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Arthur M. Rosenberg

[October 27, 2004]

The Big Gorilla Drops the Presence Shoe on Desktop Telephony

By Art Rosenberg, The Unified View


Microsoft’s (quote - news - alert) recent Istanbul (news - alert) announcement came a little earlier than we expected, but it really wasn’t that much of a surprise after they announced their agreement this summer with AOL and Yahoo about IM interoperability with their enterprise LCS 2005 presence server. Now, however, the challenge appears to be openly made to traditional enterprise telephone system providers -- Microsoft wants to replace the desktop telephone user interfaces (TUI) for call control with visual, screen interfaces provided by their PC software application client, code-named Istanbul, that will also integrate with real-time instant (text) messaging and presence management at the PC desktop.

This key move is a strategic follow-through to the impact that VoIP (define - news - alert) and IP Telephony (IPT) is starting to have on traditional voice communication applications. The major telephone system providers, who still dominate most of the enterprise market installed phone systems have now all jumped on the moving train of VoIP, IP Telephony, and SIP-based presence and availability management, because it is a practical step towards cost-effective integrations, technology management, and, of course, converged, multi-modal communication. As reflected in our recent migration study of enterprise organizations, incumbent telephone system providers are in a strong position to lead the enterprise market to voice applications convergence. They all expect to exploit their legacy expertise in the migration of voice communications servers (PBXs, voice mail, IVR, etc.), as well as new software and hardware end user interfaces for all forms of “collaborative” call/conferencing control.

The Battle for Enterprise Desktop Communications

Recognizing that IP-based voice communications can now be treated as data and controlled more flexibly through visual interfaces at the desktop than just through the legacy TUI’s (Telephone User Interfaces), the “traditional” telephone system providers have even developed great-looking “softphone” software and servers to support the convergence of real-time call management and messaging (multi-modal) communications. These offerings will interwork with unified messaging products, which handle voicemail functions and integrations with enterprise email servers and include:

  • Avaya’s Converged Communications Server and Unified Communications Center,
  • Siemens HiPath Openscape suite,
  • Nortel Networks Multimedia Communications Server 5100 suite,
  • Mitel’s Your Assistant, and
  • Alacatel’s OmniTouch Unified Communications Suite.

Needless to say the newer IP Telephony providers like Cisco, Shoretel, 3Com, and Interactive Intelligence, are all doing similar things for the converged communications desktop.

But, it isn’t the old “unified messaging” concept of asynchronous email and voicemail that is now driving this shift to desktop telephony convergence; it is the real-time nature and endpoint intelligence of presence-based, instant text messaging that is expanding the user’s control over voice communications at the desktop. Just as unified messaging was motivated by the need to converge the recipient’s retrieval of asynchronous email and voice mail messages, focus is shifting to the newfound ability to intelligently and flexibly initiate and control multi-modal communication contacts. Coupled with the increased personal accessibility of wireless communications devices, this will impact traditional voice and video calls, multi-party conferencing, and instant messaging through SIP-based presence management. We see this shift as finally enabling our old visions of “unified communications” and changing the landscape of business enterprise communications and the telecommunications industry.

IM adds a new dimension to traditional conversational voice communications using the telephone with a complementary modality of immediate, but very brief communication exchanges with people who know each other. The fact that it is typically text based, makes it less disruptive than voice conversations, and also enables concurrent, multi-tasked exchanges even while already in conversation on the phone or during a meeting. It is also more suited for noisy environments or where conversational privacy is required. The fact that IM has evolved with the use of presence management and controlled “buddy lists” is an additional plus that is now also being put to use with IP Telephony.

Just as with its enterprise Exchange email servers, Microsoft is assuming dominance in enterprise IM with its announcement this summer that their Live Communications Server 2005 will interoperate with the leading public IM services offered by AOL and Yahoo. Such interoperability between enterprise CPE and IP-based public communication services is becoming more critical to the concept of communications convergence, which is now also being manifested for the wireless domain of voice. This was demonstrated this year by the partnership of Avaya, Motorola, and Proxim with their “seamless mobility” for dual network handheld phones that are dynamically switched between cellular and Wi-Fi networks to maintain cost-efficient connectivity.

A “Universal” Desktop Client for Multi-Modal Personal Communications Management

Back at the desktop, the concept of using the PC to initiate and manage phone calls is not new, but putting incoming and outgoing call and messaging activity under the “intelligence” umbrella of presence and availability management is indeed the new kid on the block. It will change traditional user thinking about real-time communication functions such as:

  • Ringing for call notification
  • “Busy” signal responses
  • Cross-modal call and message switching
  • Call waiting management
  • “Instant” voice, video, and multi-modal conferencing
  • Presence-based call routing
  • Presence-based multi-modal contact initiation
  • Call and urgent message screening
  • Multi-modal call urgent message notification and delivery
  • Personalized “screen pops” for incoming calls
  • Cross-modal, presence-based message reply
  • “Instant” voice messaging, “push-to-talk” or “intercom”

These are all telephony and messaging functions that could be accommodated by a single, converged user interface that may be visually and/or speech controlled at the desktop or from handheld devices. In theory, it should make little difference what application server is actually performing the common functions that are required by end users. In practice, is this what the Microsoft announcement is going to accomplish by offering a consolidated user interface client for a variety of application servers? If so, what impact will this have on the telephone system providers who are developing similar capabilities for both the multi-modal desktop and handheld devices in the “open” world of IP networking?

“Gaining a Son-in-Law”

Microsoft’s Istanbul announcement is clearly a bid for making the desktop PC interface more useful for flexible multi-modal communications, including IP Telephony. The first impression might be that this will be a competitive threat to the voice telecommunications industry, but the other perspective is that it will enable easier migration to communications convergence for the telephony providers. Just as the enterprise email servers enabled voicemail to integrate with their directory, storage, and desktop client software to provide a practical unified messaging capability, the LCS 2005 and forthcoming Istanbul desktop server will similarly enable integration between sophisticated voice application functions and presence-based instant messaging servers. In other words, the telephony industry is not “Losing a daughter, but gaining a son-in-law!”

There will always be room for competition because Microsoft has already demonstrated that it is hard to be perfect in everything and they have long practiced the strategy of partnering rather than competing. By moving IM and presence more deeply into the world of IP Telephony, they will be in a better position to meet the needs of voice application providers who have the greater experience, skills, and complementary technologies to truly satisfy the needs of enterprise end users.

I guess everything is relative. Telephony folks have always seen the telephone station set as being the focal point for everything that is voice related, and the data people see voice as data to be controlled visually by the PC interface. Guess what? It’s now going to be all of the above!

What Do You Think?

So, who will control the converged user interface for unified communications and with what kind of desktop device? Will it be the PC with “dumb” handsets, “smart” multi-modal handsets, or flexible combinations of the two? Where will communications administration and management reside in an enterprise converged environment? Who will take responsibility for managing wireless mobility that integrates with personal presence and availability management? How will such convergence impact the use of wireless services by enterprise personnel?

Let us know your opinions by sending them to [email protected]

New White Paper Report: Progress and Direction of Enterprise Migration to Converged Communications

The Unified-View has just completed a new white paper report on the state of the industry and the enterprise market for communications convergence. Entitled “Beyond VoIP: Enterprise Perspectives on Migrating to Multi-modal Communications and Wireless Mobility,” the report was sponsored by the non-profit Unified Communications Consortium and leading providers of enterprise voice telecommunications technologies, including Alcatel, Avaya, Mitel, Nortel Networks, and Siemens.

This objective report summarizes the current availability of key converged voice application technology from the provider industry, as well as a realistic assessment of the progress that enterprise organizations are making in migrating to communications convergence. The latter information is based on recent market studies of enterprise organizations from a converged usage perspective. The study provides practical feedback on the readiness of the market for the new IP-based voice technologies.

For a free copy of the new report, go to www.unified-view.com

Art Rosenberg is a veteran of the computer and communications industry and formed The Unified-View to provide strategic consulting to technology and service providers, as well as to enterprise organizations, in migrating towards converged wired and wireless unified communications. He focuses on practical user requirements, implementation issues, and new benefits of multi-modal communication technologies for individual end users, both as a consumer and as a member of enterprise working groups. The latter includes identifying new responsibilities for enterprise communications management to support changing operational usage needs most cost-effectively.

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