San Francisco-based communications services provider CallTower Inc. this week announced what it claims to be the first on-demand unified communications (UC) solution based solely on Microsoft applications—most noticeably Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2 (OCS).
CallTower has been delivering hosted PBX and other communications services to small and mid-size businesses since 2002, when it became the first service provider to make Cisco CallManager-based voice service available to on an on-demand basis.
CallManager was still at the heart of CallTower’s offering (along with Microsoft Exchange e-mail) when the company added the OCS component in March 2009 (see our coverage here), to transform the product into a true unified communications (UC) suite.
With the current announcement, Cisco is out of the picture, and the full suite of UC applications—voice, conferencing, instant messaging, e-mail, presence, and more—is provided by Microsoft products.
“Many growing businesses are already familiar with and want the productivity gains that Microsoft OCS 2007 provides, and by offering it as a hosted service, with PBX-like functionality natively delivered by OCS, we can make it affordable to customers that could not before consider such an advanced technology,” said Bob Barnes, CallTower’s executive vice president for sales, marketing, and business development. “CallTower’s hosted OCS on-demand product doesn’t require any other telephone system or softswitch to be involved.”
In fact, what makes this iteration of the CallTower solution particularly cool is that, with the use of Office Communications Server-compatible phones, the service becomes instantly remote-enabled. That is, with Office Communicator on a laptop or other mobile device, or an OCS-compatible phone, employees can be connected to the UC system wherever they happen to be—as Barnes put it, “fully mobile, present, and available.”
Incidentally, CallTower gives its customers the option of getting the phones bundled in with the service offering. “About half our customers choose to bundle the equipment in with our service fees. Customers can also buy it on their own, either from us or from somebody else. But we do allow them to have a ‘zero capex’ option,” Barnes told VoIPplanet.com.
CallTower developed its own partitioning and provisioning system in order to be able to offer the Cisco services to multiple customers. That same technology is part of the OCS platform. Moreover, in addition to all the communications services it provides, CallTower is also an Internet service provider.
The total package—again, voice; audio, Web, and video conferencing; unified messaging (e-mail and IM); presence; voice-to-text and text-to-voice; and Internet service—is delivered in a single interface and with a single bill.
Clearly, CallTower is on to a good thing, since, as Barnes reports, the company has experienced 50 percent growth every year since its launch. Aimed at businesses with 50 or more employees and multiple locations, the CallTower solution has has attracted strong uptake in a number of vertical industries, including healthcare, boutique financial services, technology companies, legal, contact centers, and education, according to Barnes.