Telcos should be wary of Microsoft's moves

Microsoft's relentless march into the communication technology arena could spell changes for telcos and businesses seeking connective services, according to one IT industry analyst.

Carmi Levy, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group, an IT advisory firm in London, figures Microsoft's latest communication-minded products could comprise a competitive threat for unwary telcos, and a new way of sourcing connections like voice over IP (VOIP) and collaborative applications for businesses.

Levy laid it out for telcos: "If they're smart they're going to be making sure they align with what Microsoft is doing. If they don't, they could be out in left field very, very quickly."

His opinion comes on the heels of numerous Microsoft announcements for the communication sector. Last week the software giant unveiled Microsoft Speech Server (MSS) 2004 R2, a platform for speech-based applications. Microsoft has also beefed up its collaboration server, Live Communications Server (LCS) 2005 for enterprise use and it has an integrated VOIP and instant messaging client in Office Communicator 2005, its desktop-side technology for users accessing LCS functions.

Microsoft is digging its heels in as a communication powerhouse, Levy said. If a business operates on Microsoft client and server infrastructure, chances are it's going to seek out communication service providers capable of connecting their wares to the existing desktop and back-end technology. Service providers that fail to do so "will be out of the game," he said.

"Microsoft dominated the desktop first with Outlook, and leveraged that dominance to make Exchange an industrial strength e-mail platform," Levy said. The software provider "wants to repeat that with the next evolution in messaging, which I believe is voice over IP."

Levy also said businesses could change the way they source communication services, turning to a tech vendor like Microsoft for advice instead of the telcos. "It's entirely possible that will be the case. Organizations will start to see application developers as the first point of entry for voice over IP solutions." Microsoft is known to partner with telcos. Bell Canada is getting together with the software maker later this week to introduce new Live Meeting 2005 features. Live Meeting is Microsoft's Web conferencing platform. Bell wouldn't provide a spokesperson before press time.

Levy is not the first industry observer to note Microsoft's position as a potential threat to current communication sector stalwarts. In 2003 IDC analyst Tom Valovic described Microsoft's leadership in the desktop market and emerging technologies such as the session initiation protocol (SIP) integrated therein as the software vendor's way of dominating the communication space.

"We weren't trying to say Microsoft is going to get into the IP PBX market directly," Valovic said. "What is, I think, much more likely is an emerging market centered on the enterprise desktop."

At the time of Valovic's assessment, Microsoft saw itself as friendly towards communication service and equipment providers. "Our Windows messaging client and server, we have a number of network equipment providers, like Siemens, building on top of that as an adjunct to their platform to provide presence capabilities," said Ed Simnet, a Microsoft product manager.

Microsoft wouldn't provide a spokesperson to discuss Levy's remarks by press time.

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