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Leading Lights Finalists 2014: Most Innovative SMB Service

Carol Wilson

The Leading Lights Most Innovative SMB Service finalists reflect the growing role of wireless and mobility in the services delivered to this key market segment. The need to provide quality wireless service, and to seamlessly blend wireless and wireline services is becoming more important to smaller firms, with their different technology needs and challenges.

The role of the cloud is also becoming more prominent in the SMB market, which is not surprising given the economics of cloud-based solutions in offering services with little capex or need for sophisticated IT support. Three of the finalists depend in some way on cloud support for remote sites.

The list also reflects a growing diversity in service providers themselves. Interestingly, the finalists do not include an incumbent carrier -- instead we have a cable MSO, a wireless operator, a US-based competitive carrier, and a value-added reseller that has transformed itself into a niche service provider.

Our four finalists for Most Innovative SMB Service, listed alphabetically, are:

Comcast Business VoiceEdge Mobile App
Like employees everywhere, those at SMBs want to be mobile yet able to work productively via their smartphones. This app is an easy-to-use interface to the Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) Business VoiceEdge service, a cloud-based hosted Unified Communications service that offers both voice and video calling features to mobile workers on their smartphones. The app basically allows an SMB employee to appear to be at an office location no matter where they actually are.

The app user can make calls that appear to come from an office phone, direct their incoming calls to any phone number and manage business voice mail as well. It allows calls to move seamlessly from a smartphone to a desk phone as needed. The advantage to the SMB is that as a cloud-hosted service, Comcast Business VoiceEdge doesn't require capex to install equipment or ongoing maintenance or IT staff to run.

The internally developed app was launched in September of 2013 across the Comcast footprint.

Deep Blue Communications WiFi
Deep Blue is a value-added reseller and installer of premises equipment that has transformed itself into a WiFi wireless network service provider for many market niches, notably the hospitality, retail and public venue markets, by adding managed bandwidth services to its customers.

Working with its supplier, Ruckus Wireless Inc. (NYSE: RKUS) and its Smart Cell Gateway, Deep Blue now offers private cloud-managed wireless services that don't require wireless local area network controllers to be deployed on-site. Instead, Smart WiFi access points are shipped to customers and, once installed, automatically connect to a managed Smart Cell Gateway, which dynamically configures them. The system then directs the placement of WiFi access points as needed for each customer. Each customer gets a view of their infrastructure through a custom portal that delivers a variety of performance statistics.

Deep Blue has deployed its cloud-based wireless solution at hotel chains, such as Marriott and Wyndham, and most recently in public venues, such as racetracks.

Vodafone UK Sure Signal Premium
Designed more for the mid-sized end of the SMB market -- and for larger enterprises -- this is an easy-to-deploy small cell system for improving in-building coverage that lets employees use wireless voice and data on premises, wherever they happen to physically be, without being tied to a desk or location. The Vodafone UK system leverages existing Ethernet local area network infrastructure, and doesn't require radio frequency expertise to deploy or operate.

A single Services Node in a company's communications room can control all radio nodes securely, with each radio node supporting soft-handover and up to 16 simultaneously 3G voice calls using the existing Ethernet infrastructure. The system installs in a way similar to WiFi, so it's not a tough install. Also, the Services Node serves as a local control point, so that traffic doesn't have to connect to the mobile operator's network-based gateways which would slow down handovers and require increased interference coordination inside buildings across the 3G cells.

XO Communications' WorkTime
WorkTime is a combined Bring-Your-Own Device and Unified Communications service for small businesses that delivers business voice, video chat, instant messaging and presence onto employee smartphones via an app that can be easily downloaded.

The employee downloads the XO Communications Inc. WorkTime app onto their smartphone and that creates a separate work persona on the phone, which business IT managers can use to implement business mobility apps, providing a consistent user experience for all communications.

WorkTime can be an extension of the SMB's XO VoIP, Hosted PBX or SIP Trunking services. Employees just launch the app in order to talk, video chat or IM as if they were using their business phone.

WorkTime enforces personal boundaries, maintaining separation between work and personal identities on smartphones, ensuring employees' personal phone numbers, applications and information remain private.

This is the second set of entries in the SMB category we launched in 2013 -- are there services that were overlooked by our nomination process? Let me know about them in the message boards below.

We are going to be naming the Leading Lights winners on June 17th in conjunction with our Big Telecom Event. If you haven't heard about that yet, you are not paying attention! Both the ceremony and the event itself are worth checking out.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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