This is the Agora.io perspective on Enterprise Connect 2016 (#EC16) held March 7-10 in Orlando FL – which is the premier event for enterprise communications and collaboration technology, providing comprehensive analysis, in-depth technical sessions and a look at the newest solutions.
The Internet Becomes an Enterprise Communications Backbone
For us, the most significant moment at Enterprise Connect 2016 was Rowan Trollope’s live Cisco Spark keynote demonstration showing a one button join of a meeting on his mobile phone, that he then easily transferred to a nice room system on one side of the stage which noticed him as he walked over. Then he took the meeting back onto his mobile, walked to the other side of the stage where a second room system noticed him and he then “threw” the meeting up on that display instead.
Obviously a very nice user experience and also a statement that the software experience is now much more important than any single hardware device.
But the really significant part of the demo was Rowan casually observing as he walked across the stage that all three of the devices were just on the Internet. Nothing special, just high-speed Internet. No vast array of specialized enterprise networking gear hidden behind the stage. This is very different from Enterprise Connect demos of yesteryear which were backed by very careful network planning before any demo was attempted! We think this is the beginning of a new age for how branch offices, home offices, and individual mobile users will be connected – “just use the Internet!”
The other key part of the demo was that it was #mobilefirst. Rowan’s mobile device was where he started and finished, it notified him of events and issues, showed him meetings and became the controller for other experiences on other, bigger, devices. Mobile devices have become the primary screen for many enterprise executives, salespeople and customer-facing service and support staff. Only when you stay stuck in an office are desktop PCs and phones still relevant. In fact, for much of the rest of the world, especially Asia, mobile devices are the Internet – consumers and business mobiles are not only the primary screen but probably the only screen!
Mobility and reliance on open Internet technologies represent significant new frontier for enterprise communications. This reality was evident in many talks and demos at Enterprise Connect. The WebRTC conference-in-a-conference had around 600 attendees, there were new session tracks on Mobility and Communication APIs, and promotion of cloud-based UC as a Service went across the show floor, along with the corridors and pathways, and up the elevators!
Agora.io at Enterprise Connect 2016
Fortunately, this is very aligned with our vision at Agora.io: to provide a Communications Platform (cPaaS) that enables ubiquitous premium-quality real-time voice and video communications, everywhere for any mobile or fixed device with an Internet connection. Agora.io is a two-year-old company and this was our first Enterprise Connect conference. We were fortunate to be selected as one of six new companies in the Innovation Showcase and had fun speaking in Dave Michel’s kickoff session for the Mobility track. We also were pleased to be the sponsor for the WebRTC conference-in-a-conference. We spoke with enterprises building their own mobile apps for customers, with UC and contact center vendors needing to reach global mobile users and customers, and with many companies exploring WebRTC and looking for a back-end platform that can solve their global reliability and quality challenges. Agora.io provides a global network that any vendor or app developer can quickly use to ensure a global quality of experience for voice and video.
Is the Internet ready for Enterprise Communications?
A decade or so ago at Enterprise Connect (then called VoiceCon), the question in many of the sessions was “is your network ready for VoIP?” This was a huge deal and there were lots of discussion about needing new networks and Quality of Service (QoS).
Since then Enterprise VoIP has become well established, yet today, almost all enterprise IP communications run over expensive QoS-enabled private networks typically tied together globally with expensive MPLS carrier networks.
So here we are in 2016, where running customer and business communications over the Internet is being actively demoed and discussed, and mobile phones have become common enterprise endpoints, despite the highly varying device types using constantly varying mobile connections over 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi.
Yet very few seem to be asking the obvious question: “Is the Internet ready for Enterprise Communications?”
At some EC sessions discussing customer-facing Internet communications one could hear the hope: “well there’s a lot of bandwidth out there, so it should be ok.” At Agora.io we don’t believe this. To paraphrase sci-fi writer William Gibson: “Internet bandwidth is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed!”
Agora.io believes that reliable global communications over the Internet with high quality requires new Internet innovation “in the middle”. This is required to solve real-time challenges at three levels:
- Internet Backbone Bottlenecks – globally there are a lot of Internet bottlenecks that can be time-of-day delays or just appear and disappear according to global traffic, especially in and out of certain countries. The Agora.io approach is to create a virtual overlay “mesh” on top of the Internet, spanning over 70 data centers today, that optimizes routing and transmission for each real-time communication session. By maintaining a continuous view of real-time performance (including latency, packet loss, jitter etc.) rapid dynamic decisions can be made to re-route traffic over the best paths at that moment.
- Mobile Device Issues – not everyone in the world has the latest iPhones or top of the line Android phone, especially your global customers. The average smartphone is an average smartphone! Initial quality issues must be tackled right on the device. The Agora.io approach is to provide a complete media stack, including echo, noise, audio detection, and other technologies, that is tested and parameterized against a wide range of different mobile devices with differing performance.
- The Mobile Last Mile – the final link to mobile devices can be a big problem; devices are (by definition) mobile and move in and out of good coverage and move between 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi connections with varying bandwidth and performance. The Agora.io approach makes the link from a mobile device to our network be as local-as-possible nodes, use aggressive local packet re-transmission to get through heavy packet loss, plus an end-to-end real-time performance data feed right back to the SDK to allow it to dynamically and continuously adjust its encoding and bandwidth to maintain quality.
We believe these are key issues that must be tackled for the Internet to become the backbone for all kinds of real-time voice and video communications – consumer, social groups, team workflows, and general enterprise communications. So we look forward to more of this discussion on noJitter.com and at future Enterprise Connect conferences, and we hope you will contact us to discuss our approach to solving these issues.
So what else happened at EC16?
OK, what else happened at Enterprise Connect?
Another obvious trend is the ongoing push to cloud solutions. The new wave (cloud?) of UCaaS providers, who are generally also CCaaS providers, were out in force with large booths, session participation and expensive advertising throughout the event. This included 8×8, Ring Central, Mitel, Interactive Intelligence, Shortel and others (Mitel, of course, being a very sage “new” wave!). For many of these, Orange seems to be the new Black! (At least in attire.)
Now in “normal” markets, the new wave would be running rings around the traditional vendors, busy disrupting the market by offering whole new ways of doing things. Unfortunately for the new cloud wave, it is clear that Cisco with Spark and Microsoft with Office365 and Skype4Business are very serious about remaining major communications players disrupting themselves with whole new cloud offers, and working to not to leave space for new vendors to get around them. UCaaS is going to be an interesting market fight over the next few years.
Meanwhile, on another battlefield, Avaya announced a new release and name for its developer platform, Avaya Breeze, plus then an entirely new company, Zang, to sell the development platform. Avaya seems (I don’t claim to understand this) to be targeting Twilio and the Communications API marketplace. This appears to be the opposite direction to Cisco, which absorbed Tropo into Cisco and seems to be leveraging this expertise to make the Cisco Spark cloud-based collaboration and “enterprise social” solution become more extensible. But Communication APIs were certainly hot at the show – there was a whole new EC session track on just this topic kicked off by Mark Winther from IDC, who has written on this topic for several years. At Agora.io, of course, we are strong believers in the power of communications APIs to deliver a fully integrated voice and video to all kinds of mobile, web and enterprise applications.
Finally, while we were a little too busy to get to all the sessions, Enterprise Connect always has a rich set of sessions on how to adopt new Collaboration, Unified Communications and Contact Center technologies. User adoption is key and several keynotes focused on ease of use showing simpler and simpler user and customer experiences, which is clearly the right direction. Interestingly, several commentators observed that they felt that a fair percentage of companies have made their choices about their next generation enterprise communications platforms and were more focused now on deployment and adoption questions versus re-comparing all the major vendors.
Oh, and one more thing – we saw some beginnings of the discussion of the potential impact of the Internet of Things (IoT) on communications technology, although this didn’t come until more-or-less the last day. Personally, we have seen much more discussion on this at other IoT, WebRTC and new-technology events, so hopefully, this taste for EC16 audiences will leave them hungry for more on IoT next year!
In conclusion, the communications industry trends we have seen for the last couple of years continued to gain considerable momentum at Enterprise Connect 2016 – cloud, mobile devices, open Internet communications as a foundation for global access and an ever-growing understanding of the critical importance of better customer and user experiences. These are all key trends that drive our direction at Agora.io, so this was a great validating show for us.
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