Microsoft recently announced that Teams had 115 million daily active users, up from just 20 million a year ago. Zoom had been growing rapidly before the pandemic hit (see graph below), and has seen a similar dramatic spike since March.
As more and more businesses rely on these platforms – not only for video, but for voice communications in general – traditional telcos are left with a problem.
How does a local carrier provide value when businesses are relying on Teams and Zoom?
We discussed this question a lot during our virtual conference last week, and I should start by saying that I don’t think there’s an easy answer to this question. However, I think the following two approaches are worth exploring.
#1 Provide a SIP trunk
For decades businesses of a certain size have run their own internal phone system. It’s called a PBX. Historically those PBXs needed PSTN connectivity to function, and you, as the local telco, provided that PSTN connectivity via a PRI or SIP trunk.
Teams and Zoom Phone are a little different in that they can optionally provide PSTN connectivity themselves (through partnerships with large national IXCs who provide the numbers) but they both also allow businesses to connect to a third-party SIP trunk.
In Teams this is referred to as Direct Routing, and in Zoom it’s referred to as Bring Your Own Carrier. In both cases you can provide a SIP trunk connection from the communications platform to the PSTN. [Note that with Teams you need to use a certified SBC to provide Direct Routing, so there’s some complexity that we won’t get into here.]
Since you already own numbers in your market, offering SIP trunks at competitive rates to businesses where you already have a relationship should allow you to keep working with these business customers, even if they start using Teams or Zoom Phone for their soft client.
#2 Build a service around Zoom / Teams
Not every business is going to want all their phone numbers to be associated solely with desktop clients. While this may be a great solution for some phone lines, other roles within the business will be best served by a desk phone, some other kind of mobile app (such as Max UC Mobile, in the Metaswitch ecosystem), or even a traditional POTS line (for fax machines, alarm systems, etc).
If you are providing the SIP trunk, then you can integrate those Teams / Zoom users into a larger group of business phone lines (by putting the PBX inside a business group, if you’re on Metaswitch), thereby allowing businesses to build a hybrid solution.
I’ve long said that one way local ILECs can remain relevant is through the quality of their local customer service, and this is another area where you can use your personalized support and sales staff to design a solution that makes sense for this particular business – using a communications platform like Team or Zoom as a component – but it doesn’t have to be the complete solution.
I’m sure the landscape will continue to evolve, but as things stand in the fall of 2020, local service providers still have a crucial role to play – and these new software communications applications are just one more tool to help build a solution for your business customers.