Alcatel-Lucent Launches Cloud-Based Communications Platform

Rapport can be deployed by larger enterprises in their private clouds to create communications services for apps, Websites and connected devices.

cloud communications

Alcatel-Lucent's decision to sell the bulk of its enterprise business to a Chinese investment company last year does not mean that Alcatel-Lucent is getting out of the enterprise business. It means that Alcatel-Lucent is able to approach enterprises in a new way that is free of its legacy PBX and communications models, according to company officials.

"Really, that [move to sell 85 percent of Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise to China Huaxin] signaled a change in our approach to the market," Brendan Ziolo, head of large enterprise marketing at Alcatel-Lucent, told eWEEK. He noted other such efforts, including partnerships with companies like Hewlett-Packard, the work of spin-off Nuage in the software-defined networking (SDN) field, and a greater focus on IP communications.

The company’s April 21 launch of Rapport is part of that greater focus on IP communications. Rapport is a cloud-based communications platform for private cloud environments. Businesses can use Rapport to better manage the rapid changes in technologies and applications, offering voice, chat and video conferencing services from a single platform to a broad array and changing array of applications, websites and connected devices.

Rapport changes how communications services are delivered and consumed, and drives down the costs of communications for businesses, the company said. Businesses that now spend almost half of their IT dollars on their legacy PBX and unified communications (UC) systems can save as much as 50 percent on the cost of their communications infrastructures, according to Alcatel-Lucent.

Alcatel-Lucent had initially expected to announce Rapport a week ago, but the launch was delayed after Nokia announced its intention to buy Alcatel-Lucent for $16.6 billion, a move that will create a networking giant that can better compete with such top-tier vendors as Ericsson, Huawei Technologies and Cisco Systems.

The Alcatel-Lucent deal is expected to close in the first half of next year, and Rapport will come over to Nokia as part of the acquisition.

According to Ziolo and Brian Davies, director of advanced communications solutions at Alcatel-Lucent, enterprises are seeing how Google and Facebook operate, and want to do the same thing with their communications services. The idea behind UC has been to take all the communications capabilities and bring them together into a single user experience, Davies told eWEEK. However, UC offerings from most vendors can't replace legacy PBXs in many cases, so businesses are stuck with siloed communications technologies. PBX soft clients can't fully replace PBX systems, and there's no way to address the issue of mobile and Web applications from third-parties, the company noted.

With Rapport, enterprises have a single, customizable backend communications platform in their private clouds. It's similar to what Google does with its applications, Davies said. The company created Google Maps, and that service can be included in websites and leveraged in applications by the likes of Uber and Yelp. Rapport makes it similar for communications, he said. Services can be housed in applications, websites and connected devices, such as smartphones, tablets and systems that make up the Internet of Things (IoT).

Through the single cloud-based communications engine, businesses can optimize Alcatel-Lucent's UC services or integrate third-party collaboration apps and customize the user experience. Through open APIs and software-development kits (SDKs), businesses also can rapidly develop their own apps, the company said.

Alcatel-Lucent also is partnering with a range of other vendors, from Polycom and Mitel (for enterprise desk phones and room conferencing appliances) to CounterPath (for soft phones and UC collaboration).

The company is aiming Rapport at larger enterprises with more than 100,000 employees, a lot of departments and PBX systems from multiple manufacturers, Davies said. Smaller enterprises can take advantage of what traditional UC platforms offer, but the larger businesses need a more cloud- and software-based approach.

Alcatel-Lucent officials also talked about how telecommunications vendors and services providers can take advantage of Rapport, which gives them an agile cloud communications platform that helps reduce the costs associated with delivering their services to subscribers. Rapport uses a network-functions virtualization (NFV) approach to quickly launch, support and scale voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) and other new services for clients.