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Wednesday, 25 November 2009 04:07

Unified comms market in desperate need of definition - UPDATED

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For at least 18 months Cisco has been talking about a global UC market worth $US27 billion, and Frost & Sullivan has just estimated the Australian US services market at $A608 million, but research firm ABI puts the global market at a mere $US302 million in 2008 and says it will be only $US4.2 billion by 2014.

I first came across Cisco's estimate in late 2008 when it announced a major focus on collaboration. Cisco valued this market at $US34b globally including an estimated $US27b market for unified communications and enterprise telephony.

With a bit of digging I found where Cisco had got this figure from, a March 2008 Cisco publication 'Unified Communications Primer'. It states that "The global market for UC solutions in 2007 was estimated at $[US]27 billion; by 2011 it is estimated to be $[US]33 billion." And it explained that "These figures were synthesised from a variety of sources including research by Dell'Oro, Frost & Sullivan, Gartner, IDC, Synergy, Wainhouse, GMV, and Cisco."

The primer does specify exactly what UC components have been included to come up with this figure, but does list the "basic components of unified communications" as being: a ubiquitous IP network; policy; presence; multimodal communications - comprising e-mail, instant messaging, SMS, voice, voicemail and rich-media-driven 'conferencing' capabilities (audioconferencing, web conferencing, videoconferencing, telepresence and seamless migration.

Quite a few of these elements would seem to be in the realm of collaboration, and it was by stacking these on top of the $US27b UC market that Cisco came up with its $US34b collaboration market in October 2008 (a figure which it has cited in several recent collaboration-related product and service announcements).

So how on earth does ABI Research come up with a figure that is two orders of magnitude lower? The figure comes from a new ABI report "Vertical Market Opportunities in Unified Communications" that claims to "examine the total enterprise communications market as well as that portion that can be truly classified as unified communications.

The report's author, ABI Resesearch vice president and practice director, Stan Schatt. told me: "One conclusion I came to when writing the report on unified communications and when doing my market sizing and market analysis is that everyone has a different definition of unified communications and everyone counts it differently. The vendors tend to count everything sold stand-alone and then also double count when the items are used together. Some analyst firms inflate the market because it makes vendors so happy."

He added: "After lengthy conversations with vendors, I took a realistic percentage of those numbers to represent actual products sold and used in a unified communications network. My criteria included having at least IP telephony, unified messaging, and the use of presence. Because so many voice messaging systems are proprietary, unified messaging is still difficult. So, the point of my report is that actual unified communications is still a very small market, but it is growing, particularly in certain key verticals and will grow considerably through 2014."
 
What these hugely differing estimates clearly demonstrate though is that, with such a woolly concept as unified communications - which seems to sit somewhere on the spectrum between discrete communications technologies and services and equally vague concept of 'collaboration' - bandying market forecasts around without very precise definitions as to what is included is pretty meaningless.

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