols. These classic SD-WAN benefits definitely help address some UCaaS performance and quality issues. However, they do it at the expense of TCP application performance. This is simply kicking the can down the road. The fundamental problem lies still lies in the “middle mile”. Loss and latency between cloud providers, ISPs, and transit providers are left unaddressed.
Beyond the technical issues, the manner in which UCaaS is sold to enterprises and small businesses needs to be considered. UCaaS vendors will be inclined to partner with SD-WAN vendors if they can fix customer issues. But there are three big obstacles UCaaS vendors face by partnering with SD-WAN vendors:
1] The partnership itself makes it look like the Internet is NOT good enough for business grade voice. UcaaS vendors want to convince their prospects that moving to cloud is viable for their businesses. Telling the customer to engage an SD-WAN service provider to address Internet quality undermines that claim. It can and will dissuade some prospects.
2] It complicates and prolongs the sales process. Trialing and doing a proof of concept for UCaaS has its own set of complications. Now UCaaS vendors are introducing a new set of variables and costs to their prospects. Not only does the prospect need to validate the UCaaS solution, they also need to evaluate and budget for SD-WAN.
3] Assigning responsibility- and blame- for problems. Who is responsible for dropped calls? Jitter? Poor voice quality? Pixelated video? Pointing at the network simply reflects back onto you as a partner in the solution.
The obstacles are diminished if the customer already has SD-WAN, or already sees the benefits of SD-WAN, but they are not eliminated. UCaaS vendors still have some soul searching to do.
Solve The Problem- By Actually Solving The Problem
The reality of the situation is simple. The customer is being sold that UCaaS will just work. They don’t want to turn into an integrator and start troubleshooting VoIP issues, mediating conversations between their SD-WAN vendors and the UCaaS vendor.
UCaaS vendors need to acknowledge this challenge is theirs to solve, not their customers’.
The biggest driver for moving to UCaaS is to get a turnkey service. IT departments don’t want to expend precious resources on UC in the first place.
SD-WAN technology, and more appropriately Internet Overlay Networks, are viable solutions to address public Internet performance issues. Even so, UCaaS vendors cannot forget that they are delivering a service. They are selling the promise of a turnkey service. The customer either plugs in desk phones or simply installs software on their PCs and smartphones and voila! – they have voice and UC services.
I always use landline service or cable service as a baseline for service delivery. Imagine a cable operator requiring the consumer to be responsible for the performance and upkeep of the local loop. It seems absurd, and yet it’s quite close to the customary way UCaaS vendors envision responsibilities.
UCaaS vendors need to take action:
1] OEM, white label, or integrate SD-WAN/Internet Overlay Networks together with their service. Include it in the base price or sell it as a premium “business grade” capability. Provide it as an integrated service that the UCaaS vendor sells and supports.
2] Continue investing in better loss tolerant CODECs.
The Internet Is The New LAN
The enterprise move to cloud based application delivery is in full swing. Therefore, enterprise IT has to pay close attention to the performance of the Internet. It is a vital part of delivering a good quality of experience of SaaS applications for their users. It’s important to understand that users will expect SaaS applications to perform as good as premises-based applications, if not better. IT managers will have less visibility and less control over the performance of these applications. They will look to the SaaS providers themselves to address performance issues.
The good news is there are solutions that address this very scenario. Internet overlay networks that combine protocol acceleration and route optimization, like Teridion, can enhance UCaaS service offerings. They are able to transparently boost performance anywhere in the world for UCaaS users.
Teridion continually analyzes the performance of the global Internet backbone and predictively routes traffic around congestion and outages. We’ve deployed thousands of monitoring nodes in the world’s leading public cloud providers. These collect real-time Internet connectivity, performance and reachability data that feed Teridion’s ML/AI powered routing algorithms. These data are then used to automatically construct a dynamically generated, per-customer Internet overlay network. Our multi-cloud approach and real-time route optimization means that the path is always the best-performing one. Even if that path spans multiple public cloud providers.
This approach is ideal for UCaaS applications. It adds no overhead to DevOps load and doesn’t require the customer to deploy an additional software client. It doesn’t require hardware on-premises, or ask users to modify their behavior . Teridion is free to try and really easy to deploy. It can drive great application performance metrics, improving overall performance up to 15x. Try it out and see what it can do for your app and your users.