Microsoft Communicates Convergence

Microsoft announced two partnerships today that further its strategy of becoming a communications infrastructure player. The deals with Sylantro Systems and Amdocs put Redmond on a track to bring communications services to market.

Microsoft and Sylantro, under a deal announced at the Supercomm show in Chicago, will develop and market enhanced voice over IP solutions for telecommunications providers.

Sylantro’s Application Feature Server will be integrated with the Microsoft Solution for Hosted Messaging and Collaboration, launched in January, to create an application package that will let service providers offer subscribers combined VoIP, e-mail, collaboration, presence, instant messaging and desktop services via Exchange, Messenger and SharePoint.

Sylantro’s technology also will be integrated with Microsoft’s Connected Services Framework, a management platform, launched in February, to help service providers provision and manage a variety of services.

Under an agreement with Amdocs , a provider of customer management applications and professional services, Microsoft’s Connected Services Framework will support Amdocs’ software for customer-care functions, including intercarrier settlement; roaming, dealer and content provider commissions; and the delivery of digital multimedia, such as ring tones, video and games.

“We’re trying to become a strategic partner to service providers by building software that will let them build and deploy real revenue-generating services,” said Michael O’Hara, general manager of the service provider line of business at Microsoft. “We want to move into the core of the service provider business.”

Redmond’s communications sector line of business has been lining up its ducks for a long time.

It all began with its decision, in 2001, to incorporate Session Initiation Protocol into Windows, enabling PCs to handle voice calls.

Following the January and February launches of its Hosted Messaging and Collaboration Suite and Connected Services Framework, the company discussed in April its roadmap for Live Communications Server and a new client for Windows Mobile-based clients, code-named Istanbul.

Istanbul will provide IM-based integration between applications, including e-mail, phone, instant messaging, text messaging and video and Web conferencing, via both wired and wireless networks.

In May, Microsoft released the Customer Care Framework, a software set designed for telecom call centers. Built on .NET, it enables a service-oriented architecture to unite the customer service Web sites, billing system and other applications.

Microsoft sees opportunities for itself on the top two layers of the communications infrastructure: on the service network layer, with service providers offering hosted versions of SharePoint, Office Live Meeting, MapPoint and Hosted Messaging and Collaboration; and on the service control layer, where Microsoft wants to be the vendor of choice for software to manage and bill for all those services.

“Rather than an enterprise going out and buying those products themselves, we can offer them through the carrier as a hosted offering,” O’Hara said of the service network layer.

This definitely is Redmond venturing into the on demand applications market.

“It is the notion of software as service,” he acknowledged, “taking Microsoft’s core assets and offering it as a service through service provider partners.”

Potential partners include ARBOCs, IXEs and CLECs. Microsoft’s Connected Services Framework already has been deployed by Bell Canada, Celcom Malaysia and BT, and O’Hara sees target customers as small to medium-sized businesses that don’t have IT departments to install and manage enterprise software.

When asked whether it was a stretch to expect businesses to look to their telecom providers for software, O’Hara said, “It’s early in the market to see who’s going to be key adopters and who will or won’t accept this.”

Even more counter-intuitive is MSTV, Microsoft’s TV-over-IP platform that would allow telecom operators to compete with cable companies by offering television programming. O’Hara said customers are looking at 2006 deployments. The broadband infrastructure needs to be upgraded to support MSTV.

“Once you have TV running over IP and the deployment of the Connected Services Framework, you can bring all sorts of services to market.”

For instance, the Amdocs partnership will enable service providers to provision, monitor usage and bill for applications, such as the Microsoft Solution for Hosted Messaging and Collaboration and the Microsoft TV platform.

The ultimate goal, O’Hara said, is the convergence of television (via Microsoft’s MSTV platform to deliver TV over IP), VoIP, IM and gaming with Xbox Live.

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