Unified Communications: Can IP Really
Bring It All Together?
BY MICHAEL Oï¿½HARA
Voice messaging is one of the most common and heavily subscribed enhanced
services available on the market today, and unified communications is a
natural progression towards unifying and managing messaging of many types.
Voice mail is already widely deployed on legacy systems and now the superior
economics and advanced capabilities of packet-based platforms provide a
solid business case for implementing unified communications on
next-generation voice networks. With packet networks, improvements in
network efficiency, simplified management, and flexible configurations
result in significantly lower operating costs, and IP-enabled applications
such as unified communications allow carriers to differentiate themselves,
build brand loyalty, and reduce subscriber churn.
Unified Communications: Carrier and End-User Benefits
Unified communications offers several benefits to carriers. With
subscriber numbers rising, the carrier revenue opportunity from messaging
applications is exceptional. Messaging and unified communications generate
additional revenue for the service provider by increasing call completion
for calls that would otherwise be lost to busy or no-answer responses. From
an infrastructure perspective, carriers can deploy a common platform for the
delivery and management of multiple messaging services, resulting in lower
costs for equipment, network transport, and ongoing operations. IP-based
messaging applications also expedite time to market and return on
investment, increasing profitability over legacy implementations.
For the end user, unified communications offers relief for individuals
who are inundated with messages from various sources, such as voice mail,
e-mail, and fax. Unified communications enables a virtual message location
where all messages can be stored and retrieved independent of medium or
access device. Packet-based unified communications can save subscribers time
and increase productivity with many personalized options that enhance
customer loyalty. Additionally, self-provisioning capabilities provide a new
level of customer service and control, giving Web browser access to
features, billing, and other services.
What Makes IP The Choice For Enhanced Voice Services?
Unified communications belongs to a class of enhanced services,
applications that go beyond traditional access and trunking offerings. These
are typically value-added applications that provide incremental revenues by
allowing carriers to charge a premium on top of standard service fees.
Additionally, carriers can bundle these services to address particular
market segments, creating brand loyalty and enabling them to compete on more
than price alone.
These business benefits make deploying enhanced services a no-brainer for
the service provider. However, the legacy circuit-switched architecture that
is the foundation of current PSTN does not lend itself to the easy, rapid,
and cost-effective implementation of enhanced services, particularly
services such as unified communications, which converge multiple media
Todayï¿½s IP voice networks make the deployment of enhanced services much
more straightforward. IP service architecture is implemented in a unit
separate from the switch, called an application server. Unlike the service
nodes used in the circuit switch world, application servers leverage
functions of the softswitch and gateway, leaving service developers to focus
on applications rather than supporting PSTN functions.
IP Application Server Architecture
Packet voice architecture inherently separates the voice path, handled by
the gateway, from the signaling that is performed by the softswitch. Based
on the same technology as data, packet voice networks can leverage
compression techniques and existing data infrastructure for more
cost-effective implementations and better use of bandwidth.
The application server receives real-time call progress information on
the state of ingress and egress calls via a standard signaling interface
like SIP. Routing, authorization, and other events such as DTMF tones are
also communicated to the application server via this SIP interface. The
application server can use this interface to communicate easily with both
the softswitch and the gateway, giving it complete control of the call
without supporting the actual voice path. This significantly reduces the
network resources required for services, while still enabling important
Deployment is also much more streamlined with packet-based systems versus
circuit switches. Since IP services reside in application servers on the
packet network rather than within traditional TDM switches, they can be
centralized in one location for easy implementation, maintenance, and
provisioning. The physical location of the service platform is transparent
to the network and scalability can easily be achieved simply by adding
processing power to the existing platform. Most significant, however, are
the cost savings from not having to backhaul voice traffic to a central
location or purchase services platforms for each region. This is especially
true for applications that are often geographically distributed, such as
call centers, prepaid/calling cards, and voice VPN.
IP Facilitates Enhanced Services Innovation
Packet-based service architecture finally achieves the goal of allowing
applications to evolve rapidly. The standard signaling interface eliminates
the need for new switch software for every new feature, finally giving
developers the ability to advance without being limited by other vendors. IP
signaling includes far fewer protocols and variants than the PSTN and they
do not vary by country. It is also helpful that clear industry standards are
emerging to facilitate rapid global deployment of packet voice networks and
enhanced services. With PSTN signaling, routing, and other functions handled
by the softswitch and gateway, the application server is left to focus on
only service-related functions, speeding development of innovative new
services. Application servers can also leverage high-density, carrier-grade,
off-the-shelf hardware with advanced performance and scalability.
The open, standards-based approach of next-generation networks promotes
interoperability and makes it easier for multiple services to work together.
Since IP service platforms do not have to handle the voice media itself but
focus on the control elements, developers can concentrate on service logic
and create best-of-breed applications. Service features can evolve separate
from the switching platform without legacy signaling constraints,
encouraging rapid innovation.
In fact, without legacy constraints, developers can implement
sophisticated provisioning tools that further simplify the user experience.
Companies no longer need trained PBX technicians to add extensions in the
office. Employees can provision their own service, while still allowing the
enterprise to control the options available to each person. This flexibility
dramatically reduces time to market, churn, and operational expenses.
Finally, delivering voice over data networks also has advantages in its
ability to integrate with the userï¿½s desktop. Not long ago, activating new
subscribers on legacy architecture was time consuming and a paper trail
nightmare. For IT managers, packet-based services can now be provisioned via
an easy-to-use, customizable Web interface that simplifies and expedites
Web integration also allows end users to manage their own features,
adding a whole new level of customer service. The days of touchtones have
now become point and click. By integrating services with the userï¿½s desktop
via a simple Web browser, it is very easy to add subscribers or change
service profiles. Self-provisioning allows customers to do things such as
sign up for services, configure mailboxes, change find-me follow-me numbers,
prepay online, set up conferences, review their monthly statements and
bills, and more.
The Future of Enhanced Services
With both core and access networks rapidly realizing the superior economics
of packet voice, enhanced service infrastructure is destined to make the
same transition, and applications like unified communications will become
mainstream. Development efforts have already shifted from legacy systems to
next-generation applications as competition fuels greater innovation. The
increase in profitability achieved by lower costs and advanced features is
so compelling that many carriers are deploying packet voice networks solely
for service deployment, before exhausting capacity on existing circuit
networks. This allows carriers to migrate slowly, and as the market
continues to mature, this motivation will only increase as new applications
are commercially deployed and legacy systems are phased out. c
Michael Oï¿½Hara is vice president, marketing at Sonus Networks, Inc. Sonus
is a provider of voice infrastructure products for the new public network,
delivering end-to-end solutions addressing a full range of carrier
applications, including trunking, residential access and Centrex, tandem
switching, and IP voice termination, as well as enhanced services. For more
information, please visit www.sonusnet.com.
To The July 2003 Table Of Contents ]
Taming Transaction Costs With Presence-Enhanced
BY BECKY DAVIS
Todayï¿½s enterprises are faced with a curious
paradox: Transaction costs -- the costs of information exchanges associated
with selling goods and services -- have been going up despite investments in
automation technologies that are supposed to streamline business. They now
consume more than two-thirds of the worldï¿½s GDP -- up from 50 percent in
1970 -- and continue to increase faster than the number of transactions.
Businesses are like debtors who canï¿½t even keep up with the interest
payments, much less make a dent in the principal.
Transactions consist largely of increasingly specialized communications.
The number of people involved in day-to-day business decisions is likewise
increasing. A team of financial experts, for example, will typically support
the CEO. In addition, people can conduct business from anywhere, dropping in
on virtual meetings via traditional phones, mobile phones, desktop
computers, wireless notebooks, or handheld computers. The advantages of this
increased mobility must be balanced against the detriments: Mobility
increases transaction costs and makes it more difficult for employees to
communicate and collaborate effectively. One example is the disconnect
between a mobile salesperson and the back office information he or she
needs, such as prices, delivery dates, and the like.
Geographic barriers are melting away, enabling more and more
specialization. Consequently, transactions are made up of increasing numbers
of communications sessions using a variety of modes. The price for setting
up these different types of links is a lot of redundant overhead that raises
The convergence of voice and data onto a single IP network infrastructure
has long been touted as a way to eliminate some of these redundancies, but
the promise of mere transport-level efficiencies hasnï¿½t been enough to
separate most companies from their traditional phone systems. However, the
addition of ï¿½presenceï¿½ information to the convergence mix is about to change
The primary enabling technology is SIP, which is now poised for
mainstream deployment. SIP adds context and state information about
participants and relevant content to the converged voice and data flow,
which greatly simplifies the establishment of communications. People can
engage in spontaneous, real-time collaboration, and transaction costs are
Consider the relatively simple example of a conference call. In a
traditional communications environment, the organizer of the conference has
to reserve time on a conference bridge that is established by a service
provider, collect any documents that are to be used during the conference,
and e-mail them to the conference participants along with the call-in number
The participants have to keep track of the access information and the
time, and each individual goes through the same error-prone call-in
procedure. Each person also has to gather up relevant documents ahead of
time, and scroll through them manually in step with the conference -- even
more duplication of effort.
In a SIP-enabled environment, conference bridges can be established
on-the-fly by the conference organizer. A buddy list of the desired
attendees shows the organizer the presence state and communication mode of
each, because this information is automatically sensed and reported by
SIP-enabled applications and devices.
The distribution of slides and other illustrations is synchronized with
the discussion, and a communication broker mediates and makes sure that the
format suits the bandwidth and interface/display capability of each
Freed from most of the mechanics of organizing and attending the
conference, the participants can concentrate on the content of the meeting.
Much of the repetitive overhead of trying to track each individual down and
establish a link over the appropriate communication mode is eliminated.
The aggregate time saved by knowledge workers is significant, and they
will be more willing to collaborate in the future. Communications are
enriched, and businesses can marshal resources in real time. Meetings can be
recorded and saved as data, enabling people who werenï¿½t available at the
time to ï¿½attendï¿½ them retroactively.
One-to-one communications are also facilitated by presence-enhanced
A user who needs help with a particular task can present it to the
communications broker, which will respond with a list of qualified people
who are currently available. When a specific individual is the target, the
communications broker evaluates presence and other context information and
lets the caller know in advance which communication mode is best at the
Voice calls are automatically routed to the intended recipient, so there
is no need to keep track of different phone numbers for desktop, mobile, and
home phones, or to leave duplicate messages in separate voice mail systems.
When an individual is not available, the communications broker can present
the caller with a list of other resources, such as an alternative party, a
relevant document, or the opportunity to schedule an appointment through an
automated assistant that can access the targetï¿½s calendar.
Convergence also reduces transaction costs on the back end, taking a lot
of uncertainty out of communications costs.
Companies today are faced with the mammoth task of managing and tracking
all the different mobile devices, collaboration services, conferencing
services, and e-mail services, and trying to reconcile their usage against
various service-provider bills. Converged communications enable
consolidation of accounting, and detailed reporting of who is using what.
In short, presence technology has created an entirely new value
proposition for convergence. By consolidating all modes of communication,
businesses can move response times into the realm of real time and keep
increasingly impatient customers satisfied.
Best of all, the potential return on convergence investments has taken a
huge leap, because the fundamental problem of transaction costs is finally
Becky Davis is director of product management for Siemens Enterprise
Networks, a division of Siemens ICN. Siemens Enterprise Networks was
conceived to deliver innovative answers to customers seeking to reduce
operating costs and grow revenues. For more information, please visit