Unified communication

CenturyLink Lights Up Cisco Spark for UC&C

CenturyLink is ramping up its Unified Communications & Collaboration (UC&C) efforts as it tries to meet the differing needs of both the enterprise and small business markets.

As part of its push into the UC&C market it today announced Cisco Spark Service Provider status, which confirms its ability to support cloud-based Cisco Spark solutions.

Overall the UC&C market is growing at 29% a year, according to Synergy Research Group Inc. , and telecom service providers are more eager to compete for a piece of that pie, in a market currently dominated by specialists such as Mitel Networks Corp. and RingCentral Inc. (See RingCentral Makes Major Platform Play.)

For CenturyLink, there is also its new focus on enterprise that comes with the acquisition of Level 3 Communications and necessitates a UC&C solution for that space, says Craig Richter, senior director, Unified Communications and Collaboration, for CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL). The operator has traditionally used Broadsoft technology for its small to mid-sized business customers, and with Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)'s acquisition of Broadsoft, the operator is now expecting to see integration of that technology into Cisco Spark as well. With Cisco Hosted Collaboration Solution at the high end, the market is covered. (See Cisco Announces $1.9B Deal for BroadSoft.)

"When you think about Cisco Spark and components Cisco Spark has in it, there are really components that address both segments of the market," he says in an interview. "That is our focus -- to address unique and different needs of the markets."

One key to that strategy is stressing the advantages of CenturyLink's global network reach and its ability to combine the network, support and security with a UC&C package.

"We don't want to have every trick in our bag, like some of the old conferencing service providers -- we have a much broader look at the market," Richter comments. "We believe that applications are super important but the network that they drive and ride on is equally important, arguably more important, and the way you wrap them, support them and put security around them is super important to most customers. So we are making sure we partner with industry leaders that align with that strategy but that also address both of those markets."

Those partners include Amazon Chime, Microsoft for Skype and Office365, and conferencing companies such as BlueJeans and On24, he says.

Richter agrees with others in the space who say business customers are moving away from buying separate collaboration products such as standalone video streaming or messaging, and looking to simplify with a single platform. He believes CenturyLink is well-positioned to compete, particularly in the enterprise space, where Richter says companies such as RingCentral aren't as predominant.

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"The value of working with CenturyLink, which is a huge company, with a massive global footprint, is that it gives us access essentially anywhere," he says.

That said, Richter believes CenturyLink also can do a better job of providing consultation to its customers on how to move into the UC&C space and clean up the clutter of applications that exist today in most companies, while making sure communications is secure and efficient.

"This is a journey -- it's not one purchase," he says. "UC is a confusing thing. We push our people in the field to look at where companies are with some of the pieces, and try to help them get to where they need to be."

That includes helping enterprises determine how to use a common UC&C system for both internal communications and external contact with customers on a variety of platforms, Richter adds. There is less interest in today's market in having separate systems for those functions.

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

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