NEC UNIVERGE BLUE: What’s New, What’s Next?

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Simplification is the name of the game with the latest updates to NEC’s UNIVERGE BLUE unified communications as-a-service (UCaaS). The company has been looking at ways to make it easier for channel partners to position, sell and support the cloud-based service, and focus group feedback has resulted in several recent advancements. These include new dealer-friendly and hospitality pricing models (Net Pricing), a more responsive self-service portal (developed in-house), newly configured user bundles (more options for all user types) and a new family of telephones compatible with other NEC platforms (investment protection).

UNIVERGE BLUE is available directly from NEC and through NEC channel partners in the United States and now in Canada (European coverage is planned). To date, over 200 NEC partners have signed up to sell the subscription-based UCaaS service in addition to NEC’s on-premises telephony equipment portfolio.

NEC’s cloud service uses the company’s UNIVERGE 3C as the core software. Using the same software stream for both the premises and the cloud offer makes hybrid configurations possible in which a business can install telephony equipment on-site and/or utilize cloud services according to their particular business communications needs and requirements – the same familiar features are available in either deployment model. For example, the UNIVERGE BLUE cloud service can act as a disaster recovery solution for an on-premises UNIVERGE 3C system, or vice versa. Or, businesses that have installed the UNIVERGE 3C at a main office can subscribe to the UNIVERGE BLUE cloud service at branch locations.

What’s New?

  • NET Pricing: A new UNIVERGE BLUE pricing model allows dealers to purchase user licenses (Basic, Standard and Premium seat types) from NEC at a fixed cost and then set the pricing according to local market economics and competition. The new NET Pricing model is available with monthly, three- and five-year contracts. NEC also offers a similar concept for its cloud-based hospitality solution, with fixed NEC prices for three seat types (Guest Room, Front Desk Phone and Amenity Phone) that can be subsequently marked-up by the reseller.
  • Self-service: Based on dealer feedback, NEC has developed a new self-service portal for dealers that simplifies the ordering and quoting process (the earlier portal was developed by a third party vendor). The new portal is also designed to be “responsive” in that the user experience is the same whether the portal is accessed on a desktop or on a mobile smartphone or tablet.
  • User Bundles: Currently, NEC offers three user seat types, Basic, Standard and Premium, but has made some changes within each package to help simplify the offer and to add more options. NEC has eliminated the Essentials package introduced in late 2015, folding the Essentials elements into a single Basic package which now includes basic telephony features, voicemail and 50 minutes of long distance calling (previously, voicemail and LD were extra fees). A number of package options are available now for all seat types, including UC WiFi Mobility – Softphone, UC Fax (inbound) and Audio Conferencing, with additional cloud applications for Emergency Conferencing, Desktop Collaboration and Mass Notification coming soon.
  • New Phones: Two new phone models, the desi-less (self-labeling) NEC DT820 6-button and 8-button phones (with licenses for 16 or 24 keys), replace the earlier DT700 series which has reached end-of-life status. The DT820 phones are compatible with NEC’s premises-based UNIVERGE SV9000 systems which helps protect customer investments should they migrate from the SV9000 to the UNIVERGE BLUE cloud service. UNIVERGE BLUE customers can also select SIP phones from Polycom, and support for NEC’s UT800 next-generation desktop phone is coming soon (see below).
  • International Coverage: In addition to the U.S., NEC now offers UNIVERGE BLUE in the Canadian market. European coverage is planned.

What’s Next?

  • Video: NEC has a new partnership with video communication and collaboration solution provider Vidyo in which NEC channel partners will be able to offer NEC-branded room, desk and mobile video collaboration solutions, either on-premises or in the cloud. We can expect some forward-looking solutions as NEC integrates the Vidyo technology with its own solutions to create new vertical applications for healthcare, hospitality, education, financial and other industries. For example, NEC is looking to combine Vidyo technology with its biometrics solutions to provide a second level of authentication in point-of-sale scenarios and at ATM machines, or for time and attendance verification in distance learning applications, among other use cases.
  • Next-Gen Endpoint: NEC’s high-end UT880 desktop telephone will be available soon for UNIVERGE BLUE customers (this model is already available with NEC UNIVERGE SV9000 communication servers). UT880 combines a traditional desktop phone and an Android tablet into one device designed to enable easy access to NEC’s UC Suite Client with a corporate directory, presence, instant messaging unified messaging and call control. Integrated video cameras enable two-way video conferencing, allowing virtual receptionists, for example, to greet visitors through the display from a remote location. NEC and its partners are actively developing applications that run on the phone, including some unique, converged applications such as incorporating NEC’s biometrics solutions (facial recognition) for security purposes or for recognizing priority guests in a retail or hospitality environment.
  • Expanded Services: Look for UNIVERGE BLUE to expand its menu of services to include a wider array of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings, more subscription packages tailored for specific verticals and micro-verticals, and improved versatility with hybrid public and private cloud deployments.

Businesses are increasingly evaluating the cloud alternative for their communications needs, and NEC is actively helping its customers with this migration by promoting hybrid cloud deployments, speeding up the provisioning process and minimizing set up fees and other non-recurring costs. In addition, NEC’s expertise across such a broad spectrum of technologies (including UC&C and IT) make for some really unique integrations and innovations. This, along with some strategic partnerships, puts NEC in a good position to address the challenges and requirements of businesses into the future. Stay tuned.

Sandra Gustavsen