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11 May 2021

Cloud-based vPBX functionality – 20 years of evolution

Cloud-based vPBX functionality has been around for a long time – arguably, if we include Centrex, for nearly 50 years. We’ve been delivering vPBX solutions for 20 years and, while we’ve seen many changes, a significant shift is likely as we move into the next decade. Where have we come from and where are we going?

Migration to the cloud continues – and will accelerate. vPBX was a key driver

Cloud-based vPBX functionality has become increasingly necessary for many organisations and, as we noted in a recent post, is likely to enjoy further growth in the next few years. On-premises solutions, while still dominant, are likely to dwindle as companies shift more and more tech to the cloud.

But, the definition and understanding of what a cloud-based vPBX is also evolving. Indeed, the next phase of development and evolution is already here. As a reminder, let’s look back – briefly – at where we have come from.

Fundamentally, a vPBX – virtual PBX – is one that provides classical call handling capabilities to manage external and internal communications, while a cloud-based version is one that can be deployed in a cloud, typically today in a virtual environment but, historically, on COTS hardware. This was in contrast to enterprise PBX solutions which depended on purpose-built hardware before adapting to accommodate more general computing resources.

Early solutions were thus essentially enterprise PBXs that were moved to a hosted environment, to which users connected via SIP trunks or data paths over WLAN or mobile – so the quality delivered depended on the strength of the available data path.

Service-centre vs netcentric

Many of the solutions available today are essentially evolved versions of these and rely on the same ‘service-centre’ approach – terminating and handling all calls from a central node. As data quality has improved, performance has also been enhanced. At the same time, many companies have made parallel investments in other cloud services

The alternative to such platforms was ‘netcentric’ solutions that leveraged network capabilities from the outset, providing vPBX functionality via signalling control and trigger mechanisms. These solutions could be deployed in the network core and provided native scale, because they had been designed from the outset to perform alongside other components of the fixed or mobile network.

This was the approach we took when we were founded, nearly 20 years ago (watch out for more anniversary news in the coming months!). We were a pioneer in this environment and our solutions allowed mobile operators to offer cloud-based vPBX functionality from their core network and to millions of subscribers, with deep integration to their network core assets.

As all of these solutions evolved, they implemented more and more functionality, replicating all the myriad features of classical PBX solutions. Many of these features seem somewhat obscure these days, although that really depends on whether or not fixed line phones remain in place.

How will vPBX evolve to meet the needs of an agile workforce?

For a long time, companies standardised on one solution or another, so moving from one solution to a new one meant that legacy features were often demanded – that is often still the case. However, the way in which we communicate is changing and we can expect quite radical evolution in the next few years. Why?

First, while a single voice communications platform is still the main requirement for most companies – to manage and distribute incoming calls to a company’s main contact numbers – most companies have now embraced a variety of different solutions for different purposes. Platforms such as Teams, Zoom, Whereby and others have gained popularity alongside more traditional solutions. As a result, organisations are getting to grips with a more diverse environment – which their users seem happy to embrace.

Second, distributed, flexible working arrangements are, for many, here to stay. Yes many will return to traditional office environments, but many are also forecasting hybrid models and a shift to patterns such as 3:2 – that is, three days in the office, with two in a remote location. This requires greater agility and an experience that can be delivered to workstations as well as to other devices, such as mobiles, so that users can seamlessly move between platforms and ensure accessibility via any device.

Third, not only are video communications platforms surging in popularity, so too are other forms of collaboration and project management tools. Many of these have native communications features, enabling message exchange within closed groups.

Fourth, with a younger working population, many will wonder what the list of 100+ traditional features is for and seek a more streamlined experience. Service providers, in turn, will seek to retire many features that have smaller user bases, while respecting the needs of their customers. This will be a graceful, not sudden transition, but it will happen, as people shift between different platforms and as expectations change.

Experience is everything – vPBX as a convergence enabler to connect silos

In this context, the vPBX also needs to evolve. Yes, ensuring compatibility with a long list of features remains important (for now), but the vPBX has a key role in the enterprise in bringing together all of these disparate solutions, to enable seamless connectivity between different silos and applications.

Cloud-based vPBX functionality has been around a long time. Such solutions will continue to grab market share as on-premises deployments decline to a minority of connections. However, vPBX is no longer about simply replicating classical PBX features and putting them in the cloud. It’s about ensuring a consistent experience while enabling reachability and coordination between different solutions.

In fact, the next generation of solutions is already here. The new vPBX will continue to manage main number traffic, but it will increasingly act as a convergence layer to bring different solutions together.

It will exist in parallel with a range of solutions, which will differ from enterprise to enterprise and market to market. This transition is already underway – which is why we support integration with Teams, and other platforms, such as Whereby. As organisations adapt to new working environments, mobile centricity will return to the fore. And, with 5G, new forms of communications interaction will be unlocked, backed by AR / VR.

So, the vPBX is set to continue at the heart of enterprise communications, but it won’t be alone. It will be a key pillar that enables businesses to move from platform to platform, with traditional numbers as the key identity that ensures reachability. Get in touch to learn more.

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