It's always interesting when two technologies or products converge. If it's
done right -- like the clock radio or Reese's Peanut Butter Cups -- the
results are excellent, but I bet you can also think of a few examples of
converged products that haven't bowled over the marketplace. I know I can.
And while I do actually have a few AT&T videophones in my house (well,
actually now in my basement), I doubt that many of you do. Does anyone
actually buy all-in-one jars of peanut butter and jelly?
When we talk about the convergence of today's two hottest telecom
technologies -- wireless data (WD) and unified messaging (UM) -- I want to
make sure it's in the spirit of successful convergence. I won't discuss the
ever-plodding debate over which wireless protocols (CDMA, Mobitex, ReFlex),
environments (Java, Palm, WAP), and operating systems (Palm, Windows, RIM)
provide the greatest value. I choose to be merely an observer, transcriber,
and advocate of UM and WD convergence.
LET'S PLAY WEBSTER'S
Since this "convergence" is rather gray in terms of its
definition and where it fits on the marketing map, let's define the term and
try to get some perspective on where UM and WD are positioned today.
First let's define convergence. With respect to information technology,
convergence means combining various components and technologies in a way
that's accessible to everyone. Convergence is not simply an issue of
technology; it's also an issue of culture and lifestyle. Now let's define
wireless data (WD) as a gathered body of facts over a wireless transmission
path. Finally, we can define unified messaging (UM) as an application that
provides easy access to voice, fax, and "X" messages from a single
mailbox or product.
Now that we've defined all the parts of the whole, we can define the
convergence of WD and UM this way: A technology that routes voice, fax, and
messages over a wireless medium to a single source or product.
By now you may be asking yourself how this article fits in the context of
INTERNET TELEPHONYï¿½ magazine. The answer is that VoIP is a major
contributor to the trend toward converging technologies.
Since the convergence of WD and UM is such a growing technology, I will only
address some of its aspects at this time, with some additional reports to
come during the coming year. I believe this convergence is in its infancy
and needs to be defined in stages.
Stage 1 is the current stage. Today many new wireless products let
you send and receive data. However, they don't let you easily manage all the
types of messages or services defined in UM. I am most familiar with the RIM
950 Wireless Handheld and the services it supports (for example, BellSouth
MyBiz Interactive and BlackBerry wireless e-mail solution from Research in
Motion Limited). I consider this product, and the services it currently
supports, to be the first stage in the convergence of UM and WD. Depending
on your subscription type and service provider, you can send a text message
from a wireless device to a fax machine, telephone, or alphanumeric pager.
You can also originate a peer-to-peer message (the original IM: Instant
Message) from the device to another like device, or originate a message from
the Web or to an e-mail address. Plus, you can receive messages on your
device from an operator service, interactive voice response system (IVR), a
peer-to-peer message, the Web, or via e-mail.
According to our definition of UM, "easy" is key. The above
products and services let you manage your personal information (PIM) and
create text messages from a single product. With an icon confirming
delivery, you also have the highest confidence that your message was
successfully sent. From a marketing perspective, these services address both
the enterprise market segment (BlackBerry) and the service or public market
These Stage 1 products successfully converge UM services. As wireless
link speeds increase over time, and as we see more user-friendly and robust
applications like real-time Web browsing and mobile e-commerce applications,
this UMï¿½WD convergence will be driven to the next stage.
IT ALL COMES BACK TO VoIP
Allow me to explain where telephony sits in this convergence. With VoIP
driving the market in supporting the transmission of voice over the Internet
and the progression of protocols and standards like VPIM (voice profile for
internet messaging), the process to send and receive voice calls, display
fax documents, and conference using your PC is becoming real. With
telephony, unified messaging, and wireless data, you have the building
blocks for Stage 2 UM and wireless products.
It's all happening step by step. So remember, convergence can be fun --
when taken in moderation.
Jim Machi is director, product management, CT Server and IPT Products,
for Dialogic Corporation (an Intel
company). Dialogic is a leading manufacturer of high-performance,
standards-based computer telephony components. Dialogic products are used in
fax, data, voice recognition, speech synthesis, and call center management
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