Enterprise Communications


Aastra Bets on Hosted Communications for Future Growth

by Elka Popova 14 May 2013
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Aastra hosted its annual Aastra Analyst Conference last week (May 8 through May 10) which provided analysts with an update on the vendor’s portfolio roadmap and strategy for the global communications market. Not surprising, its research and development (R&D) efforts are focused on mobility, video, cloud/hosted, and social media for the contact center. A lot of the more interesting developments are still under non-disclosure agreements, so I am not going to provide an in-depth overview of Aastra’s entire product portfolio. I will only provide a brief perspective on its strategy for the hosted communications market.

As I noted in my blog post based on Enterprise Connect meetings and announcements, most private branch exchange (PBX)/unified communications and collaboration (UCC) vendors have launched hosted/cloud communications solutions. Some are using multi-tenant, others—multi-instance technologies. Business models vary widely in terms of how the infrastructure is deployed and managed and how the channel is involved in services sales, implementation, and management.

Aastra has had a multi-tenant solution probably longer than most other PBX/UCC vendors, but has mostly used it for large, on-premises enterprise deployments. The Clearspan platform is based on BroadSoft technology, but Aastra has wrapped around it other infrastructure elements such as operational support systems (OSS), session border controllers (SBCs), media gateways, and endpoints that make it a turn-key solution for service providers. For many carriers, managing constantly evolving technologies by third-party vendors can be a daunting task. It is becoming even more challenging as hosted communications platforms proliferate and providers look to hedge their bets by deploying several platforms and offering different options to their customer base. By offering a turn-key solution, Aastra positions Clearspan as an appealing option for service providers looking to reduce costs and risks associated with the deployment of hosted communications solutions.

As a multi-tenant platform developed specifically for service provider networks, Clearspan offers cost-effective scalability, enabling providers to target the entire spectrum of business sizes. It also offers an advanced feature set developed over the past decade and continually enhanced by BroadSoft. Clearspan delivers PBX; audio, web, and video conferencing; fixed-mobile convergence (FMC); contact center; presence; and instant messaging (IM) functionality on desktop phones, personal computers (PC)/laptops, and mobile devices. It also natively supports session initiation protocol (SIP) trunking. As it is based on open standards it enables flexible integrations with third-party platforms and solutions (such as Microsoft Outlook and Lync and GoogleTalk).

For many years, Aastra has provided endpoints to BroadSoft’s customer base and is, therefore, able to deploy a broad range of phone terminals with the Clearspan platform. In addition to multiple desktop phone models, customers using a service based on the Clearspan platform can use video on the BluStar 8000i or access their communications capabilities (including call control, soft phone, call logs, and federated services such as GoogleTalk) on their PCs, laptops, and mobile devices using the Clearspan Communicator UC client application. For indoor mobility, customers also have a choice of SIP DECT phones.

One of the biggest challenges for service providers, however, is the deployment of an OSS that eases the service provisioning and management burden.  While many BroadSoft partners start with solutions such as Loki from Leonid or Revchain, each provider’s business and operations processes require some degree of customization. Therefore, such off-the-shelf solution frameworks are configured to interface with the specific OSS/BSS within each provider’s operations environment in order to satisfy their specific business needs.

Aastra packages the Clearspan platform with its OpEasy operations, administration, maintenance and provisioning (OAM&P) tool, which enables a single sign-on as well as flexible system and endpoints provisioning. It simplifies ongoing platform management for service providers and delivers extensive reporting. Furthermore, OpEasy is used by end customers to quickly and easily provision new users and to do their own moves, adds, and changes (MACs).

Aastra delivers professional services to further facilitate implementation. In addition, Aastra can provide a fully managed service whereby the infrastructure resides at the service provider network but Aastra assumes all responsibility for managing the solution.

Aastra has seen some early success in the education vertical with specialized service provider Internet2. Internet2 delivers IT and communications services to multiple education and research organizations in the United States and globally. Aastra and Internet2 entered into a partnership a year ago and the service went live in January 2013. Since then the provider has deployed services with 5 end-customer organizations (including Texas A&M University and Tulane University), has received commitments from 4 other organizations, and is running pilots with 6 more. The majority of its customers are currently deploying hosted PBX functionality, but there is interest in deploying additional UCC capabilities in the future. Internet2 offers its customers compelling pricing and all the benefits of outsourced, cloud-based communications: flexibility, faster access to advanced capabilities, and reduced risk of technology obsolescence. Internet2 packages the Aastra hosted PBX solution with SIP trunking services from Level 3 Communications. Internet2 is very pleased with its relationship with Aastra and the demand for the hosted solution it is seeing from customer organizations.

With its turn-key solution Aastra delivers choices and thus greater value to existing and future customers. It is well positioned to defend its customer base against other vendors and service providers offering hosted/cloud communications and to also expand its reach among businesses currently deploying Centrex or other vendors’ PBXs. Clearspan can also be integrated with other platforms already deployed on the premises where hybrid environments can provide greater benefits to the customer organization.

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