“Cloud-based” Unified Communications as a service now seems to be supplanting “collaboration” as the term of art for unified communications. Of course, every time the industry does that, it raises questions about whether the new buzzwords are mostly an attempt to refresh up and re-spin the argument for older products that simply haven’t gotten the traction supporters would prefer to have seen.

That is not to say UC or hosted IP telephony or even IP phone systems are unimportant, especially for some niche suppliers in the broader communications business. It might be to note that all unified communications revenues are a relatively specialized revenue stream and opportunity, something that might be noted for hosted IP telephony as well.

Despite all the effort, UC and hosted IP telephony revenue remains at levels that make them “niche” products suited to some providers, but not really a big deal for any tier-one service provider. That is not a judgment about relative importance for some segment sof the telecom ecosystem.

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Business phone systems, for example, are a very-big deal for interconnects and dealers. Unified communications is hugely important for consultants and system integrators. And hosted IP telephony is an anchor service for most competitive local exchange carriers.

It is to note, thogh, the reasons why UC, phone systems and hosted IP telephony are not businesses a tier-one service provider really “ought” to be spending much effort to support, as the financial payback simply is not there. As there are some information technology products that “must” be sold using channel partners, there are some communications products that only specialists really can make a business out of.

According to the Telecommunications Industry Association, for example, the global telecom business represents about $4.7 trillion worth of revenue, globally, of which perhaps 46 percent represents service provider revenues earned from end users, either business or consumers.

The balance of revenue includes end user gear, software and services that complement or support communications functions provided either by network service providers or enterprises. So you might say direct service provider revenues are about $2.1 trillion.

In the United States, unified communications will represent about $1.7 billion worth of revenue. VoIP, including both the dominant consumer revenues and a smaller amount of business revenue, will represent about $14.6 billion.

By 2015, analysts at Gartner forecast, shows the IP voice-as-a-service in North America might reach $2.2 billion. The market obviously is much smaller than that at the moment.

That isn’t to say hosted IP telephony, or cloud-based voice, are not driving a significant amount of access revenue. In fact, now, and by 2015, access revenue (SIP trunking, for example) will drive more revenue than hosted PBX services do.

Is hosted IP telephony the next generation of “Centrex?” If so, that might be an admission that, after a decade of missionary work and evangelizing, unified communications and hosted IP telephony have failed to make much of an impression on business communications buyers.

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