NEC’s Advantage

by Dave Michels

This week is the NEC Advantage conference in Florida.

NEC actually hosts two back-to-back conferences – the first one is for consultants and dealers, and then comes one for customers. It’s sound logic as they put a significant effort into their exhibit hall and demo setup. This will be my second trip to NEC Advantage.

NEC has a lot of history. It was founded in 1899 and originally worked closely with Western Electric to create Japan’s telecommunications infrastructure. The company is well established as a recognized player in business communications, not just in the US and Japan, but globally. Some studies list NEC as the world’s third-largest telephony vendor, with noted success in both SMB and very large deployments. Key vertical markets include hospitality, education and health care. NEC Americas (NECAM) is the US subsidiary that does communications, and a range of IT products and services from displays to storage.

  • 1899 Nippon Electric Limited Partnership was formed as a joint venture with Western Electric. The first Japanese-US joint venture with foreign capital.
  • 1902 Completes its factory for telephone and switch production.
  • 1904 Begins exporting telephones to China.
  • 1919 Produces first domestic Type 1 common-battery switchboards for long-distance toll calls.
  • 1927 Delivers first domestic-made A-Type automatic PBX to Mitsukoshi Department Store.
  • 1929 Produces domestic A-Type automatic switching system for central telephone office.
  • 1952 Receives Deming Application Prize (first time for company in communications industry).
  • 1953 Produces microwave PTM (Pulse Time Modulation) multiplexing equipment.
  • 1955 Produces first domestic-made XB switching system for PBX.
  • 1958 Develops fully transistorized NEAC-2201 computer.
  • 1960 Begins development of ICs. Develops time division electronic switching system.
  • 1961 Introduces business division system.
  • 1963 Establishes Nippon Electric New York (presently NEC Corporation of America).
  • 1979 Announces PC-8001 personal computer.
  • 1977 Announces NEAX 61 digital switching system in the United States.
  • 1978 NEC America Inc. opens plant in Dallas, Texas, to manufacture PBX telephone systems.
  • 1986 Begins shipping the NEAX61 digital switching system.
  • 1995 Unveils world’s first prototype 1Gbit DRAM.
  • 2002 Completes “The Earth Simulator,” the world’s fastest supercomputer system for resolving global environmental problems.
  • 2007 Acquires Sphere Communications for $42 million.
  • 2009 NEC UNIVERGE UX5000, and IP 24E Deskphone named Best Channel Products by Business Solutions Magazine.
  • 2009 NECAM formed as a merger between NEC Unified Solutions and NEC Infrontia.
  • 2011 NEC Latin America SA created, narrowing NECAM’s focus to US and Canada.
  • 2011 NEC inUCB for SV8100 and SV8300 recognized by Unified Communications Magazine as 2010 Product of the year.
  • 2011 NEC UNIVERGE Sphericall supported on VMWare as a virtual appliance.
  • 2011 NEC UNIVERGE SV8000 gets certified for Skype Connect.
  • 2012 NEC announces UNIVERGE 3C

NEC business communication systems evolved from digital communications, to VoIP, to Unified Communications. Each generation, the company picked up valuable experience  and features. Earlier this year, NEC aligned its multiple business communications platforms into a new offering called 3C (communications, collaboration, and cloud). I did a detailed report on NEC last year (available here), but now it needs to be updated. This 3C thing changes everything.

3C  isn’t just a new feature – but a total realignment of their prior products, and a new dealer friendly cloud offering. 3C is a bold strategy and vision for its portfolio and the industry. This changes every aspect of what was “normal” for NEC which just a few years ago could be described as a hardware company. When they asked me to do a presentation at NEC Advantage, it seemed fitting to title it “The New Normal.” My keynote will hit upon how the industry is shifting in general, and differences in attitudes and technologies that are defining the new communications normal. Some of these points were made in my various presentations at the UCSummit last week.

Every major premises equipment vendor now has a cloud strategy. Avaya recently joined the party with their new collaborative cloud offerings. Cisco is primarily going to market via third party service providers, but does offer its WebEx directly. Mitel, ShoreTel, Aastra have all announced cloud initiatives. Each service has its unique components, but what really sets NEC’s cloud apart is their approach to the channel. NEC dealers designed its new cloud service and it offers significant upfront sales incentives. Also, for the first time, it really opens up the broader NEC portfolio to the dealers. At CES in January, NEC made a strong show of its Android tablet lineup which should be hitting the shores soon – cloud services and tablets could be just want the channel ordered.

Another interesting aspect of NEC’s 3C is how existing NEC products can be combined with the cloud offering. In “Does the Cloud Make VoIP More Hospitable?“, I wondered if the hospitality industry will ever embrace hosted voice. So far not so much, but in the context of 3C I raise the question again. NEC telecom equipment can be found in some of the largest hotels in the world. If NEC can turn those systems into analog gateways, yet manage and control them as a cloud service it could be the proverbial straw that breaks into hospitality.

When Sphericall was a separate product, its key go to market differentiator was extensibility – particularly via an SOA framework. Extensibility continues to grow in industry importance, so I am curious to see how much NEC stresses it in the new portfolio.