Cloud communications has lately become a hot topic in the venture capital world, with many highly successful start-ups emerging in this ripe-for-disruption segment of the IT and telecom market. Similar to the growth drivers of cloud computing, cloud communications aspires to deliver value through reduced TCO, faster time to deployment, increased functionality, and greater flexibility for enterprises, all while addressing one of the most fundamental activities in our daily life: Communication. However, given its close dependence on the telecom market more broadly, cloud communications companies have had to face a unique set of technical and regulatory challenges to deliver on this promise.
In many parts of the world, the cloud communications market was kick-started through the emergence of VoIP technologies. In addition, given the threat such technologies posed to tradition telecom business models, regulatory support also helped ensure these technologies could be used to their full potential. Today a wide range of cloud communications companies have emerged to offer highly innovative and easy to use voice-based services delivered over the cloud, with all the requisite benefits of cloud-based delivery models. Through these services, enterprises are able to build call center applications on the fly, send PIN-codes/passwords over voice calls, and integrate click-to-call features on websites, just to name a few common uses. Over time, these companies have also aggressively expanded into similar services delivered over SMS, and many are exploring other communications platforms as well. All these services have the simple objective of seamlessly providing a wide range of communications options for enterprises and application developers to be able to choose the right channel in the context of their particular application, without any of the technical or cost barriers of using traditional telecom services.
In India, the cloud communications market has also been a hotbed of activity and in many ways has led the West in terms of its development, though the market has evolved quite differently. Enterprise Messaging, or the more commonly used term ‘Bulk SMS,’ has been the killer application that found almost universal acceptance across industries, and today is pervasive in almost all of our
daily interactions in India. Unfortunately, this market was almost too successful for its own good, as ‘use’ turned into ‘mis-use,’ and ‘Bulk SMS’ became almost a derogatory term in recent years. This was largely due to regulations that struggled to keep up with the rapidly evolving market, and the famous ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ of the Indian market for exploiting loopholes in the regulatory
framework, mostly through rampant abuse of ‘Do-Not-Call’ regulations. Because of this, what started as an incredibly promising industry that India invented 10 years ago, has become an industry with most of the major players scrambling to repurpose themselves as ‘mobile marketing’ companies.
Fortunately, the tide has begun to change. In the last 2 years, the Indian regulatory scenario has seen a sea change with a clear and strict set of guidelines for ‘Do-Not-Call’, along with closing of loopholes that allowed players to circumvent the regulations. Cloud-based voice services, which have languished in India compared to other markets, has seen the emergence of several promising
start-ups. Simultaneously, the regulatory sentiment is changing with regard to opening up VoIP services, which should soon become a huge enabler of a much richer set of use cases. Even other mobile technologies, such as USSD, have seen significant regulatory involvement in helping overcome the inter-operator technical barriers that have limited the effectiveness of such technologies in India.
At the same time, Indian enterprises are beginning to realize that SMS is not the silver bullet for all communications requirements. As customers become more demanding, enterprises are looking to become more nuanced in how they communicate in the context of the situation. For example, automated voice services can provide a highly interactive communication platform in a way that SMS cannot, while also providing local language interaction that is so critical in a market like India. Also, as internet penetration increases and more consumers purchase smartphones, enterprises are seeing email as a critical element of their customer communication strategy.
To meet these changing needs, cloud communications providers have a unique opportunity to build from their ‘Bulk SMS’ heritage to provide a much richer set of communications solutions for enterprises. However, the Indian market is not likely to evolve in exactly the same way as global markets, as providers must continually navigate the unique regulatory, telecom, competitive, and customer landscape. Though the regulatory situation has significantly improved, history suggests that one must expect the unexpected. With more than a dozen telcos still active in India, and with telcos remaining a critical part of the vendor equation, cloud communications providers must know how and when to cultivate relationships with the right telcos. Competition in India will always be fierce, and thus competitive advantage must be an area of constant reinvention. And customers are incredibly demanding, and so providers must be extremely nimble and ready to provide whatever support is required for success.
At Unicel, being one of the market leaders in the Enterprise Messaging space since its early days, we have always held fast in our belief in the opportunity afforded by the enterprise segment, and we have accordingly begun to intensify our efforts in the broader cloud communications space. Our belief is that there is not only an intensifying demand from enterprises for such services, but there is
also a need for innovation to provide these services in a uniquely simple and integrated way. Today many providers in India provide point solutions across many elements of the cloud communications landscape. But few, if any, are focused on building a unified communications platform that enables enterprises to effortlessly pick and integrate across communication media, while also providing multiple off-the-shelf applications that can instantly solve many enterprise pain points. Unicel believes that technology expertise and customer insight is at the heart of being able to deliver on that promise, and that is exactly what we have always sought to do. Having completely redesigned our service delivery platform based on these concepts, we have already integrated voice and USSD services into the same platform that we use to deliver our SMS services, and soon we will be adding cloud-based Email services as well. This is just a small taste of where Unicel is headed, and though the industry is still in its early days, with more twist and turns ahead, we are excited to be at the fore-front of innovation in the cloud communications market in India.