Ask Steve: What Were 2009's Hottest SMB Debuts?

December 1, 2009

5 Min Read
Ask Steve: What Were 2009's Hottest SMB Debuts?

By Steve Hilton

It’s the time of year to highlight the most important SMB-related changes that will have major impact in 2010 and beyond. To make Steve’s top list, the changes have to impact SMBs and channel partners and touch the world’s communications fabric. Think you’ve found a hot new offering, strategy or technology? Let me know about it, because I think I’ve found some – three of which I discuss below.

Cable companies capture incremental 5-10 percent market share for SMB voice. It’s been a long time in the works, but I expect U.S. cable operators to hit bundled service offerings heavy in 2010. MSO voice offerings are fairly well built for the lower end of the SMB marketplace and I anticipate more offerings hitting 20-plus employee businesses in 2010. By understanding the lifetime value of an SMB customer from the cable company’s perspective, it’s clear voice added to the bundle’s increased stickiness by raising switching costs for an SMB.

But it’s not just voice solutions that the MSOs are fine-tuning — consider solutions like Ethernet, managed security, hosted Microsoft Exchange, mobility and the like. Cable companies, like the telcos, want to be technology providers to SMBs rather than communications-only providers. Adding IT managed services, cloud-based solutions and applications to the solution mix reinforces this message.

Cable companies like Time Warner Cable Business Class are putting dedicated resources against their channel programs. No longer one-trick ponies, MSOs offer multiple solutions, which if nothing else, provide customers with redundancy or replacement options. I expect more VAR focus and resources from Time Warner, Cox and Comcast in 2010. If you haven’t approached the MSOs for a conversation, do so.

New corporate-liable mobile offerings launched for mobile data. In 2010 I expect the wireless carriers (e.g., AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, T-Mobile) even more strongly to create SMB-centric offerings. Stay tuned for changes in solutions, channels and market testing.

In 2010 I expect we’ll see an SMB managed mobility solution from three of the four national carriers. The managed solution will help SMBs deal with the onslaught of smart phones, bevy of mobile operating systems and security-related issues.

I also expect we’ll see a re-invigoration of corporate-liable plans. They can save SMBs money, allow for easier control of the mobile communications budget and provide a uniform applications experience for an SMB’s mobile workforce. While voice plans have been the focus for corporate-liability I would also expect some type of pooled, corporate-liable mobile data plan where a carrier would sell a handful of mobile broadband cards with a pool of data usage attached. Any employee could use the data cards when traveling and return them to the IT department when not. Whether corporate-liable or not, mobile broadband data will be a core market offering for the carriers in 2010.

Finally, I expect Sprint to implement unlicensed mobile access (UMA) calling over Wi-Fi on mobile devices. Currently T-Mobile is the only major U.S.-based carrier allowing UMA calling, but I predict that’s going to change. UMA calling saves SMBs money and it’s a great marketing tool for carriers. As a sidebar, it also encourages SMBs to invest in WLAN gear for their offices and home offices: a good opportunity for networking VARs to pick up a little extra business.

The Empire Strikes Back with further 10 percent price reductions in SMB networking gear. Cisco Systems Inc. and HP continue the battle to save SMBs from a non-connected world. Networking gear, services, limited lifetime warranties, storage, security — the battle wages on. I’ll let you decide who plays Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in this intra-galactic battle.

I expect more services offerings in 2010 associated with managed solutions like security, storage, simple business continuity and disaster recovery. I also expect continued pricing pressure for both core network offerings and the support services and maintenance associated with the offerings.

Cisco’s SMB strategy – segments, solutions and channel – continue with light-saber precision in 2010 and beyond. We expect Cisco to find more success with smaller-sized SMBs, especially as they continue to build-out their Small Business Series and Small Business Pro Series. They’ve also put in place a multipronged post-sales support model that’s well-suited to SMB markets. We’d love to see some video communications solutions ready for SMBs in 2010 from Cisco, but we’ll settle for 2011.

HP has strong global SMB initiatives building upon their strength in channel enablement and the ProCurve series of solutions. With a focus on innovation, standardization and nifty marketing, HP has come a long way to be within the top three networking vendors for SMBs (Cisco and 3Com Corp. being the other two). Expect continued aggressiveness from the HP channel as ProCurve continues its assault.

So, my top 2010 predictions are cable companies with a channel-friendly bundle including Ethernet offerings; wireless carriers with corporate-liable data offerings; and more price pressure in networking. All these 2010 changes create opportunities for the VAR community with new product and services sales.

Send your questions to [email protected]. Please include your name, city, state and a phone number where you can be reached. First names and locations only will be published.

Steve Hilton is the vice president of Yankee Group’s Enterprise Research Group with an expertise in converged solutions for SMBs. Hilton manages a team of analysts delivering consulting, research and programs to help vendors and service providers better serve SMBs, midmarket enterprises and large enterprises globally. Visit Yankee Group online at

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