I recently had the opportunity to ask David Fridley, senior product manager of IP Telephony at Toshiba America Information Systems, about the evolution of the IP communications space and the direction his company is taking.
To learn more about the company, read this TMCnet article published earlier this year. Interestingly I am writing this on a Toshiba laptop and I subsequently found the last answer very interesting.
RT: Please outline your new corporate initiatives?
DF: Toshiba has reinvented itself from a provider of key/hybrid TDM systems to a provider of IP communication solutions for enterprises. Toshiba’s IP communication solutions are designed to drive business process integration and unified communications to create value, efficiency and maximum ROI for our customers. Toshiba will continue to enhance our global line of SIP-based unified communication products that encompass telephony and business process integration.
RT: How is IP Communication changing your company’s strategy?
DF: VoIP technology has enabled the development of more sophisticated networking, centralized management, centralized ACD, remote user, video, and mobility applications. It has also created the need for and the availability of more varied endpoint devices to meet the need for these applications. Toshiba has helped educate our dealers in the transition from TDM to IP technology on both their sales and technical sides. This has also enabled us to add new channels of resellers such as data VARs to our distribution channel.
RT: How has SIP changed communications?
DF: SIP is creating an environment in which it will be easier for applications to interoperate in order to provide new solutions to customers in single and multiple locations. Examples are SIP trunking creating cost savings, and presence using the one IP address concept to find you and communicate with you wherever you are on whatever endpoint device you are using.
RT: What is the biggest request coming from your customer base?
DF: High-demand items include cost-effective call center and business process integration solutions, SIP trunking, and remote office applications.
RT: How are you answering their demands?
DF: Toshiba has introduced many sophisticated and cost-effective call center applications over the past year. We already offer a complete portfolio and our R&D direction will continue to strengthen our call center suite. Toshiba is currently involved in interoperability testing of SIP trunking with several carriers and others are planned. We are also in development of a 1,200-line IP communication system planned for release in the first half of next year. Toshiba continues to strengthen our remote office IP solutions/applications by providing solutions for unified communications, video communications (now three-party and eight-party by year end) with collaboration and total feature transparency.
RT: What do you think the future of the market is?
DF: We expect strong growth in the U.S. telecom market in the coming years as the transition from TDM to IP systems continues and accelerates. SIP and unified communication applications will also create more demand for new systems.
The future is ripe with opportunities for companies like Toshiba who know how to provide the right products and choices to customers.
RT: How does the U.S. growth rate compare to the rest of the world?
DF: Reports from industry analysts project U.S. growth rate higher than Western Europe, but slower than other emerging markets such as Eastern Europe and CALA.
RT: What do you think of Google and Apple entering the telecom market?
DF: Google Talk, which enables voice calls and instant messaging, represents Google’s entry into the voice communications market with a free service that could potentially evolve into a more robust offering.
Apple’s introduction of the iPhone indicates strong potential for growth in the U.S. telecom market. Even though the iPhone is a retail product, it could potentially lead Apple into providing business VoIP endpoints.
RT: How about Microsoft?
DF: With a strong office application suite, extensive development resources and advertising budgets, Microsoft has the potential to be major contender in the telecom space. Toshiba has a long term and very deep relationship with Microsoft as a result of our notebook computer business. Just as with other major telecom players, we expect to work with Microsoft to provide solutions that deliver telephony functionality integrated with value-added business processes.
RT: How will wireless technologies change our market?
DF: Wireless technology will continue to create new IP communication applications. For example, the wireless LAN used to be just for data, but now it is used for both voice and data, supporting notebook computers using soft phones and IP wireless handsets. In the future, multi-function mobile phones will operate on both the internal IP communication platforms and WLAN/WIMAX infrastructure and external cell networks. Toshiba already offers soft phones on notebook PCs and PDAs. We also have a very robust mobile phone division that has developed dual-mode telephones that are currently deployed in Europe and Asia. We intend to leverage this to deliver a complete line of solutions for our U.S. enterprise business customers. This will be one of Toshiba’s differentiators.
RT: How will communications evolve over the next five years?
DF: The evolution from TDM to IP will continue and accelerate. This is stating the obvious, but it’s an important point because new IP-based technologies will make business communication systems more efficient and more cost-effective. New applications and capabilities will grow out of the unified communications architecture, one-number/IP address access, instant messaging and presence. We think the cost to provide integrated solutions will come down over this period making it much more accessible to all segments of the market. We plan to play a big roll in this evolution.
RT: What sorts of things will we be hearing about during your presentation at ITEXPO?
DF: In our session about video in the IP communication system, we’ll look at why organizations may want their employees to use video. We’ll provide examples of how video conferencing and collaboration can improve communication by adding visual effects and seeing the speaker’s true meaning and body language. We’ll take a step back and look at it from a management perspective.
In our session on network assessments, we’ll talk about the value of doing them in advance of the installation to make sure the network is ready for voice traffic. We’ll also discuss the value of ongoing networking assessments to keep up with changes to ensure voice quality of service as part of the network management process. We’ll give examples of some of the things that can go wrong, how to detect them, how to point the finger in the right direction, and how to be proactive in solving issues before they become problems.
RT: Why is your presentation a “Can’t miss”?
DF: Many people don’t understand the value of video because video is only one piece of the puzzle. Collaboration, along with video, provides many communication benefits. It’s not about seeing; it’s about strengthening the message and the relationship.
For our session on network assessments, we want to emphasize the value of doing them in advance as ongoing as part of the management process, to show how it saves money and headaches. It’s great fun to talk about the disasters — they are kind of like explosions in an action movie.
RT: What do you want the industry to know about your company?
DF: Toshiba has reinvented itself from a provider of key/hybrid TDM systems to a provider of IP communication solutions for enterprises. Toshiba has been consistently in the top 5 in IP system shipments throughout 2006 and the first half of 2007 (source: InfoTech). Toshiba has the industry’s best National Accounts Program (according to Yankee Group), and the industry’s best warranty program with standard two-year warranty and optional five or seven-year extended warranties.
Toshiba has the unique ability to bring new integrated voice/data/video solutions to the market by leveraging it’s “in house” resources. An example is Toshiba’s IP Video Communication Solution (VCS) in which Toshiba has leveraged technology from our broadcast equipment business and its consumer video products. Another example is Toshiba leveraging its Imaging Systems Division (ISD), producing some of the world’s best IP security and video surveillance systems, which add an important new level of security to its communications solutions by integrating these IP video security products into its telecom system. Toshiba is also leveraging the expertise of its Digital Products Division (DPD), producing some of the world’s best notebook PC products, in creating portable clients capable of new voice/data applications (i.e. soft phone).
RT: Please make one surprising prediction we will see in 5 years?
DF: Toshiba notebook computers will become significant endpoint devices, supporting IP telephony and mobility applications, as notebook PCs evolve into various form factors.
System programming will be more visual and object oriented making it easier for end users. This will drive ubiquitous deployment of business process integration across all sizes of enterprises.