LightEdge Offers Bundled Unified Communications for SMBs

Small businesses are warming to the idea of unified communications. After all, they stand to benefit from integrated access to voice, e-mail, instant messaging, presence, and calendaring as much as the bigger guys.

Des Moines, Iowa-based LightEdge wants to help make that a reality—and taking the deployment and management burden off the hands of small business owners altogether by wrapping up UC in a fully hosted solution.

President and COO Jeff Springborn observed to that SMBs “want to manage their people better. They want to know what’s the best way to get in touch with someone—especially when people are not working in the same location,” he said. “A hosted solution is just a very efficient way of doing that.”

The newly announced LightEdge Connected Office solution integrates a suite of services from Microsoft and BroadSoft. It includes Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 for hosted e-mail, BroadSoft BroadWorks Hosted PBX VoIP, Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 for instant messaging and presence, Microsoft Office Live Meeting, and Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services 3.0.

Founded in 1996 as a hosted Voice over IP provider, LightEdge has been steadily building its hosting capacity. The company added its fourth Midwest data center in 2007.

The new suite of products includes PC-to-PC voice and video, web conferencing, enterprise instant messaging, and presence awareness. Springborn said he expects that last feature, presence awareness, to be a big sell. LightEdge customers want the function, but up to now LightEdge hasn’t been able to integrate presence into its hosted offerings.

Microsoft and BroadSoft worked out the basic server integration. Springborn said his company is the first to take that integrated product to market as a service provider.

The user interface ought to be readily recognizable to most users, as it is based on familiar Microsoft models. As is typical of IM tools, the interface indicates the presence status of employees through a user list drawn from an existing Outlook database.

Springborn described the setup process as being virtually seamless for a normal user—and isn’t that the point of hosting, to take the IT worry off the SMB manager? In this case the user establishes an account with LightEdge and then downloads the UC client, which is automatically populated based on a pre-defined user group.

The cost of LightEdge Connected Office is $6.95 per month per user for the base package, or $10.95 for ‘enhanced’ service. Both have P2P voice and video, secure IM, presence, and file transfer. The enhanced level of service also includes click-to-dial and integration with Microsoft’s LiveMeeting.

In addition to voice, LightEdge has made its name with a diverse range of hosted services. On-demand data services include Wide Area Networking, Meshed IP WAN and LAN Monitoring. IT hosting is backed up by environmental controls, backup power, and 24/7 monitoring.

LightEdge is ramping up its sales capacity as it enters the UC market. At present a 20-person sales force shoulders the load, generating an average revenue per customer of about $1,500 a month, with many customers bundling voice with storage, processing, WAN, and other services.

The company is planning to enlist the help of resellers in the near future, Springborn said. Whereas previous offerings have required a degree of expertise to execute, the new UC product is readily implemented, demanding no design work up front. “It’s a simple product, so we can drop it into a channel that doesn’t require the same level of sophistication that some of our products have to have,” Springborn said.

LightEdge is counting on that simplicity to catch the eye of resellers and, ultimately, SMB users seeking enhanced capabilities within their hosted voice solutions.

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