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Feature Article
January 2004

Tony Rybczynski photo
2004: The Year Of Convergence



The title of this month�s column is not just vendor hype, but market reality. In 2004, Phillips Infotech forecasts that IP telephony will account for almost 50 percent of new PBX line shipments. While the installed based is still dominated by digital and analog telephones, this represents a major milestone for the industry overall and for enterprises who clearly see the value of targeted deployment of IP telephony. With virtually every PBX RFQ including requirements for a clearer migration path to IP telephony, convergence is clearly going mainstream. Is convergence just about having an IP phone on your desk or a telephony soft client in your briefcase? Resoundingly NO! It�s about enabling new applications that allow you to communicate more effectively with other employees, your partners and customers. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

The term �convergence� is a highly-used term, so what does it really mean and why is it so important?

According to Webster�s Dictionary, convergence can be defined in two relevant ways. The first definition is that convergence is �the act of moving toward union or uniformity.� The second is �the coordinated movement of the two eyes so that the image of a single point is formed� � focus. So convergence is a movement towards UNIFORMITY and FOCUS, not an end point in itself. In other words, convergence is the fusion of all means of communications for business success.

At the business level, we strive for uniformity to simplify our lives and lower the cost of doing business as well as for focus on business objectives, as long as agility is maintained to differentiate our products and services. Business convergence therefore unifies all modes of communications, with a focus on business success and eliminating boundaries for improved productivity and customer engagement.

From an IT perspective, we strive for uniformity to lower our total cost of ownership while maximizing price/performance cost, and for focus on network and computing effectiveness in line with business objectives, as long as agility is maintained to optimally leverage IT investments. Technically, there are many aspects to convergence, some new and some not so new, in the form of network convergence, communications convergence, and application convergence. Let�s talk to each of these.

Network Convergence
Network convergence is the act of bringing voice, data, and video onto an IP, Ethernet, or optical network. Enterprises striving for uniformity have focused on the IP protocol suite, as the protocol of choice for networking and applications, spurred largely by the Internet and by the economics of having fewer protocols to manage. The IP protocol suite includes higher level protocols for all forms of data applications, for audio and video streaming and for real-time applications such as telephony and conferencing. This establishes an IP-based networking glue across both the enterprise and the Internet. The IP suite also includes wired and wireless Ethernet because of its utility, scalability, and price/performance. In addition, optical paths in the form of SONET circuits and wavelengths can also be a platform for network convergence. Network convergence is not new having started in the 1970�s with TDM multiplexers, continuing in the 1980�s with frame relay and ATM and with multiprotocol data-only best-effort networks. As IP networking took hold, �everything on IP� has driven the evolution towards increasingly business-grade networking. More recently, Storage-Area Networking and IP telephony have brought with them even more stringent requirements on the network for reliability, rapid recovery from failures, and low delay. The implication is that high-performance purpose-built networking platforms, selectively operating across the entire suite of Layers 1-7 protocols, are starting to become the workhorse of enterprise networks.

Communications Convergence
Communications convergence is the act of leveraging IP networks to enrich telephony by delivering new features (including multimedia) and new client options, and by increasing mobility. Communications convergence lowers the total cost of ownership of telephony systems and also provides a foundation for application convergence as discussed later. Communications convergence brings with it new clients, communications servers and media gateways, which can be realized as a fully distributed system running on top of an IP network or as an integrated office in a box. It can also be realized as an evolution to the installed base or as a standalone system, or as a managed or hosted solution. Enterprises have told us that they require communications convergence without compromise -- no loss of feature/functionality, no loss of voice quality, no loss in security and no loss of reliability. Communications convergence also addresses enterprise needs to better equip their increasingly mobile and distributed workforce in a number of ways. You can register at any IP desktop phone, and your desktop is where you are. You can work at home or in a wireless LAN hot spot running an IP or multimedia telephony client on your laptop and have your phone number and telephony features with you and make secure calls over the Internet. Or you can have enterprise-wide roaming for your IP wireless telephone or telephony-enabled PDA. Communications convergence will ultimately allow voice and data roaming across the WAN, bringing down the boundaries between enterprise WLAN systems and public wireless services, by leveraging third-generation, two-Mbps wireless services such as those recently introduced by Verizon Wireless in San Diego. If you are a contact center manager, you can virtualize your contact center through communications convergence and increase your business agility.

Application Convergence
Application convergence is the act of leveraging the full potential of the IP multimedia networking to make a significant change in how people communicate and collaborate. It does for person-to-person communications what browsers and HTML have done for information access and transaction services. It will put the end user back in control of his/her communications space and enhance how he/she collaborates with fellow workers, and enrich how enterprises communicate with their customers. Application convergence brings with it the concept of the integrated desktop, whereby a strong linkage is established between business applications and processes and multimedia communications. Application convergence is realized through the development of engaged applications, which are anticipatory, media-adaptive, and time critical. When employee facing, they allow enterprises to more effectively and dynamically create distributed teams to address business opportunities and challenges. When customer facing, they allow enterprises to strengthen their relationships with their customers, leveraging investments in contact centers and self service applications with strong integration with databases and back-office systems.

The industry focus of how this will be achieved lies in IP telephony and unified messaging, complemented by a powerful peer signaling protocol (i.e., SIP, the Session Initiation Protocol), and Web services for integration with business applications. SIP is medium-agnostic, and acts as communications �glue� across multiple environments and multiple media (including IP, wireless, and circuit switched networks). These sessions may include multimedia conferences, audio and video streaming, multimedia distribution, or simple telephone calls. SIP-based communications enable an array of new services (e.g., based on name, not address), which enhance personal productivity across all media and all devices through a range of personalization, presence management, mobility, and collaborative services.

Boundaries Come Down Through Convergence
Convergence brings down the boundaries between data and voice, between wired and wireless, between public and private, between the central site and the remote site, and between the desktop and wherever you are. While reducing the cost of networking, the real value of convergence is in productivity enhancements for employees and stronger engagement with customers.

The end result of convergence is that we will have more solid networks to support business applications, that we will have the ability to build tightly-knit high-performance teams across silos adapting to changing conditions, and that we will be able to engage our customers by anticipating their needs and interacting in real time over whatever media the customer desires. Collaboration and immediate interactions will replace talking, and non-real-time voice mail tag and e-mail proliferation.

The �killer app� for convergence is that it fundamentally shifts the way we communicate, allowing us to build more highly efficient, competitive businesses. Our five tenets for convergence are:

� Cross-functional collaboration across business-driven teams.
� Mobility keeping employees connected all the time.
� Customer Engagement serving customers better, before they click to the competition.
� Productivity enhancements for operations, office workers, and contact center agents.
� Flexibility to change directions to meet business needs.

So 2004 is the year of convergence. It signals that IP telephony has entered the mainstream, imposing additional requirements on the converged network and setting the stage for increased business value through application convergence. For business, it means lower total cost of ownership, improved employee productivity and stronger engagement with suppliers, partners and customers. The form convergence takes is a choice that every enterprise will make based on alignment with business goals.

Tony Rybczynski is director of strategic enterprise technologies for Nortel Networks with 30 years experience in networking. For more information, visit the company�s Web site at www.nortelnetworks.com.

[ Return To The January 2004 Table Of Contents ]

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