HD Voice Snapshot – Business hosted VoIP providers

Lots of islands, with continents to come

5 providers queried/interviewed:  8×8/Packet 8, Alteva, Cablevision/Optimum Lightpath, Whaleback Systems, Verizon Business

Many hosted business VoIP providers currently offer HD voice as an “upsell”/advanced feature to businesses and charge extra for it, but this is likely to change because HD-capable handsets are becoming more affordable and prolific, with Avaya and Polycom incorporating HD into all of their products and other providers across the spectrum moving to add HD as a firmware upgrade and/or a feature of new phones.

It also remains to be seen if HD becomes a “Must have” on a feature checklist due to competitive pressure from other providers in the marketplace.  8×8 will have all of its phones converted to be HD voice capable by the end of the year and it will be interesting to see if the company uses that distinction to different its offerings from the other providers in the market.

The 800 pound gorilla in the room is interoperability – HD voice or other SIP-based services, such as video and vanilla VoIP — between providers.   Business VoIP providers realize that it is in their best interests to cooperate in order to work out some sort of “bypass” of the PSTN and are in the process of analyzing different alternatives, such as using commercial interconnect/peering services and creating and operating their own peering fabric.

Currently offering HD voice

8×8/Packet 8

Status: Currently upgrading end-points via rolling firmware upgrades to support G.722
Type: Hosted, end-to-end turn-key service
Target market: Small to medium businesses:
Phones supported: Aastra 67xxi series
Number of HD voice phones deployed: Once finished upgrading, “hundreds of thousands”

8×8 has “hundreds of thousands” of end-user points (i.e. phones), so when 8×8 finishes rolling out the Aastra Hi-Q firmware upgrade to all of them, the company will have the largest number of G.722 end-points in operation of any single business VoIP provider today – by a large factor, and even if you start adding up other .  8×8 is expected to make a formal announcement when it completes its firmware upgrades by the end of the year.

Alteva

Status: Currently offering HD voice service
Type: Hosted VoIP, turnkey service
Target market:  Enterprise, 50 to 6,000 employees.  Company cites a variety of different verticals, including retail, finance, accounting, and call centers.
IP PBX Platform:  BroadSoft
Number of HD voice customers/phones deployed: “100 or so” customers, 5,000 end-points

Alteva has been very active in promoting interoperability efforts between hosted VoIP providers and is a proponent/participant of a regularly meeting CTO summit for “coopetition” efforts to get peering/inter-exchange going outside of the “normal” peering and PSTN channels.  The company has conducted some ad hoc exchange tests with Simple Signal and has reportedly made video calls between the two companies using Polycom’s VVX media phone; the phone supports both video and G.722 audio, so interoperable HD audio is a given.

Cablevision/Optimum Lightpath

Status:   Service launched June 2009.
Type:   Hosted, end-to-end turnkey service
Target market:  Medium to large businesses
IP PBX Platform:  BroadSoft (formerly GENBAND) M6 Communications Application Server
Phones supported: Cisco 7945, 7965

Cablevision has not been shy to dive into new technology and product offerings for businesses. The company was among the first MSOs to offer high-speed broadband services (50 to 100 Mbps). A high-end, turnkey hosted voice service is likely to have appeal to the professional clients – hospitals, financial services clients, educational institutions, local government – Optimum already serves.

Whaleback Systems

Status: Currently offering HD voice service
Type: Hosted VoIP, turnkey service
Target market:  Businesses
IP PBX Platform:  BroadSoft
Phones supported:  Polycom
Number of HD voice customers/phones deployed: “Between 500 to 1,000 HD phones deployed”

Whaleback is a service provider based in New Hampshire.

Will be offering HD Voice service

Verizon Business
Status:  Company expected “early adopters” in 2010, general acceptance/availability in 2011
Type: Hosted, end-to-end turnkey service most likely
Target market: Enterprises, government, large organizations; Fortune 1000, multinationals.
IP PBX Platform: BroadSoft
Phones supported: Polycom, most likely Cisco as well

Verizon is currently “Drinking its own champagne” with HD and has installed nearly 5,000 Polycom HD phones at its corporate headquarters in Basking Ridge, New Jersey.  The company will likely implement another HD voice

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