TalkingPointz Report:NEC Published

by Dave Michels

The first of several TalkingPointz reports on UC vendors is now available. NEC.

Previously known as Nippon Electric Company, but NEC changed its name in 1983. I thought I knew NEC pretty well, but it’s amazing how much you learn when you really focus on a single vendor. I started at their Dallas Executive Briefing Center (EBC). NEC has a fairly large and modern facility in Dallas with all the latest gadgets. There, I was treated to a product manager parade – each with their own fire hose. It took me a day or two to discover the other rooms in the facility – there was a complete hotel room and a complete hospital room. I never really thought about it before, but the two facilities are kind of similar from an operational perspective.

NEC uses these mock rooms to show off several items from their portfolio – including their big screens, digital signage, room controls, RFID, and oh yeah, phone stuff. I really like NEC’s M155 DECT wireless phones. They are wearable devices (pendant or wrist watch style) that allow hands-free communication and also support text messaging. DECT, in my opinion, is better than wi-fi for wireless voice communications. The solution is geared toward health care professionals that don’t want spoil their clean hands by touching a phone. Instead they can communicate with voice or text messages sans hands and cords. The M155 isn’t available in the US yet, but it is coming soon – and already deployed overseas.

A few things I learned know about NEC:

  • Technology and innovation powerhouse. Tons of patents and among the world’s biggest generators of new patents.
  • $37.5 billion in revenue last year.
  • 283 subsidiaries
  • Old. I can’t think of any telephony provider that has been around longer. Avaya only counts if you consider its various terms with Western Electric, AT&T, and Lucent. NEC is 112 years old, and its been in telecom the whole time.
  • Four current telephony product lines. For SMB there is DSX and UX5000, and for SMB and enterprise there’s SV8000 and Sphericall.
  • NEC does not charge for additional Sphericall servers AND each additional servers adds fail over and load balancing features.

I concentrated on the SV8000 and Sphericall products. Both aimed at the enterprise, and  contemporary UC solutions – but SV8000 is more traditional. Like all of NEC’s prior telecom solutions, the SV8000 is an appliance. That is the hardware and software are tightly bundled into a single offering. The SV8000 comes in three sizes- tall, grande, and venti but NEC calls them the SV8100, SV8300, and SV8500. Each of these platforms share many design elements, applications, and endpoints.

The SV8000 appliances and Sphericall have been around for a while, but it is Sphericall where the company is focusing its R&D. NEC acquired the Sphericall platform in 2007, there was some cross-over between Sphericall’s and NEC”s channels, but both were mostly kept intact and separate. Sphericall, a software based solution, it represents a big move for what has historically been a hardware company. But a company that’s been doing hi-tech for 112 years ought to know something about generational shifts.

NEC is betting the notion of convergence will continue. Convergence started around a decade ago when we put voice on the LAN, then IT and telecom converged, then the apps started to converge (UC), and NEC thinks the architecture is next. NEC thinks Sphericall can be the proverbial stone to knock down two CIO objectives: UC and SOA (services oriented architecture). Sphericall has a strong UC solution set – as well as rich extensibility capabilities. Sphericall approaches PBX functionality more as a feature than identity.

Describing Sphericall is reminiscent of the blind men and elephant parable because it is different things to different people. To the telecom types, Sphericall is a modern VoIP platform with broad support for SIP and rich telephony features including feature endpoints and with 8.0, a revamped contact center solution. To UC enthusiasts, Sphericall offers rich communications including support for IM, video, conferencing, mobility and an aggressive road map for collaboration. To IT staff Sphericall offers clients via a Rich Internet Architecture (RIA) and uses Flash and HTML5. IT Architects will leverage the platform’s SOA compliance, and IT developers will value the comprehensive SDK and APIs.

Sphericall runs on Windows Server 2008. That surprised me as so much of the industry has moved to Linux, but NEC pointed out some benefits. First, it seamlessly integrates into a Windows environment including Active Directory and Exchange (as a single message store). It eliminates (for NEC) hardware testing and certifications, this is an expensive area for other software based solutions. Perhaps most importantly, Sphericall was able to obtain JITC certification, which is a very stringent DoD designation. Ironic how a security certification opens so many doors.

Sphericall 8 is a great story with only a few minor problems. First, it’s still vapor. NEC was thinking Fall, now its looking like winter. The good news is field trials are underway so hopefully a release is imminent. The report covers the planned features of Release 8. Once NEC actually ships it, then it has to convince dealers and prospects to buy it. That will be easy with the Sphericall dealers, but NEC intends to converge them with the SV8000 dealers too.

The NEC research is available here.