by Dave Michels

Is HP a UC player?

And if so, “Player” as in vendor or poser?

The hot part of UC right now is mobility – and HP doesn’t seem to be in that space. Although that could still change. I’ve written before that HP’s best play with WebOS was a business pad – no one can beat Apple right now in the consumer space – but industrial tablets have potential. The next UPS pad, the NursePad that has a port for stethoscope, BP cuff, and temp sensor. The pad-store in the back of airline seats – but Leo didn’t agree with me.

Leo didn’t think HP should be in video conferencing either. He gave HP Halo to Polycom. Technically the deal had a price tag of $89 million, but it was “accretive upon close” according to Andy Miller – CEO Polycom. That means they paid very little for Halo, and most of the $89 million went toward the exclusivity deal with HP and the finger to Vidyo and Cisco.

HP bought 3Com, but has been quiet on NBX.

HP has a strategic partnership with Mitel which amounts to both companies strongly preferring that customers don’t use Cisco gear. Even more recently and with a similar motivation, HP has become a reseller of ShoreTel Mobility. ShoreTel Mobility does not require ShoreTel phone systems, and is targeted at enterprise users.

Does that make HP an enterprise UC player?

In 2009, HP and Microsoft made noise about expanding their “alliance in Unified Communications and Collaboration.” This included a $180 million investment toward product development, professional services and joint sales and marketing. That’s a lot of money for some companies – but not sure what it buys at HP and MS. Certainly, not a lot of product development. Help me out here, but I can’t think of much – they have the SBA solution for Lync on the HP switch with the zl module and they recently announced new phones for Lync – anything else?

The idea of putting telephony on a LAN switch is pretty good – but Aastra went further by putting an entire call manager rather than branch office solution on that same HP zl module.

Let’s talk about these new Lync phones. First off, why the world needs new identical phones is unclear to me. Microsoft designed these phones and licensed them originally to Polycom and then to Aastra. These are proprietary VoIP phones and have nothing in common with these vendors’ industry leading SIP phones. In fact, because MS designed the phones, both brands use largely identical hardware components and fail to leverage either brands’ reputation (Polycom speaker quality and Aastra APIs). Either vendor is capable of meeting total demand alone – but are already sharing with uninvited Snom.

Snom didn’t pay a licensing fee (initially), nor design a new phone. Snom reverse engineered OCS and then supported Lync on their SIP phones. Snom phones were less expensive (no license fee, no separate parts, no separate models) and more versatile (SIP and Lync). Of course, the solution was not supported by Microsoft, but a cheaper phone was actually in Microsoft’s best interest. Yada yada yada and the firms worked it all out and agreed to play together – or pay together. Snom had to buy a Lync “Qualified” stamp of approval from Microsoft. In fact, the “Qualified” stamp was created for Snom and how it differs from fully supported is buried somewhere. The stamp must be expensive though as Snom only did this to one phone – even though they all use the same firmware.

Microsoft is the only enterprise telephony player that does not directly support SIP phones. It is also the only vendor that has third party brands on its proprietary phones. Microsoft does the design, but has no manufacturing or distribution costs – yet still realizes revenue from phone sales. It’s a fascinating strategy really, but three vendors seemed enough.

Now I told you all that so I can tell you this. Rumor has it that Snom is actually making the HP phones. That keeps Polycom, Aastra, and Snom in their desktop phone battle. Now HP jumps in with branding only – no manufacture or design. I wonder how the business model/profit compares of selling the phones versus selling the right to sell.

So I’m thinking HP is a UC poser.