Frost & Sullivan Analyst Discusses How Mobile-first Communications Solutions Empower Diverse Hybrid Workforces

As hybrid work model is becoming more popular, adopting new mobile communications strategies has become crucial for the success of each company, according to Frost & Sullivan Connected Work Vice President Elka Popova, who recently authored research on the topic.

We recently sought out Popova, who noted that “organizations are expected to adopt mobile-forward strategies whereby future communications investments will be aligned with permanently shifted work styles and a strong appreciation for the benefits of mobility. Among other approaches to workforce mobile enablement, all-inclusive UCaaS seat licenses that provide mobile access to calling and UC features will drive further fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) adoption.

“Emerging and evolving native, IP multimedia subsystem (IMS) core-based mobile calling solutions will find strong appeal among users. In many cases, native mobile calling may be deployed alongside collaboration apps that already provide flexible access to meetings, messaging, and calling on a variety of connected devices.”

We asked Popova to elaborate on these points and an assortment of questions.

Question: How has the pandemic changed the way companies look at Mobile Communications Solutions?

Answer: The COVID-19 pandemic and related business lockdowns brought drastic changes in work styles across industries and geographies. The shift to remote and hybrid work, as well as a newly gained appreciation for the flexibility to work from anywhere, anytime, are likely to have a long-lasting impact on all types of organizations around the world. Most organizations will go through lengthy and painful processes of transforming their business processes, work spaces and company cultures. However, digital technologies will be universally recognized as a key enabler of business transformation. Mobile-ready and-mobile-first communications, more specifically, are likely to experience accelerated adoption as organizations aim to achieve multiple goals, including:

  • Rationalize communications environments presently consisting of multiple disparate wireline and mobile solutions.
  • Empower diverse workforces—including desk-bound remote, hybrid and in-office staff and frontliners—to stay connected and productive regardless of physical location.
  • Attract and retain staff—digital natives, in particular—by providing them with modern mobile communications and collaboration tools that better align with their life and work styles and technology preferences.

Mobile devices, along with soft clients or web-based applications, have become the endpoints of choice for remote, hybrid and mobile workers. Mobile clients, native dialers and WebRTC services (as primary interfaces or adjuncts to desktop phones) accounted for almost one-half of North American UCaaS users in 2021.

Smart organizations are likely to adopt mobile-forward strategies whereby future communications investments will be aligned with permanently shifted work styles and a strong appreciation for the benefits of mobility. In a 2022 Frost & Sullivan survey, North American IT/telecom investment decision makers responded that they must or would like to have the following tools:

  • 78% – a mobile business calling app
  • 74% – a native mobile dialer with a business ID

In certain verticals and job roles, workers use mobile devices as their primary communications endpoints. Also, many micro-businesses and SOHOs are discontinuing their fixed-line services to save costs.

Frontline workers, typically campus roamers, have remained under-served over the years as the industry focused on developing and delivering solutions for desk-based users.  In 72% of surveyed organizations, frontliners use mobile phones; another 24% plan to equip frontliners with mobile phones in the next two years. A robust 78% of IT/telecom decision makers consider mobile business calling apps important enablers of frontliner productivity.

Q: How have Mobile Communications Solutions changed since the pandemic?

A: The proliferation of business mobile subscriptions and FMC tools is a clear indicator of strong demand for mobility in today’s organizations. However, business mobile communications services are not always properly integrated with the company’s desktop communications (e.g., PBX/cloud PBX, team messaging and video meetings). Lack of integration across mobile and wireline/desktop communications solutions disrupts workflow continuity, increases costs, and delivers sub-optimal user experiences.

Basic FMC capabilities—find-me, follow-me, and simultaneous ring—have become common features of most premises-based and cloud UC solutions and are often included at no additional cost in standard or premium seat licenses. The penetration of more advanced FMC solutions has remained limited due to a variety of shortcomings related to solution design, cost, user experience and IT/telecom decision maker awareness and priorities. Technology advancements, service provider business model evolution and socio-economic factors are accelerating adoption today.

Soft phone or UC clients, browser-based apps and even native mobile dialers are becoming increasingly common as providers acknowledge the value of these capabilities in customer acquisition and retention and drop the additional charges that have restrained adoption historically. Most premises-based UC and all cloud-based UC solutions include downloadable or WebRTC/browser-based soft desktop and/or mobile voice/UC clients as part of standard or premium user licenses.

Cloud PBX and UCaaS solutions that originate from cloud messaging and meeting solutions are mobile-ready by design. As software-based services, such solutions can be accessed on a variety of connected devices, including mobile phones. Rapid adoption of cloud messaging and meeting solutions—such as Cisco Webex, Google Workspace, Microsoft Teams and Zoom Chat and Meetings—during the pandemic lockdowns creates opportunities for accelerated adoption of cloud PBX and UCaaS services based on the same platforms.

Business mobile communications solutions leveraging native mobile dialers are most typical of the European Nordics and range from rudimentary business calling features to robust UCaaS solutions. European organizations, in general, have been much more receptive to mobile-first business communications solutions than other world regions.

In most instances, across countries, telecom operators are leveraging third-party cloud PBX or UCaaS platforms to enable native mobile dialing with business features. Key technology developers include Atos, Celfocus, Cisco (formerly BroadSoft), Dstny (formerly Telepo) and Enreach (formerly Centile). Leading service providers offering mobile-first cloud PBX/UCaaS solutions include Dstny (formerly Soluno of Sweden), Elisa (Finland), KPN (Netherlands), Rogers Communications (Canada), TDC (Denmark), Telenor (Norway), Telia (Sweden), Verizon (US), Vodafone (multiple countries).

Cisco Webex Go, Microsoft Operator Connect Mobile and AT&T Office@Hand Wireless powered by RingCentral are examples of novel mobile offerings recently launched to address increased demand for native mobile calling using business phone numbers and IDs.

Q: What should companies or enterprises look for in a Mobile Communications Solutions?

A: Modern cloud communications services provide the mobile capabilities organizations need to support new business models and workflows, attract, and retain talent, and maintain business continuity in the era of hybrid work. To stay competitive and thrive, organizations must adopt mobile-ready unified communications as a service (UCaaS). They must make mobile-ready cloud communications an integral part of holistic digital transformation projects to align technology capabilities with key business objectives and specific worker and organizational needs.

However, there are different ways to enable mobile access to business communications – software apps, browser-based/WebRTC apps or native mobile solutions. The type businesses choose will depend on their specific employee needs and workflows.

An app-based approach typically helps a user’s business identity co-exist with the consumer identity on the same mobile device. This approach is commonly preferred in bring-your-own-device (BYOD) scenarios. Another key advantage of the app-based-approach is the ability to access different business communications and collaboration modalities (e.g., calling, video meetings, messaging) within the same app.

A native mobile dialer enables a more natural user experience when it comes to calling. This approach is most preferred by highly mobile users who need to make calls frequently using their business identity. A dual-SIM approach can enable the co-existence of both the consumer and business identities on the same device, but typically a native mobile dialer is preferred when the employee is using a company-sponsored device and subscription. If such users wish to also access business meeting and messaging capabilities, they will need to use an appropriate app.

Q: Are there any unexpected benefits that have come from Mobile Communications Solutions?

A: Growing adoption of modern cloud PBX/UCaaS solutions, including mobile UCaaS, will overcome some of the challenges presented by both premises-based PBXs and early-generation hosted IP telephony solutions.

Frontliners, for example, represent a growth opportunity for mobile PBX/UCaaS services. Frontliner job roles are often more suited for asynchronous communications; however, 77% of surveyed organizations must or would like to have PBX functionality as part of their frontliners’ tool sets. Mobility features and/or mobile UCaaS are a great fit for desk-less frontline workers.

Although, typically, demand for communications and collaboration capabilities is strongly correlated with the proportion of desk workers in an organization, decision makers acknowledge the importance of empowering frontliners as well and rate many PBX and UC capabilities as must-have or would-like-to-have for their frontline workers. Mobile calling apps rank among the highest-valued capabilities organizations must have to empower frontline workers.

Q: How will Mobile Communications Solutions change in the future?

A: Frost & Sullivan surveys show that, when it comes to additional must-have or would-like-to-have capabilities offered by cloud PBX/UCaaS providers, the most highly demanded features are video meetings and mobile business calling apps (80%), followed by unified web-based management across all communications (79%), and integrated contact center, team collaboration, AI-enabled features, and integrated presence across collaboration modalities (78%).

These trends will shape mobile UCaaS in the future. Continued demand for traditional PBX features is a strong indicator that basic mobile subscriptions may not address business requirements fully. Similarly, strong demand for messaging and meeting services shows that rudimentary mobile PBX solutions will only have limited appeal.

Further technology advancements—e.g., 5G connectivity and improved FMC capabilities—are likely to boost demand for mobile UCaaS and mobility tools within more traditional UCaaS solutions. Varying feature sets will appeal to different types of users based on industry, job roles, work environment and demographic factors. Providers must be prepared to offer a rich communications and collaboration toolset to mobile users to succeed.