The transformation of digital communications accelerated tremendously over the last year as businesses around the world were forced to enable home working at an unprecedented scale. Face-to-face interaction ceased and adoption of cloud communication solutions such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other Unified Communications and Cloud Contact Center solutions generated a huge increase in digital communication volumes, including SIP Trunking. After some impressive scaling of the backbone infrastructure, SIP Trunking providers around the world demonstrated the importance of redundancy and reliability for business continuity and growth.
The key takeaway here is scalability at speed, which will continue to be fundamental. As we move into 2021, a number of new and emerging trends will drive the further evolution and maturity of SIP Trunking services.
Stijn Coppieters (Product Portfolio Manager) and Sven van Gurp (Sales Manager) - two of CM.com’s SIP Trunking experts - share their thoughts on the top five trends to expect this year.
1. Speech-driven chatbots
We’re sure everyone reading this has had some good and some frustrating interactions with chatbots, and more of us are using the technology. Juniper Research estimates that 8.2 billion devices with voice assistants will be shipped by 2024, around double those estimated to have shipped in 2020.
Speech recognition and synthesis is maturing quickly. Text-to-speech in various languages is advancing fast and sounds increasingly natural. This technology can be integrated easily via API from the likes of Google or Amazon, allowing it to be rolled out internationally in non-English speaking countries, without the need for pre-recorded audio files. In short, you get more flexibility at a lower cost.
The operational efficiency benefits that are now possible for repetitive voice calls could be a game-changer for businesses, particularly in industries with heavy volumes of customer interaction, such as retail, energy, and travel. Companies have already recognized this and many are writing RFPs for voice and chatbot capability (often using a combination of the two to better manage customer contact).
It’s not hard to see why: bots can handle thousands of calls at the same time before channeling enquiries to expert operators and can scale up or down extremely quickly. Traditional IVRs (Interactive Voice Responses) built on hardware will be replaced by state-of-the-art IVRs based on speech recognition software and AI, handling a huge share of calls fully automatically, but handing complex questions over to live agents.
In 2021 we expect greater adoption of voice-driven chatbots, with their AI function driving huge efficiencies across industries.
2. Combining portals with intelligent APIs
CM.com has invested heavily in its self-service customer portal over the past couple of years. This portal is greatly valued by customers and prospects, and is also required for initial registration with CM.com and for account creation.
However, recurring tasks such as number requests, SIP Trunk creation and configuration, and downloading Call Detail Records can be more practical when managed via an API. For customers maintaining their own software – such as SaaS providers – directly integrating such recurring tasks within their own software via API results in significant operational efficiency and customer satisfaction for end-users.
This is a trend we will continue to embrace in 2021 as we work towards our goal of providing each and every feature in our software portal via API as well.
3. BYOC (Bring Your Own Carrier)
Bring Your Own Carrier (BYOC) SIP Trunking is an increasingly popular way for businesses of all sizes to reduce costs, gain greater control of their inbound and outbound call traffic, and better manage their numbers.
It gives you the ability to select specific or multiple SIP vendors, helping you increase your redundancy and resilience while simplifying compliance and saving money. Perhaps the biggest win from SIP Trunking comes with scalability. BYOC is the perfect way to scale – up or down – both domestically and internationally. Instead of being dependent on one provider, you can work with as many as you need, keeping the numbers you have and adding more if required.
CM.com has integrations with multiple software platforms, which typically enables us to connect end-customers with different carriers or other SIP Trunk providers within a day.
4. Regulation, regulation, regulation
In 2021, regulation will have a larger impact on traffic than it will on the transition from legacy systems. The main takeaway from these regulatory changes is that they will challenge how companies can access certain countries without having an entity on the ground. This is designed to protect local markets, as well as to reduce abuse of remote call centers abroad.
In the past few years, for example, mobile operators have introduced origin-based charges to protect local telecoms markets from international VoIP fraud. In France, the body responsible for regulating the telecoms industry, ARCEP, has introduced additional regulation that prohibits international dialer-based traffic, as well as increasing the requirements for French number usage for Calling Line Identification (CLI) by international companies. Meanwhile, the pandemic has forced organizations in South Africa to further adapt how they make compliance with RICA (Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act, 2002) and make it more manageable for individuals and businesses.
One thing is clear, there will be big shifts in the regulatory landscape again this year. As part of the fight against fraud and spam (and to shore up legacy carrier’s businesses from more agile, digital competitors) we’ll see surcharges and government rulings that forbid certain traffic, such as dialer-based call center traffic and automated calls, especially when originating internationally. This stricter legislation makes it more difficult to be a wholesale carrier facilitating such traffic, as it becomes more expensive, the quality of service is harder to guarantee, or you end up being blocked downstream by national operators.
But this is a good thing: it drives the need for localized, partnership-led services. And not just routing of SIP traffic.
There is still a continuous migration from legacy ISDN/TDM based voice services to SIP/VoIP. For enterprises that used to be connected directly with a native PSTN carrier/operator, services such as emergency calls and access to numbers were packaged in as standard. This is not necessarily the case for SIP Trunking carriers, especially when focused on wholesale.
For enterprises switching to SIP Trunking, it is essential that they partner with SIP Trunking providers that can provide them with these PSTN services in each country where necessary. CM.com can provide these services currently in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and France, and later this year it will expand to countries such as Italy, Spain, and the UK.
5. Anti-Fraud and counter-spam
Around 20%-40% of all global VoIP traffic is spam or fraud-related. Unfortunately, as Computer Weekly put it last year: “Scam levels were much lower when the cost of making calls was higher. Now an all-you-can-eat tariff reduces the cost of making malicious calls to zero.” But fraudsters still hack customer PBX systems to call very expensive destinations/numbers, taking advantage of revenue sharing models. Communications providers are constantly working to fight back against rising fraud attempts and counter spam calls to consumers. In addition to regulation, verified calls – where the number and location of a call is checked and verified against a database – will become more widespread in 2021.
We expect to see particularly strong growth among business-critical services like banks, helping to provide value-added secure services for their customers. The technology could become commoditized with widespread rollout over the next decade once costs begin to come down. Either way, expect to see phone and SMS ultimately discarded by certain industry sectors (such as banks, where number spoofing threatens to kill their reputation) if fraud is not properly countered, either legally or technically.
Be ready for another unpredictable year
2020 showed the world that we cannot always predict what is coming. For our part, in the Netherlands, CM.com was challenged by the government to provide the core connectivity needed to offer testing to the public. With just two weeks to establish a platform that could handle thousands of calls concurrently, our dedicated team of experts was able to help meet the demands of the Dutch healthcare initiatives.
2020 also showed the value in operating an agile business, utilizing flexible technology that can work from any location and that can scale to demand. These lessons will bear out in 2021 as businesses navigate regulatory changes and shifts in customer behaviors by employing the right, modern communications tools that give them full control of their traffic.