Mitel will buy Polycom for $2 billion in a tough enterprise communications market

The deal would combine Polycom's phones and video systems with Mitel's unified communications stack

20160415 polycom phone

A file image shows a desk phone made by Polycom.

Credit: Stephen Lawson

Mitel's planned acquisition of phone and videoconferencing veteran Polycom for nearly US$2 billion comes as the enterprise communications industry faces dramatic changes brought by mobility and cloud-based services.

The Ottawa-based maker of corporate voice systems has agreed to pay $1.96 billion for Polycom in a deal it says would form the biggest conference phone and business cloud communications company in the world. The deal, announced Friday, still needs shareholder approval but is expected to close in the third quarter.

Polycom's phones and videoconferencing systems would help Mitel's push for "one tap to connect," a vision in which users could make a connection on any device, change it from voice to video and back, and work with colleagues on any other kind of system, Mitel CEO Richard McBee said in an interview Friday.

McBee will lead the combined company, which will carry the Mitel name but retain Polycom's brand. With about 7,700 employees across five continents, it would bring in annual revenue of $2.5 billion, the companies said. Economies of scale, some job cuts, and steps like consolidating facilities would cut costs. The acquisition would extend Mitel's reach to Fortune 500 companies and in the Asia-Pacific region, including China, where it's been seeking better traction, McBee said.

Workers used to rely heavily on desk phones and needed specialized enterprise platforms to participate in videoconferences. Now they increasingly use mobile phones and cloud-based video services that help them stay in touch both in and out of the office.

That’s putting the squeeze on everyone selling professional communication tools and driving down prices, said Wainhouse Research analyst Ira Weinstein. For example, there are now hundreds of videoconferencing service options where companies once had just a few dedicated platforms to choose from.

Though more portable and less expensive options abound, traditional systems are still in demand for their quality, reliability, security, and integration with enterprise directories, Weinstein said.

Friday’s deal could combine the strengths of two vendors hit by this trend, but it might also blunt their effectiveness, he said.

Mitel has a full software stack for unified communications, the combination of voice, video, and messaging some enterprises use to keep their employees and customers connected. That will complement Polycom’s popular desk phones and video systems, he said.

But there are also hazards in the acquisition, he said. Polycom’s hardware works with telephony software from ShoreTel, 8x8, and other third parties that compete with Mitel. If Polycom became part of Mitel, it would put those companies in the position of recommending a competitor’s phones to enterprises building phone systems.

The acquisition might also weaken Polycom’s close partnership with Microsoft, also a Mitel rival, Weinstein said.

Mitel's McBee said he isn't worried about both competing and cooperating with Microsoft and hopes to expand that partnership. As for Polycom hardware, phones could be rebranded in some cases to ease partners' objections, he said.

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