Why Hosted-IP is the path forward for SMEs

Hosted business IP communications is poised for significant growth over the next few years – and nowhere more so than in the small medium enterprise (SME) segment. Justin Norris, Founder and Managing Director, DIGITALK, discusses how to create a compelling solution for the SME sector and how simplifying network processes is helping service providers deliver.

The benefits offered by hosted business IP communications such as anywhere access and availability, plus low investment, maintenance and operational costs, are proving compelling for companies of all shapes and sizes. But this is especially true in the SME sector.

There are a number of key commercial and technical reasons behind the growth in hosted business communications services. The first is around cost. In an increasingly commoditised market SMEs are demanding immediate price reductions from their service providers as they continue to look to lower the cost of voice and data communications.

But at the same time, even smaller companies are looking to support an increasingly disparate workforce through the implementation of teleworking policies that combine the attributes of both voice and data applications into new converged services, most notably via Unified Messaging (UM) applications that link IT and telco communication tools.

One successful solution has been the hosted “virtual office”, which is able to combine calling functionality and network and service management into a single turnkey application. SMEs can use such a solution to replace their expensive PBX systems and to make considerable cost savings, both in equipment purchase and maintenance arrangements.

In addition, the hosted virtual office is able to significantly reduce costs by providing flexible call routing options that lower voice costs between workers locations and free “on-net” calling between users regardless of location. For example, a user is able to use a SIP-compatible device or soft-phone from any location (office, home office, airport, hotel etc.) to make free calls to other colleagues registered on the system wherever they are. In addition, the presence of integrated web self-care features means that it is quick and easy for administrators to add or remove users, or for users to be moved into new user groups, and also allow users to manage their own accounts, reducing operational overheads even further.

While such applications are good news for SMEs, they are also set to become a key differentiator for service providers that serve the enterprise. DIGITALK launched its own version of the solution – called IP Virtual Office or IPVO – during the summer. IPVO is available as a solution delivered directly to the enterprise or a as a white label solution offered via the channel.

IPVO is just one type of end-user application suited to the SME market made possible by hosted-IP. There are many other instances of applications that were once deemed the preserve of large corporations but which are now – thanks to IP – easily affordable by SMEs.

But unlike larger companies, SMEs usually lack the resources and technical know-how to configure complex solutions in-house. The onus on service providers serving the SME market, therefore, is to deliver solutions that work “out of the box” with the minimum of fuss. Thankfully, the move from legacy to IP-based next generation networks is able to dramatically simplify the service delivery process.

Central to this “Service-Ready” philosophy are the Service Delivery Platforms (SDPs), which are expected to become central to the service delivery methodology that is being adopted by Service Providers who are deploying Next Generation Networks.

An SDP helps Service Providers adopt a more flexible approach in their network infrastructures by separating the creation and execution of new service applications from the underlying network. This concept creates a framework which ties together network resources to make rapid service delivery a reality and helps support the objective of delivering a set of services that are able to allow individual customers access to their service configuration information from the Service Provider’s various operational and business support systems.

This architecture often uses technologies provided by both traditional IT hardware suppliers, which have been adapted to meet Service Provider’s requirements for reliability, and the more traditional telecoms vendors. However, this new architectural approach relies on using pre-packaged applications, which can be implemented quickly and efficiently, and which can be adapted to meet changing market conditions – a vital consideration when serving the SME market.

This revolution in the network will ultimately benefit the end users. The flexibility it offers service providers means out-of-the-box IP-based solutions can be quickly and cheaply rolled out to an increasingly demanding SME customer base.