Do SMBs Trust VoIP Yet?


The survey covered in this story was conducted by Viatel in the UK, but it is food for thought-and perhaps a bit of worry-for SMB VoIP vendors and service providers here in the colonies.


The survey of 200 SMBs revealed that 54 percent are not deploying VoIP because their broadband connections are inadequate. Ninety-five percent said that they would like to have access to VoIP, however. More troubling numbers: 69 percent said their biggest complaint is poor call quality when asynchronous digital subscriber line (ADSL) technology was used in the last mile, and 47 percent believe that a leased line is necessary for VoIP -- but that it is price-prohibitive and, therefore, they can't use the platform.


There are two areas of concern here: The first is that SMB VoIP will not go beyond niche status if quality is not the equal of traditional services. The second is that the belief in the need for a leased line for VoIP-an urban legend on both sides of the Atlantic-suggests that the market is not sufficiently educated. While users may or may not be more sophisticated in the states, vendors and service providers simply shouldn't take it for granted that VoIP is a slam dunk sale to SMBs.


Not all the recent press carried bad news for SMB VoIP, however. In his top 10 predictions for 2009, Network World columnist Steve Taylor suggests (at number three, I may add) that there will be growth in VoIP and unified communication in the SMB market. He cites two reasons: Products addressing companies of this size increasingly are available and smaller companies can move more quickly to use these tools to solve problems.


Early this month, D-Link took a significant step in easing the transition of SMBs to VoIP. The company said that it is partnering with New Global Telecom, a service provider that offers VoIP trunk and hosted services, on a service for this segement. It enables the companies to offer a more comprehensive VoIP platform to SMBs.


Significantly, D-Link is the only one of the three equipment vendors approved to use Microsoft's Response Point VoIP products that has created such an agreement with a service provider. The piece says Syspine is working informally with Cbeyond, another approved Microsoft VoIP service provider. The implication is that we can expect announcements in the near future.


There is no nook or cranny of the business world that the economic meltdown is not affecting. It is quite possible that savvy VoIP equipment and service providers will start getting back to VoIP basics when pushing their products to small businesses and elsewhere. In the beginning, low costs were the main selling point for VoIP. That rationale never went away, of course, but it began to share prominence with the cool features that VoIP enabled. Our sad economic plight is putting cost savings back in the driver's seat.


That trend is nicely encapsulated in this TMCnet look at SMB VoIP specialist 8x8. The company is cutting its monthly user fee by 50 percent. The idea is simple: It doesn't make sense to sign new customers if they are going to have to abandon the service because of the economy.


There is, of course, a great deal of competition in the SMB VoIP marketplace. No wonder: In aggregate, SMBs represent the lion's share of the business market. The problem, which is being somewhat ameliorated by the Internet, is marketing to the small fry at low enough cost-per-sale to make it worthwhile. Established companies certainly are learning new tricks. Forbes takes a look at the positioning of two familiar names, Cisco and Microsoft, but pays most attention to far lesser known startup RingCentral.


Hopefully, at least for SMB VoIP proponents, the Viatel study's results were spurious or reflect attitudes limited to the old world. Whether the antipathy toward VoIP among SMBs still exists or has faded will become clear very quickly as providers and vendors position their products as ways to survive the dreadful economy.