The unified communications market is quickly organizing itself into two camps: There's Cisco Systems Inc. (NASDAQ:CSCO) ... and then there's everybody else. Sure, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but it's clear that Cisco's rivals--from Avaya Inc. (NYSE:AV) to Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE:JNPR) --are working with each other to gang up against the networking giant.
And for good reason: Booming demand for IP phones is paving the way for the unified communications revolution. Whether you're a business user or consumer, unified communications will give you one digital address book, one voice mail inbox and one network identity that will follow you everywhere--regardless of what type of device you're using (PC, laptop, smart-phone, etc). You'll no longer have to juggle multiple email and voice mail systems throughout your day.
Eager to keep Cisco from dominating this fledgling market, Cisco's rivals are now ganging up against the networking giant. Skeptical? Consider these recent moves:
Avaya Inc. and Juniper Networks Inc. together are designing IP telephony and Voice-over-IP systems for key vertical markets, including health care. I hear Juniper will showcase its Avaya relationship during a major partner conference in May. In a gutsy and savvy move by Juniper, the partner conference will be held next door to Interop Las Vegas -- the major networking industry event that Cisco has dominated in recent years. 3Com (COMS) and IBM (NYSE:IBM), as I predicted last week, have introduced IP telephony servers for IBM's partner network to resell. Cisco also has a relationship with IBM, but Big Blue appears to be investing more time in the 3Com partnership. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Nortel (NT) continue to push forward aggressively with their unified communications partnership. Sure, Cisco has announced some general work with Microsoft. But the Nortel-Microsoft deal stretches back nearly two years and appears to be the most serious threat to Cisco's market dominance. And instead of remaining on the defensive, Nortel has actually taken Cisco to task for some recent market claims.
The unified communications free-for-all should be in full swing during May's Interop conference. Top executives from Avaya, Cisco, Nortel and Microsoft are scheduled to deliver keynotes at the event. By most accounts, this is Cisco's market to lose. But Microsoft has used its desktop dominance to topple networking companies (from Banyan to Novell) before.
Disclosure: Author has no position in the above-mentioned securities