That energy vendors such as Cisco Systems, Avaya and, now, Microsoft are expanding their unified communications (UC) offerings is showing up in the overall market numbers, according to research firm Dell'Oro Group.
In a report Nov. 18, Dell'Oro said that the third quarter saw the strongest growth in the UC space since 2008, and, with Microsoft's introduction of its Lync 2010 offering Nov. 17, the market should see continued expansion.
The UC market saw revenue growth of 7 percent during the second quarter, according to the firm.
"Despite pockets of weakness reappearing, we believe that the Unified Communications market will expand significantly in 2010, as existing vendors continue to invest and expand their software offerings and Microsoft begins to actively push Lync," Alan Weckel, director at Dell'Oro Group, said in a statement.
Strong growth by vendors in the North American market offset what Dell'Oro said was weakness in Europe.
UC has become a key target area for a growing number of vendors, as enterprises look for ways improve their communications capabilities while driving down costs. Visual collaboration also is increasingly becoming a significant part of the UC scene.
Dell'Oro said that the top eight vendors-Aastra, Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya, Cisco, Mitel, NEC, Shoretel and Siemens-accounted for more than 80 percent of IP line shipments in the quarter. Other vendors, such as Hewlett-Packard and Polycom, also are making plays in the space.
This week, Cisco and HP both significantly expanded the video capabilities of their communications products, Juniper Networks bought Blackwave to help expand its IP video offerings, and Mitel unveiled its Freedom architecture and Mitel Anywhere, a cloud-based UC service.
In addition, Microsoft rolled out Lync 2010, the latest version of the solution that had once been known as Office Communications software suite. During a launch event in New York, former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates called the move to a software-driven UC platform "probably the most important thing to happen for the office worker since the PC came along."
Many analysts also expect the growth in UC spending to continue. Forrester Research is projecting that the overall UC market will expand to $14.5 billion by 2015.
However, not all analysts are sold on the idea of unified communications. In a Sept. 7 blog post, Gartner analyst Nick Jones questioned whether UC is nothing more than a Ponzi scheme, saying that the idea of bundling all these communications technologies works more for the vendors than for businesses and their employees.
"UC is a dinosaur in a world of fast-moving little furry mammals; the leading edge of communication and collaboration is happening in the consumer space driven by companies like Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Fring, Nimbuzz and dozens more," Jones wrote. "These are better, cheaper and more fashionable than UC, and there is no way the so called -enterprise' vendors can keep up with their rate of evolution."
In the end, he questioned whether there are, indeed, any true benefits for the end user.
"For the next few years, UC will be a battleground between mega-vendors like Microsoft and Cisco, who want to suck you in to their technological whirlpool where you'll be trapped paying license fees for a decade," Jones wrote. "And, finally, it's not as if you could even make a decent business case for UC; people end up using bizarre logic involving the value of saving 15 minutes a day per employee. If you give people 15 minutes more time you won't get 15 minutes more work, they'll just go have a chat and another cup of coffee with a friend."