June 2020 Insider Report
The Most Important Enterprise Communications News from June 2020
Whadda Month! I figured I was going to skip Covid-19 this month. But, the story of the year applies to June as well. The collective sigh of relief many of us felt last month was premature. Not only does this virus continue to spread, but the US is coming up short compared to other countries. The first wave continues to rage. Stores, cities, states, and borders that reopened are reclosing. The White House has resumed Covid briefings. Europe is reopening, but keeping its borders closed to Americans. The WHO Chief says the worst is yet to come. If the optimistic ending is a vaccine, we aren’t even halfway through this pandemic.
But, the virus wasn’t the only story. White Americans are getting a crash education on the burdens African-Americans endure. The education will continue, as will the protests and violence against protestors. #BlackLivesMatter has dovetailed into a political realignment. It appears now that Americans are ready to reject Trumpism this fall.
Tying these threads together is what increasingly is looking like a prolonged economic depression. So far, enterprise communications has done ok during the pandemic, but past recessions have been brutal on the industry. Federal debt surged past $26T this month, partially accelerated by coronavirus stimulus packages. Unfortunately, we have little to show for the investments. Bankruptcies continue, and unemployment is high and growing.
June was also about activism. This goes well beyond the protestors in the streets. Twitter, Reddit, Twitch, and even (to a lesser extent) Facebook got more active in content moderation. Several companies like Amazon and Cisco became more vocal around #BlackLivesMatter, and 300+ advertisers joined a boycott of Facebook.
In June, there was more government involvement in tech. It has been building for a while with large, high-profile hacks, trade wars, election interference issues, facial recognition, and more. It is reasonable in that many of the largest and most influential companies today are tech companies, plus our society is more connected than ever. This month had several government stories including antitrust, app store regulation, Huawei, transcontinental cables, encryption technologies, social network policies, tech visas, Covid tracing apps, net neutrality, and more.
I’d like to call your attention to an upcoming battle that will impact enterprise communications – encryption. The upcoming confrontation is hidden inside attacks on Section 230. Both Trump and Biden want to change or even revoke Section 230 of the ‘96 Communications Decency Act (but for different reasons). This mostly applies to online forums and social networks, but it could impact (and conflict with) enterprise communications.
Traditionally, publishers are responsible for the content they produce. This didn’t seem right with online forums, so Congress approved Section 230. It was 1996, AOL ruled, and Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist. Section 230 draws a distinction between a content publisher and a distributor, and distributors are not liable for user-generated content. Companies like Facebook and Twitter are distributors. They have general policies about content, but do not moderate, edit, or control content that their policies allow.
Things heated up this month when, first Twitter, and then others took more aggressive actions regarding Trump’s use of their platforms. It’s actually a fascinating free speech scenario. Yelling “fire” in a crowded room (without a fire) is not protected under free speech, so where’s this misinformation line, and should these policies be equally applied to the President of the United States?
Changes to Section 230 pose an existential threat to social networks (as we know them). There are at least two intersections with enterprise communications: First, workstream collaboration and enterprise social are indeed online forums that might be impacted. The bigger concern is that several of the proposed changes restrict end-to-end (E2E) encryption. Simultaneously, several enterprise communications providers are embracing end-to-end encryption (E2EE).
Section 230 is complex. It has done a lot of good and effectively enabled Facebook and Twitter to become what they are. It is also responsible for tons of misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories, hate speech, election interference, and more. The solution to 230 is not clear. So far though everything proposed seems worse.
Cisco Live: Cisco Live was delayed to make room for #BlackLivesMatter protests. The Collaboration unit made several meetings-related announcements, including Control Hub updates for improved management of meeting rooms for improvised utilization/capacity and cleaning management. Control Hub also got improved visibility into hybrid environments. A new extended security pack unifies DLP and compliance (Meetings and Teams). There is also a new connector with EPIC for telehealth and a new integration with Box for content sharing and management. Cisco also rolled out expanded E2E encryption updates. Video: Cisco Live Interview.
Teams Meetings News: Teams increased its max meeting capacity to 300 participants. Microsoft has separate apps for meetings and events, so this reduces the need to use Live Events. Teams also added a “Meet Now” button inside channels. In the name of privacy, PSTN numbers are now hidden to external users (should be all users). Organizers can now bypass the dreaded lobby. MS certified more SBCs. I don’t expect the acquisition of Metaswitch to hurt other SBC partners. Related: TalkingPointz (premium) Research on Microsoft and Metadata.
Microsoft intends to expand its gallery view to enable 49 visible participants (no date provided). My question is who wanted this? I am not sure this would be possible in a browser, but Teams users tend to prefer the client. It’s technically possible, but it doesn’t seem that practical. I hope it works on smartphones. I will note that I’ve had challenges with much smaller layouts on Teams.
Cisco Webex Expert on Demand: Google’s glasses were fun, but not ready for prime time in the field. Webex Expert on Demand lets you operate the RealWear HMT-1 hands-free. Its integration with Webex supports hands-free voice and head gesture commands to send what field staff say and see to remote experts. I think this headgear thing has legs. The concept will expand into firstline solutions and video-enabled contact centers.
Teams Free Offers Meetings: The free version of Microsoft Teams now allows users to create video meetings. Of course it does. I still expect Microsoft to allow users to create video meetings without Teams (as a core 365 feature tied to Outlook).
Zoom Frees E2EE: It didn’t take long for Zoom to reverse its position on E2E encryption. Zoom doesn’t yet offer E2E encryption, but intends to in an effort to shed its lax security past. E2E encryption is not that common in enterprise video (and messaging). Zoom announced its new secure model would only be available to paid customers — a reasonable distinction from its freemium offer.
The backlash was severe and duplicitous. Evidently, Zoom’s free users have higher expectations for security than paid users of MS Teams, BlueJeans, Pexip, and many more. To be fair, Zoom does straddle business and consumer use cases, and consumers have more secrets. Even more bizarre is Facebook’s WhatsApp offers E2EE. Zoom cited several consumer use cases in its decision to add E2EE to its free plan.
Lifesize E2EE: Lifesize announced end-to-end encryption (E2EE) for all group and point-to-point video conferencing calls across cloud and/or premises-based devices. As part of the release, which will be automatically deployed on a rolling basis in Q3 2020, all Lifesize customers globally will be able to end-to-end encrypt any video meeting using Lifesize desktop, mobile, web clients, and/or Lifesize meeting rooms. Lifesize is using the Insertable Streams approach recently demonstrated by 8x8 Jitsi. “Lifesize Codeword” uses a pronounceable fake word created on the fly using the public key. A visible watermark is added underneath the video for quick confirmation.
2020 is the year for E2EE at Zoom, 8x8, and Lifesize. Cisco too is expanding its E2EE offers. I did not expect Lifesize to beat Zoom. I’ve previously prognosticated a major implosion of video services, and E2EE may be the antidote to the Microsoft and Google dominated category. Of course, as with all E2EE solutions, this will break AI and other cloud-delivered features.
GlobalMeet Updates: PGi rolled out several new GlobalMeet Collaboration enhancements this month that include G Suite integration, a virtual whiteboard, and mobile scheduling. #WFH has been a big deal for conferencing companies. Good to see PGi eliminating some of these gaps. PGi reported a surge of 700% in webcam usage for virtual meetings.
Google Meet: Google confirmed to The Verge that background blur and background replacement are coming to Meet. Google also announced a deeper integration between Gmail and Meet on mobile. Now, Gmail on Android and iOS allows users to join the meeting from the inbox. That may seem minor, but it eliminates the need to separately install the Meet mobile app. There is also a new Meet tab on Gmail mobile that shows upcoming meetings.
Background manipulation is the killer feature of video meetings. Zoom first, MS last month, Cisco this month, and Google soon. Rumor has it that Google is focused on improving Meet, so expect more updates. I wonder if Google will be using the same Google Cloud NVIDIA processors that Avaya is using to create AI features for its Spaces application?
AudioCodes Insights: Meeting Insights enables companies to capture, organize, and share meeting content with key team members and stakeholders throughout the company. It offers recording, transcription, real-time action items, note-taking, and meeting summarization. It includes a voice assistant (Mia) and integrates with popular cloud services including calendaring.
Many of the conferencing providers are expanding into AI-related services such as transcription, notes, and action items. But what about workers who use multiple meeting platforms? AudioCodes is positioning its new Meeting Insights as a cross-platform meeting solution. It’s a clever pivot into a new, emerging area as commoditization chips away at many of its older hardware-based products.
Zoom into Spaces: Avaya integrated Spaces with Zoom.ai (not Zoom.us) for AI-enhanced scheduling services. It drives me crazy that we (as individuals, corporations, and vendors) must address scheduling pitfalls, when it should be Microsoft and Google (the calendar makers) updating/innovating their calendar duopoly. Scheduling is the weak link in collaboration. I’ve vented about this multiple times, here’s one from 2015 (never gets old). Also, Spaces is now available in more EMEA countries.
Lifesize and Alexa: Lifesize said it will offer native integration with Alexa for Business to enable voice-activated controls in existing meeting room systems. Lifesize and AWS will offer 90 days of complimentary service for joint customers to trial Lifesize with Alexa for Business. Lifesize also intends to offer name-based calling. Lifesize is not the first to implement Alexa, and probably won’t be the last. To my knowledge, this dog don’t hunt.
Neat Portfolio Expansion: Neat came out of stealth last October with purpose-built hardware for Zoom Rooms – a collaboration bar and controller (Neat Bar and Neat Pad). This month, Neat announced that Neat Pad is now available as a controller for any Zoom Room video system, including PC-based Zoom Rooms systems (instead of an iPad), and as a scheduling display outside the room (regardless of whether it’s a Zoom Room). Neat wants businesses to stop using consumer devices that are plagued with OS updates, theft, and battery complexities.
The Neat Board was teased at Zoomtopia when Neat came out of stealth. This month, the Neat Board became available for pre-order and is expected to ship this fall. You can learn more about the Board on Neat’s new website.
Zoom Hardware Certification: Zoom expanded and formalized its hardware certification program for Zoom Phone and Zoom Room equipment. I generally prefer open solutions for hardware, though it doesn’t seem as restrictive as Microsoft’s invitation-only approach. Zoom first requires partners to apply, and it appears there are guidelines and requirements to accept. The Zoom Room Appliances are even more restricted. There is a third-party testing requirement which is good.
Poly claims to be the first partner to complete the process, and its Studio X30 and X50 bars and its G7500 system are now Zoom certified. The Zoom video app will now run natively on these devices, which are also now manageable via the Zoom Device Management software.
Nest Hub Max Calling: The device options for a Google Assistant keep increasing. The Nest Hub Max has a screen and is slowly becoming an interesting video device. This month, Google announced US customers can make (via voice UI) group video calls with Duo and Google Meet on the Hub Max. The device supports calls with up to 100 participants. Like the Facebook Portal, the Hub Max was built and launched for consumers, but it is supported for business users too (on G Suite). These devices are too cute for now, but offer an interesting glimpse into the future of the phone. Video first, voice UI, and no-curl cords, buttons, or handset.
Post: 5 Trends in the Contact Center
Paul Segre Leaves Genesys: Segre joined Alcatel-Lucent in 1998. He worked his way up while the contact center division worked its way out of ALU. Genesys was formed in 2002. Segre held the positions of CTO, COO, and CEO. In May of 2019, Genesys named Tony Bates its new CEO and Segre as Chairman. This month, about a year later, we learned that Segre is retiring (from Genesys). The news was announced on social media.
18 years is a helluva run for any executive. As Genesys has been private, I can’t speak to his success other than keeping the board happy — at least until 2019. He made a bold and smart move to acquire ININ, and he very effectively benefited from Avaya’s Chapter 11. See this TalkingPointz video on UCC leadership turnover.
elevēo: Zoom International (not Zoom conferencing) shall henceforth be known as elevēo. Though Zoom International is (2x) older, the conferencing company likely caused some brand confusion. That’s unfortunate as rebranding is so expensive, and unfortunate because I’m not long on standalone WFO companies. Evidently, all the capitalized names were taken.
Genesys WEM: Genesys announced a new division for WEM headed by CMO Merijn te Booij. It’s not a surprise that Genesys is expanding its focus on WEM as these tools are becoming increasingly intertwined with CCaaS. Booij believes that WEM is where innovation will happen and expects it to be a big part of Genesys’ focus over the next five years. He believes that WEM will emerge as a major CCaaS differentiator. Joyce Kim was named as the new CMO. Kim is new to Genesys and previously served as CMO and Chief Digital Officer for Arm.
Five9 Virtual Assistant: Five9 announced its new Intelligent Virtual Assistant (IVA) is generally available. The concept of virtual assistants isn’t new, but this is an interesting take. Five9 took the Google CCAI technology and complemented it with technology from Inference. The result is a no-code/low-code solution for managing conversational data with a visual interface. It can be used in virtual agent, chatbot, or augmented agent models. It supports WaveNet, human-like speech, and offers TTS in 17 languages.
PGi: PGi announced several enhancements to its GlobalMeet Collaboration platform, including integration with Google Calendar, a virtual whiteboard, mobile app enhancements, and support for more windows in larger meetings.
Mideast Bot: Avaya is powering what it claims to be the first digital engagement banking bot in UAE. The solution uses technology from Avaya and Koopid and allows customers to transition to a browser-based chat session with a virtual agent. The system authenticates customers, interprets their inquiries and intent, and resolves via an interface with bank systems.
Serenova Gone: Lifesize and Serenova completed their merger (announced last March) under the Lifesize brand. Craig Malloy of Lifesize remains the CEO, and Josh Kivenko and Rick Froehlich were named as CMO and CRO. John Lynch, previous CEO of Serenova, is SVP of CCaaS. It’s an unusual combination, but it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who thinks CCaaS may have a visual future.
Incremental Connect: Amazon Connect received several incremental capabilities in June. Developers can now configure call flows even after the agent disconnects (surveys, place a call back in queue, etc.). Also, filtering options were expanded. For example, based on the number of contacts in a blended queue, the contact flow designer can calculate the effective hold time to manage the duration a customer spends waiting. My POV: It’s about time. Lastly, Polly’s Neural TTS Voices are now higher quality. The new neural voices are available in eight US English, three UK English, one Spanish, and one Portuguese voice.
UJET Collaboration: UJET and Calabrio are teaming up. CCaaS isn’t CC. A deep integration is a start, but I expect every CCaaS provider will eventually offer a native solution for WEM.
Genesys Cloud: Amazon announced that Genesys selected AWS as its preferred provider for its public cloud contact center platform, Genesys Cloud. Not too surprising as PureCloud was built on AWS by ININ. Genesys also leverages several AWS services for compute, database, analytics, ML, storage, and security. The company is indeed a multicloud company as it announced last January a partnership with Azure for hosting services related to Genesys Engage.
Getting Back with Verint: Verint introduced new capabilities within its WEM solution to facilitate the transition back to the office. New workflows create schedules that account for skill level, channels, traffic demand, etc., that also accommodate staggered start times, building or workspace capacity, and scheduling requests. The solution also considers necessary employee health checks and time for hygiene. General rule, reexamine everything post virus.
Cisco Live: Cisco Live was delayed to make room for #BlackLivesMatter protests. The Collaboration unit made several meetings-related announcements, including Webex Calling Service Assurance provides administrators advanced tools, telemetry, and insights. Cisco introduced a new conference phone optimized for Webex. It offers the Webex UI with a new touch-free capability, proximity controls, and content-sharing capabilities. Cisco also previewed its new eco-friendly 8800 Series IP phones made from 100% post-consumer resin. Cisco also upgraded its Webex and Jabber integrations for simplified Webex calling for Microsoft Teams and Slack clients.
Fuze Success Plans: Fuze announced Success Plans, a set of services, resources, and practices. Fuze Success Plans are an add-on to its standard services, and come in three levels: Core, Enhanced, and Premier. They offer many benefits including services to facilitate adoption.
This is a clever solution to the price vs. service tradeoff. It allows Fuze to have a competitive price and position advanced support services as an option for those who value them. It’s intended to last for the duration of the relationship, but most of the value seems to be around initial deployment services such as training and adoption. I wonder if providers can create class-like experiences that bundle additional terms or features with optional higher rates as the airlines do. For example, would customers pay a higher monthly rate for increased SLA penalties or more flexibility in contract terms?
Masarek Departs Vonage: After six years at Vonage, Alan Masarek joins the X-Comms-CEO club, a rapidly growing group. Masarek is also leaving the board. Masarek steered Vonage from an unprofitable consumer telephone business to a profitable provider of business communications. Vonage owns and controls its UCaaS, CCaaS, video, and CPaaS stacks. Few details are known about why Masarek is leaving, but it’s widely speculated that activist investors wanted a change. The fact that Gartner was unwilling to include Vonage in past UCaaS MQs may have contributed to its stubborn valuation. We know little about his replacement, Rory Read. Most recently, Read was the President and CEO of Virtustream, and he previously served as EVP of Dell Boomi.
Teams Calling: Microsoft made some interesting updates to the Teams phone experience. The new People App is more integrated with Teams and supports Teams Groups. Endpoints now support real-time captions during meetings and group calls. Also, phone users can now “raise hand” just like desktop meeting participants. And there is a coordinated lock function that works with both endpoints and desktop clients. These are really clever features. I vented many times how most UCaaS providers undervalue the phone. It’s an always-on, connected endpoint that should enable differentiation.
Cisco Webex Work: Cisco introduced a new bundle for channel partners that includes meetings, team messaging, and (VAR or SP) calling capabilities in a single subscription. The Webex Work bundle is intended to streamline the purchasing process with a compelling value. It uses a utility pricing model that has committed and flexible counts of users per month.
C-Collab Leadership Changes: Cisco named Jeetu Patel as the leader of its new Security and Applications business group which includes the collaboration business. Patel is a direct report to the CEO and has responsibility for Collaboration, Applications, and (bonus) Security. He starts on August 3.
Though a new position, it is similar to the role previously held by Rowan Trollope. Trollope reported directly to the CEO and was responsible for the Collaboration unit and App Dynamics (an acquisition he spearheaded). When Trollope departed, App Dynamics was moved to SVP Goeckler, who left Cisco last March.
Javed Khan was promoted to SVP/GM of Collaboration and will directly report to Patel. Khan previously led the Meetings and then Calling businesses and has been acting as the unit’s leader for the past quarter. Sri Srinivasan was named the unit’s leader when Chang went on leave last March. Srinivasan also took leave, and is expected now to return to a role outside of Collaboration.
Patel has 20+ years of senior leadership experience and previously served as the Chief Product Officer and Chief Strategy Officer at Box. Prior to that, his roles included GM and CEO of the Syncplicity business unit of EMC and President of Doculabs. See this TalkingPointz video on UCC leadership turnover.
This completes the previously announced new org structure of five groups: Emerging Technologies and Incubation, led by Liz Centoni; Core Hardware Platforms, led by Eyal Dagan; Mass-Scale Infrastructure, led by Jonathan Davidson; and Enterprise Networking and Cloud, led by Todd Nightingale.
No Jive: LogMeIn has officially renamed Jive to GoToConnect. This merger has been communicated since March 2019. The UCaaS service is typically bundled with GoToMeeting conferencing.
ACO Expansion: Avaya ACO by RingCentral availability is rapidly expanding internationally. New Master Agents include Synnex and Telarus in Canada; ScanSource, Westcon, and Avant in the UK (presumably Western Europe); and CommsPlus in Australia.
Avaya has not yet provided any information on ACO traction, however, RingCentral shared with Jefferies that ACO is tracking to expectations and gaining traction with partners and end customers. Also, it will expand to the Netherlands, Ireland, and France this fall. ACO success is important to Avaya (and RingCentral) as it can quickly leverage the installed base, transform its channel, and drag devices and additional cloud-delivered services.
The Blue Up North: NEC announced the general availability of its new NEC UNIVERGE BLUE CONNECT UCaaS and ENGAGE CCaaS solutions in Canada. The expansion is on schedule, with most of Europe planned later this year. Related: TalkingPointz (Premium) Research on NEC and Intermedia.
RingCentral Ignites: RingCentral expanded its channel programs with the launch of IGNITE! for deals of 400 seats or fewer. The new program is an expansion of the Channel Harmony program. Certified IGNITE! partners will be able to independently manage the sales process. Larger deals should continue to go through the Channel Harmony program that offers sales assistance from RingCentral.
Ribbon Takes on Robocalls: Ribbon Communications introduced Ribbon Call Trust to mitigate robocalls. Ribbon Call Trust uses ML techniques to validate a caller’s identity, intent, and reputation. The Identity Hub processes identity data and ML-based reputation assessments. Admins can run nuisance, fraud, and other models for all calls. Call Trust integrates with Ribbon’s analytics and STIR/SHAKEN signing and verification services.
Vonage Zaps: Vonage launched a new integration with Zapier. Customers can build actions (Zaps) to trigger SMS messaging, screen pops, call tracking, and other automations. Businesses today, especially those within regulated industries, need communications that are inherently extensible, offering the ability to customize and create solutions to meet their own unique requirements — without the need for developer expertise.
UCaaS for Teams: Remember when all the comms providers integrated with SfB? Coopetition is always complex. Microsoft directly offers two approaches to calling: The first is its own direct UCaaS which is limited in features and global reach. And, a BYOC option known as Direct Routing. Initially, Direct Routing was about SIP trunks, but now several UCaaS providers are leveraging direct routing to create robust integrations. It is easy to forget that UCaaS providers are carriers or carrier-like. These new integrations effectively blend calling and carrier services. This month we saw two such announcements from 8x8 and RingCentral (8x8 Voice for Teams and RingCentral Cloud PBX for Microsoft Teams).
The Direct Routing option can enable improved call control, simplified licensing, better call queues, expanded global reach, contact center services, and more. I believe Direct Routing is Microsoft’s preference for organizations to obtain UCaaS on Teams. It is much less effort (compliance, 911, taxes, and regulation) for Microsoft, yet it still retains full control over the experience.
G Suite Tide: Google will make Currents generally available to G Suite users in July. Currents is the renamed, repurposed Google Circles that has been positioned as an enterprise social app similar to Yammer and Workplace by Facebook. Currents has been in use by Google internally.
Slack and Amazon: Slack and AWS made an alliance that’s logical. The multiyear agreement shifts Slack Calls (voice and video) to Amazon Chime. Slack Calls were not very robust, which has made Zoom and other integrated apps popular within the Slack Community. Chime may curtail growth of external apps, but this change alone is unlikely to cause existing users to switch to Chime.
More significantly, the move brings Slack and AWS closer together. Slack already hosts its service on AWS for storage, compute, database, security, analytics, and machine learning (and has since 2014). The two providers intend to improve integrations with apps such as the AWS Chatbot and Amazon AppFlow for improved data transfers between AWS services and Slack channels.
Zoom and Slack have enjoyed a long partnership. While both companies openly embrace each other, Zoom Chat clearly overlaps with many of Slack’s features. See Tweet Thread.
Personal Teams: Teams is included in every O365 plan, every M365 plan, available for free, and now expanding into personal use cases. Microsoft has repurposed the app, UI, and features for personal collaboration, aimed at groups and families that need to coordinate projects and events (such as vacation planning).
This benefits Teams users, as they will be able to switch from work projects to personal projects without a new app. I don’t expect it to be a big hit beyond that group as the Teams UI is not that intuitive. Also, many may not see the additional features worth the effort to shift from chat apps such as WhatsApp, Skype, and Messenger. Presumably, personal use will increase DAU. Related: When 75M Isn’t Enough (premium post). I tried and failed to install this on my smartphone. After logging in with Outlook.com email, it prompted me to install Skype. Perhaps the problem is caused by different logins for Skype and Outlook.com, but I could not resolve it. Post: It’s Time To Fix Email.
Microsoft sends mixed messaging on its commitment to consumer products. Also this month, Microsoft announced it will be closing all of its retail stores.
Slack Connect: Slack expanded its inter-company communications capabilities with Slack Connect. This is an expansion of its previously released Shared Channels. The new Slack Connect allows up to 20 organizations to communicate in a single channel. Slack Connect will expand direct messaging features and integrations with Microsoft and Google calendars — including group scheduling. The application applies retention and data loss policies to shared content.
This is a very significant development and is a shot across the email bow. Organizations that adopt Slack consistently see a major drop in internal email. However, email remains necessary for external communications. Slack Connect could eliminate the need for some knowledge workers to have email. Deja vu? Not long ago, a desktop phone was standard for knowledge workers, but it became less critical as online alternatives became more useful.
Telephone numbers and email addresses are the only universal communications addresses independent of provider. While that isn’t changing, the need for a universal address is. Slack is often preferred over email as it facilitates workflow. Don’t confuse that with Slack being more focused. The service has plenty of “noise” like other apps. Post: It’s Time To Fix Email.
Office on Chromebooks: It is hard to fathom all the repercussions of Covid-19. One of the under-the-radar winners of the pandemic is the lowly Chromebook. Remote working spiked, and the reliance on physical offices will continue to decline. Google reported that ChromeOS is now outperforming the consumer PC market globally and is closing the gap with PCs in business segments. When Microsoft embraced Chromium, it also committed to ChromeOS compatibility and indirectly legitimized Chromebooks.
Google has seen a significant increase in large deployments including contact center deployments. Google announced it is accelerating its Chrome Enterprise program to facilitate remote work including a new partnership with Parallels to bring native Microsoft Office applications and other Windows apps to Chromebooks.
The Expanding USB C Hub: My laptop has only two USB ports. The main thing I plug into it is a USB C hub. It provides more ports (C and A sizes) for I/O and charging. USB hubs also often have card reader slots and video ports (C, HDMI, and DisplayPort). I’ve also seen models with RJ45 network support.
Dell introduced a new model that also functions as a speaker saucer. It features dedicated buttons for volume, on/off hook, and muting. More companies are getting into communications (headsets and saucers) despite the vicious rumor that telephony is dead. It’s also interesting that DSLR cameras are encroaching on the webcam business.
Cable Tied-Up: I’ve written before about an 8000 mile undersea cable that Google and Facebook sponsored to link Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the Philippines. This month, the Dept of Justice recommended that cable not connect to Hong Kong due to security concerns related to China’s effort to end Hong Kong’s autonomy.
Net Non-Neutrality: AT&T zero rates HBO Max. This means that subscribers can consume HBO Max content wirelessly without it counting toward data use. It also makes HBO Max on AT&T less expensive than Netflix or Disney+. I am opposed to zero rating programs, but it’s never popular to be against something that “appears” free.
AT&T is not the first to zero rate. T-Mobile offers it with Pandora and many other music services. What makes AT&T stand out is its Sponsored Data program. Essentially, HBO Max pays AT&T a Sponsored Data fee to enable zero rating, and technically so could other streaming services. However, AT&T owns HBO Max, and it also owns every other customer of its Sponsored Data program. In other words, AT&T is paying itself to stifle competition.
CenturyLink: The FCC strikes again. CenturyLink told channel partners that it is ending payment on commissions to agents on rural healthcare accounts to comply with an FCC order. The FCC seeks to prevent USAC consultants from getting paid by rural healthcare organizations while also being paid service provider commissions. No double-dipping. It’s a reasonable intent, but there’s some complexity here. Partners claim the sales and consultant roles are different people.
Pandemic Prosperers: The Financial Times listed the top 100 companies that benefited in equity from the pandemic. Here are some of the familiar names: 1/Amazon, 2/Microsoft, 6/Facebook, 8/Alphabet, 15/Zoom, 33/SFDC, 43/Twilio, 86/RingCentral. While many industries (such as travel and entertainment) have suffered, big tech got stronger — including FAANG.
Monday.com: Monday announced the release of an application framework. The framework is intended to facilitate a low-code environment. Monday offers a spreadsheet-like team management platform service. The internal team created the first 20 Apps using the framework. The company used the announcement to share that it has raised a total of $234M and is used by over 100K paying organizations in over 180 countries.
PinePhone: The mobile revolution has been great, but resulted in disposable computers and a new duopoly. The PinePhone hopes to fix both issues. The PinePhone postmarketOS Community Edition ($150) device runs Pine64, a version of Linux optimized for mobility. The phone will have basic smartphone functionality such as the ability to take phone calls, SMS, mobile data, Wi-Fi, and a touch-friendly user interface. This is not a new concept; many vendors, including Blackberry, have tried and failed to crack the duopoly. Perhaps a grassroots open movement will be successful.
Hey Email: Basecamp did the unthinkable and introduced a new innovative email platform called Hey. Email is a duopoly, and neither Microsoft nor Google have demonstrated much innovation in this locked up market. There’s little incentive for others to innovate as any solution that gets traction will simply wake the giants. That’s what makes Hey so compelling: it is innovative and facilitates workflow. Email frustrates all of us, and that frustration has indirectly given rise to applications such as Team Chat.
Surprisingly, Hey’s initial headwinds came from Apple, which blocked the app, not for concern about the email duopoly, but rather the app store duopoly. Basecamp protested the App Store 30% commission. Microsoft was quick to agree with Apple’s abusive practices. The App Store drama is over, but I expect we will be hearing more from Hey. Post: It’s Time To Fix Email.
Cheerio Huawei? The Trump administration continues its battle with Huawei. This month, the focus turned to Boris Johnson’s plans to build a Huawei centre in England. A US senior official warned the UK that China could attach itself like a "parasite" to the UK. Parasite, also from Asia, won Best Picture this year.
Apple WWDC: Apple made numerous announcements at its virtual developer conference, the most significant (as in massive) was the Mac’s shift to ARM processors — a new era for Apple. It gives Apple more control of their solution stack than ever before. It will also bring iOS to the Mac.
I think the move is good. It leverages Apple’s unique position that allows it to blur mobile and desktop operating systems. Microsoft doesn’t have a mobile OS, and Google barely has a desktop OS (ChromeOS). The addition of Android apps on my Chromebook makes it more useful, but that’s nothing compared to a Mac running iOS apps.
ARM processors (and touch UI) will be all that matters — sounds bold but it’s largely already true (Intel missed the transition). It’s a high-risk move with lots of consequences. For example, Macs will likely lose the ability to run Windows. As a consumer company, Apple doesn’t need to maintain backward compatibility.
This is a huge undertaking that Apple expects to complete in 2 years. Note: the move to Intel took Apple about five years. Microsoft has been transitioning to 64-bit software for 20 years (and Office is still a 32-bit application).
988: Americans are one step closer to dialing just three digits for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number. The FCC will vote on “988” as a new abbreviated national number on July 16. The implementation could take two years. IMO It’s a long number to dial for those with rotary phones.
H-1Bye: President Trump signed an executive order this month that suspends many nonimmigrant visas, including H-1B visas. The administration says that nonimmigrant visa programs “pose an unusual threat to the employment of American workers.” However, sectors with lots of H-1B visas generally have low unemployment rates. People from India make up about 70% of H-1B holders, of which 85,000 are awarded every year.
Corporate Activism: Corporations were vocal this month. Many endorsed #BlackLivesMatter. Cisco announced a $5M pledge to charities fighting racism and discrimination and rescheduled its Cisco Live event to accommodate national protests. Jeff Bezos provided an eloquent response as to why Amazon’s home page did not say “all lives matter.” Even the NFL apologized for taking the wrong stance on silent protests.
Apple and Google stepped up responsibilities on privacy this month. Apple is adding “nutrition” labels for apps that reveal the personal data an app tracks, and also added notifications for when the iPhone camera or mic is active. Google shortened the period for how long it retains collected personal information. IBM, Microsoft, and Amazon limited how their facial recognition technology can be used by law enforcement.
Over 300 companies, including Verizon and Microsoft, joined the “Stop Hate for Profit” which aims to get Facebook “to take stronger action to stop its platforms from being used to divide our nation, suppress voters, foment and fan the flames of racism and violence, and undermine our democracy." As the boycott over hate speech on social media snowballed, Trump retweeted a video of a supporter chanting "white power."
So far, Zuck has erred on the side of enablement. The boycott validates the general concern and frustration, but admittedly this is a very complex topic. The pressure is increasing – more than 300 companies are protesting with their wallets and 5000+ employees recently denounced Facebook’s prior decision not to interfere with a controversial Trump post. The #DeleteFacebook campaign has been largely ineffective, but advertisers and employees might be more effective. It’s fascinating how quickly the rules of brand engagement are changing. Instead of avoiding controversy, it has become appropriate (expected) to dive into these topics.
AT&T Lied (again): AT&T made a lot of promises to sell its $86B merger with Time Warner. All of them have proven to be lies. Despite the promises not to, AT&T has increased prices, has hidden content behind paywalls, and the merger did not create new jobs. This month, AT&T discontinued its promised, low cost “AT&T Watch” service expected at $15/mo. This was the no-sports innovation that CEO Stephenson promised. This merger should have never been approved.
T-Mobile Lied: T-Mobile, now the second-largest wireless carrier, asked California’s PUC for forgiveness. It can’t hire the 1K new employees as promised (supposedly) due to the coronavirus. It also politely pointed out that the state can’t dictate hiring. It also said that its promise of delivering 300 megabits to 93% of the state in four years was a typo, and revised its “forecast” to six years. The request came a week after its daylong outage that affected 68M customers.
Agora IPO: Agora Inc. priced its IPO shares above the expected range. The Shanghai-based video-interaction software company raised $350M at $20 per ADS, much higher than the expected $16-$18 range, giving it a first-day valuation of $2B. Agora APIs allow customers to embed real-time video and voice in their applications.
Discord: Discord secured an additional $100M in funding. The company provides collaboration services (voice, video, chat) aimed at the gaming community. It announced it serves 100M monthly active users who spend 4B minutes on it daily. The company intends to expand into day-to-day communications.
Kyruus: Boston-based Kyruus raised $30M. The company offers analytics and scheduling software for healthcare systems. This new investment follows a Series D round worth $42M last year, bringing its funding total to $155M since its founding in 2010.
Onna: This platform provider helps companies integrate knowledge and derive insights from workplace apps. It raised $27M in a Series B round led by Atomico. Onna is attempting to break the silos between various collaboration, communication, and productivity apps with what it calls “the world’s first knowledge integration platform.”
Spike: Spike raised $8M in a Series A fundraising round backed by Insight Partners and Zoom CEO Eric Yuan. Founded in 2017, Spike promises a seamless experience with email, IM, video calls, and task management in a single platform. Spike previously raised $5M in a seed round last March, backed by Yuan, website design firm Wix, and venture capital firm NFX.
UJET: Contact center provider UJET raised $55M in a Series C round of funding, bringing the company’s total to just over $100M. The funding aims to expand its sales and marketing teams and scale its platform with new products and features. The funding was led by Sapphire Ventures, with participation from existing investors such as GV (formerly Google Ventures), Citi Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, DCM Ventures, and Resolute Ventures. Jai Das, Managing Director, President, and Co-Founder at Sapphire Ventures, will join UJET’s Board of Directors. UJET claims sales increased 400% over the past 12 months.
This Month’s Goodreads
- Microsoft Takes On Zoom and Slack in a Battle for Your Work Computer ($)
- Death of the office: What Was the Point of Them Anyway?
- The Results Are In for Remote Learning: It Didn’t Work ($)
- Why Weren’t We Video Calling All Along?
- The T-Mobile and Sprint merger is already resulting in hundreds of layoffs
- eBay Execs Allegedly Made Life Hell for Critics
- When Workers Can Live Anywhere, Many Ask: Why Do I Live Here?
- T-Mobile asks California to soften 5G, job conditions for Sprint merger
- Republicans push bill requiring tech companies to help access encrypted data
- Telefónica chief predicts dealmaking boom for European telcos ($)
- A new Trump appointee has put internet freedom projects in crisis mode
- Verizon is pulling advertising from Facebook and Instagram
- Zuckerberg once wanted to sanction Trump. Then Facebook wrote rules that accommodated him
- How the founder of the Telegram messaging app stood up to the Kremlin — and won
- Google Cloud Next ‘20 OnAir (July 14-September 8)
- Adtran Connect
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