AI + PSTN = Changing the UC Landscape

April 16th, 2024

While last month’s Enterprise Connect 2024 (EC24) show seemed a bit light in terms of headline news, it did offer one high impact storyline around the integration of AI services with the PSTN. EC24 showcased the addition of AI services, including transcription and meeting minutes, to PSTN call using popular UC services (Teams, Zoom, Webex, Ring Central). While these have been in place for conference calls for almost a year, AI for one-to-one calls via the PSTN is new in 2024. If you want an example, here’s a great “real-world” demo from a Microsoft Principal Technical Specialist: Watch Now

Is This Just More AI Hype?

I don’t think it’s hype. If you have used AI-based transcription and meeting summary services in video or conference calls, you know how helpful they can be. Having these services for a PSTN call – especially on a mobile device – seems even more valuable. I know I have been on calls in a car or at a busy off-site event where I hung up the phone and forgot half of the call…I’m getting old, I need a place to write down notes or action items or better yet, I need AI to do it for me… Using AI is much better than asking a colleague or business partner to send an e-mail with a reminder of the call action items. In short, having the option to use an AI service in a call offers real benefits.

For AI, a Mobile UC Client is Better than a Phone’s Native Dialer

UC providers have always struggled to get users to embrace mobile UC clients for PSTN calling. At first, it was because the clients and mobile data coverage were both poor. Today, it’s probably more about breaking the habit of using your personal mobile number for everything. As an example, I often get e-mails from employees at big cloud UC players that only have a personal mobile number in the signature. Oops…

Adding AI changes the game. An AI-capable UC client, tied to your business number instead of your personal mobile number, offers real advantages vs. making or taking calls via the native dialer. It’s already useful so I can only imagine what improvements will be made in the next 2-3 years that will make using UC clients for PSTN calls even more attractive.

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff for Cloud UC

AI raises the bar for Cloud UC providers -- it requires a different level of investment. AI puts tremendous pressure on telecom providers that only offer a traditional BroadSoft/Cisco UC platform.. Even well-known mid-size UC providers may struggle. The investment scale that Microsoft, Zoom, Cisco/Webex and Ring bring to the table makes a huge difference in the range and quality of AI services available. Smaller players may be able to leverage 3rd party services, but I suspect the integration limitations and speed of innovation will affect their offers vs. those of larger competitors, likely leading to increased consolidation among UC providers.

AI + PSTN = Accelerating the Demise of the PBX

While it’s common knowledge that the PBX is nearing the end of its lifespan, AI is likely a massive blow for PBX holdouts (or insert your favorite grim metaphor here). There are still some compelling uses cases for PBXs, such as local survivability, analog device support, and long-term cost of ownership, but as AI services on phone calls become more common, the on premises PBX will become less and less attractive. To get the AI services users will expect, you’ll need a cloud-based service.

What About Cost?

I know some readers are thinking, “this sounds great but what is it going to cost? I have no money now and less money later…” To be sure, Microsoft Copilot adds significant cost to a Teams Phone license. However multiple competitors (Zoom AI Companion, Webex AI Assistant, RingSense AI) are bundling AI services into their offers. Not only do I expect that Microsoft will to adapt to competitors’ offers, I also believe that in the end cost won’t be a barrier.  Employees get used to technology, especially if it solves real problems, and when that happens, people find ways to fund it. If you disagree, ask yourself how many people would have predicted in 2007 that we would all be spending $1K every 3 years for a smartphone…

Ribbon’s Role

From a Ribbon perspective, we’re here to make a migration to the cloud easier and more secure. Regardless of the cloud UC provider or existing phone system, Ribbon SBCs, centralized routing services, and Analytics solutions can help organizations migrate to the most compelling communication option. Our solutions are certified with all of the major cloud UC providers and have been deployed in tens of thousands of businesses. Ribbon can help your organization deliver cloud-based communication services and AI services sooner.