Pandemic could accelerate convergence of audio, video calling

In the future, businesses may invest less in traditional telephony and look to buy audio and video services from the same vendor.

The coronavirus pandemic may decrease demand for traditional business phone services in favor of video conferencing. The crisis could also lead more companies to buy audio and video calling products from the same vendor. 

The pandemic has forced millions of workers to begin using video conferencing apps. People are now more comfortable with those platforms and are using them in place of the telephone in some cases.

Joshua Tretakoff used to participate in six or seven regularly scheduled phone calls a week as head of development for JustAnswer, a San Francisco-based online help service.

Those conversations are now taking place on video platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Tretakoff spends nearly double the amount of time on video calls that he did before the pandemic. "I'm not making phone calls at all," he said.

Tretakoff also plans to tell his employees to cancel their subscriptions to a service that provides them each a virtual phone number through a mobile app. They should start calling each other in Microsoft Teams instead, he said.

Tretakoff's experience highlights how the adoption of video platforms can reduce the need for traditional phone calls.

The pandemic will likely increase the adoption of video products permanently. In a recent Wainhouse Research survey, 76% of IT buyers said they expected the use of video conferencing to remain above pre-pandemic levels at least through the end of 2020.

Companies tend to pay for fewer connections to the public switched telephone network (PSTN) when they use video conferencing. Microsoft partners have reported reducing PSTN lines by 20% when installing Microsoft Teams, said Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research.

Enterprises that had previously expected to buy a cloud calling license for every knowledge worker will likely reevaluate those plans, said Marc Beattie, managing partner of Wainhouse Research. "I think that you'll see the impact of that probably in early or mid-2021."

In the future, companies may be more likely to buy audio and video calling services from the same provider.

In the Wainhouse study, a significant number of the 222 businesses surveyed said they were already using calling services connected to Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex and Zoom.

The research found that 69% were using or considering Microsoft Office 365 for calling, 65% were using or considering Webex and 48% were using or considering Zoom Phone.

Business communications vendors have already begun responding to those shifting buying preferences.

Cloud telephony providers like RingCentral and 8x8 recently added video conferencing apps to their telecommunications suites. On the flip side, vendors like Zoom and LogMeIn have launched telephony services to complement their video offerings. 

As a result, the lines between the audio and video calling markets are blurring. Some communications apps now let users quickly shift between a phone call and a video call. The current pandemic should hasten that trend.

"With respect to video adoption, it's been coming any day now for a long time," said Brian Doherty, an analyst at Gartner. "PSTN calling has been kind of on the wane for a while."

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