In the past, when telecom industry professionals in the VoIP world talked about VoIP and Retail in the same sentence it usually referred to Vonage or other services in the past, like AT&T's Call Vantage, being sold in retail big box stores like Best Buy, CompUSA (remember them), Staples or Office Depot. Lots of time and money was spent, and trials conducted by the likes of PhoneGnome, only to determine that between the costs of getting product onto the shelves, lack of training of retail clerks about VoIP and just the state of broadband in the 00's led to pretty much Vonage surviving in that game, MagicJack causing some disruption, but in reality, VoIP wasn't really a big retail play.
With next week's National Retail Federation conference and trade show happening in New York City, VoIP and Retail have taken on a new life. But not as something being sold at retail, as that ship has sailed, but with some new twists and turns VoIP is taking for the retailers. Two items of news yesterday caught my eye, the first from Microsoft and how their new Frontline Workers effort is going to change how retail workers, and actually field forces, can communicate.
The second came from longtime VoIP industry stalwart, CounterPath and their deal with Honeywell. Honeywell acts as the integrator, pulling all the pieces together for retailer communications on so many levels these days, so the idea of a platform for calling, texting and more that ties to the companies PBX but can offer greater functionality is what Honeywell, and actually what Microsoft are both doing.
Why and why now?
Retail is now going through a transformation. WiFi in stores with branded ID's is no longer just at Starbucks. Scan any store and you'll see one or more private and protected networks full of Wi-Fi. With faster, bigger and more stable connectivity to properties these days, and the ability to tap dark fiber in many metro areas, the reliability of VoIP now rivals that of traditional telephony. So where many calls between employees during the work never need to leave the local network, even between locations, the cost of calling was eating into retail profits. It also led to communication silos, something Microsoft's Frontline Workers hopes to solve.
Taken separately these two pieces of news look like PR fluff going into a trade show, but taken together and thought about on a higher level, signals a market sector that about to change. Telecom operators would be wise to recognize what's going on and see the opportunities with Microsoft Teams and also with what CounterPath is doing and figure out how that plays nicely into their ecosystem.