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I could tell from just spending a little time on the phone with him, that Dan Hoffman was someone that needed to be included in this series. Dan, the CEO of Voice as a Service provider M5 Networks in New York City is one of those visionaries that is changing the way mid-sized businesses view their voice communications.

Dan’s company, M5 Networks, has been blazing a trail within the IP communications space as two time INC 5,000 company and also in the way they approach business voice communications. Rather then tout the “cheap minutes” that come with VoIP, M5 looks to show businesses how IP communications gives them better visibility into their entire business, allowing them to increase profitability at a global level.

Let’s take a look at what this software-as-a-service proponent has to say about the near future of VoIP.

Mobile VoIP was one sector of the industry that really took off in 2008, what sector(s) do you think will take off or see tremendous growth in 2009?

Early adopters are going to start doing meaningful things by connecting applications “cloud-to-cloud.” Salesforce is leading this charge, along with Google and Facebook … M5 has a web connector, Webex is in the mix, Broadsoft is running “mash-up” contests and the unleashed market will come up with some very creative combinations.

Mid-sized Main Street is joining Enterprises by running VoIP over their own WANS. MPLS and Ethernet technologies have matured. This opens up the world for people to get used to picking and choosing from best in-class voice applications companies.

That view lends perfectly to a software-as-a-services model for IP companies. Who are the VoIP companies to watch over the next six to twelve months? Who will have the hottest products and or will be releasing the most innovative or game changing services?

Cisco/Webex is expanding nicely to their left and right. Speech recognition giant Nuance is beginning to really penetrate the VoIP application space. And when you ask about VoIP companies to watch, we will all be watching the horrific implosions of traditional PBX vendors with the same fascination we enjoy watching old skyscrapers demolished by dynamite. This “creative destruction” will be game-changing.

That implosion has already begun, just look at Nortel. What consumer and or business market segments or verticals are the looking the most attractive for VoIP companies over the next six months to a year? Who are the consumers of this game-changing creative destruction?

Collections companies, private prisons conglomerates, and international drug cartels.

On the positive side, the SoHo & startup segment will boom as much the 15% of the population that is getting laid off start businesses and freelance. Businesses are desperately trying to untangle real estate costs and will drive telecommuting adoption. Home users cutting phone bills will accept cable bundles. And great mid-market service companies will use their cash to grab market-share and expand headcounts.

Do foresee any sizable shifts in the type of businesses that will be potentially migrating to VoIP in the next six months to a year? Are they the same as this year or will they be different?

Increasingly larger mid-size businesses – large law firms, recruiters, high-end restaurant groups are going to move now that their peers have.

Dan, some feel the VoIP industry will actually benefit from a recession, since consumers and businesses will be looking for low cost alternatives, while some feel that the industry will feel pain as well since many will look to put off technology and infrastructure improvements until more certain times, what’s your take?

Yes.

In the long run, older structures will crumble. IT groups will have to do less with more. People will need staff to collaborate more effectively, and the push for better sales and service will intensify à this will all drive VoIP adoption.

In the short-run, though, people are frozen in place waiting for the dust to settle. Worse, service provider’s recurring revenues will be under pressure as clients lay-off staff and close locations.

I agree. I am seeing the most pain in the enterprise and service provider space today. Since pain is here, what advice you offer to companies in the VoIP industry for the next year? What are you doing to make sure that your company continues to grow?

Plan for the worst and hope for the best. Lower your sales projections. Take good care of your current clients. Horde cash.

With the number of open source telephony platforms continuing to grow each month it seems, will open source telephony continue to grow in importance and prominence during 2009?

Yes. But the bigger movement is what matters- democratization of development. Ribbit signed up thousands of developers in a year and sold to BT for $100 million. Salesforce and Google are offering platforms that dramatically cut development costs and make application-creation cheap and fast. It might not be open source on-premise PBX that excites people – the movement is to getting rid of infrastructure and starting at a higher level in the stack. But end-users will script and integrate their way into some pretty innovative ways to communicate.

Will 2009 finally be the year that Unified Communications see a big “adoption rate” increase?

Unified Communications is growing because the term is growing. Now I see it used to encompass fixed-mobile conversion, CRM integration, and apple pie. Yes! If UC means higher-level voice applications that make it easier to communicate and easier to manage enterprise communications, then yes, the adoption rate will increase. The economy gives us no choice.

Take us home Dan…

In a connected and virtual and brutally competitive world, Voice is more important than ever. Voice is more software and less network than ever. Software is increasingly delivered “as a Service.” So Voice as a Service adoption will continue to accelerate in 2009.

Interested in having your or your company’s voice heard? Contact me to find out how to participate in this series.  

Garrett Smith

Garrett Smith is an author, consultant, and marketer with almost 20 years of experience selling and marketing VoIP solutions. Garrett has helped thousands of businesses select the right VoIP system over his career, in addition to helping hundreds of vendors, and dozens of service providers with their go to market strategies. This experience gives him a unique position in industry that allows him to cut through all the noise. Garrett has been named one of the most influential people in the VoIP, and has written over 3,000 articles about VoIP since 2004.

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