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Arthur M. Rosenberg

[May 13, 2005]

Beyond VoIP and IP Telephony -- Communication Devices, Modalities, and Applications

By Art Rosenberg, The Unified View


Now that the wired network layer of convergence through VoIP has been hyped enough in the press to gain acceptance for lowering telephony costs in both the consumer and enterprise markets, its time to look at the other layers of communication convergence which will really drive business user adoption. Those layers are the communication functions available to end users, AKA “horizontal” applications, and, perhaps most important to all end users, the converged communication devices they will use in the future for those communication functions.

“Now What?”

Although we have always been focused on what benefits end users get from communication technology, the VoIP marketing campaign was initially directed at technology managers for enterprise cost savings as the driver for migration. (“ Greenfield” and end-of-life cycle replacements don’t have a migration justification problem.) But, since the market has been moving relatively slowly in replacing TDM technology investments, Eric Krapf, editor of Business Communications Review, addressed the enterprise migration problem in his recent newsletter as follows:

“While the industry may be in the early stages of the IP-telephony migration, enterprise customers are already spending a lot of time thinking ahead, mulling over the ‘Now what’ question – ‘I've committed to an IP-telephony migration and prepared my enterprise for the implementation. Now what?’

Market researchers …. surveyed ... (enterprises) about the ‘applications’ for which they expected to be using VOIP, for both 2004 and 2006.

Not too surprisingly, the biggest application overall was ‘basic voice,’ at 93 percent for 2004 and 91 percent at 2006, followed by

  • Conference calls, 75 percent (2004); 79 percent (2006)
  • Long distance/toll bypass, 71 percent (2004); 73 percent (2006)
  • Unified messaging, 53 percent (2004); 71 percent (2006).
  • Videoconferencing, 32 percent (2004); 58 percent (2006).
  • Buddy list/presence, 28 percent (2004); 44 percent (2006)
  • User self-provisioning, 30 percent (2004); 43 percent (2006)
  • CRM integration, 24 percent (2004); 39 percent (2006).

Smaller but still significant increases also showed up for “find-me/follow-me,” click-to-dial, Lotus Notes/Domino integration and Microsoft Outlook/Exchange integration. On that last point, more than half the respondents--54 percent--said that by 2006 they expect to integrate their Microsoft Outlook or Exchange systems with their VOIP.

The bigger picture here is that enterprise technology managers are trying to do two things at once: Get basic IP-telephony systems installed and running, and also prepare for the technologies that may not yet be baked into the current gear that's being implemented. They've clearly bought into the idea that convergence will fundamentally change their telephony environment.”

Eric will be putting his money where his mouth is at BCR’s VoiceCon Fall conference in San Diego, a follow up to their hugely successful VoiceCon show last February. They will be providing tutorials related to communication application standards and implementation, as well as a “Special Focus on Applications”, two back-to-back sessions on Wednesday, August 31.

For enterprise technology management, who must understand and support the increasing variety of end user operational needs for multi-modal communications, rather than just basic networking infrastructures, this is where the organizational rubber will meet the telecommunication road of the future.

My Comments to Eric Krapf

After reading his editorial remarks, we sent Eric the following observations:

“Where I think the survey findings you cited may have missed the boat was in neglecting two important factors that drive value of future communications capabilities (“applications”) directly to individual business users (and indirectly to the enterprise). These two factors are wireless mobility and time-sensitive urgency. Without those, there really is no mission critical reason to change the traditional, desktop silos of communication from an end user perspective. Reducing operational costs for the enterprise is a worthwhile objective for technology management, but does that do anything for the business end users' job responsibilities and business process task performance?

"I suggest that any one of the new modalities of communication can become “mission critical” if it is the most efficient or only way to meet time-sensitive deadlines for certain people at certain times. Even message notification and delivery can easily become mission critical, depending upon the operational circumstances. “Unified messaging” is not important for everyone and my enterprise surveys have consistently indicated that only 20-30% of the users in most organizations really need such flexibility on a regular basis, because those users are not only mobile (away from their desks), but need to deal with time-sensitive situations. However, you are right about anyone investing in un-future proofed, proprietary solutions - no one in their right minds will make that kind of trade off if they can help it.

"I think that you will soon find Instant Messaging becoming as mission critical (or more so) than telephony voice, because it is both real-time and may be more efficient from an availability and modality management perspective (something we really didn't have with the telephone).  When a two-way voice conversation or discussion is not really required, the various forms of messaging have all become part of the practical alternative for business contacts.”

Furthermore …

I have frequently described communications convergence from the end users’ perspective as the integration of IP Telephony functions with unified messaging, all under the new umbrella of personalized presence, availability, and modality management. If the effectiveness of conversation suddenly become necessary at any point during any kind of message exchange, it is obvious that converged communication technologies should facilitate easy escalation from a messaging mode to voice conversations, i.e., what I have now labeled as "transmodal" communication. To do that efficiently and effectively, however, we need all the layers of communications convergence, i.e.:

  • VoIP Networks (wired and wireless)
  • IP Telephony application servers
  • Messaging servers
  • SIP and Presence Management servers
  • Multi-modal communication devices

The Coming Battle over Handheld Devices and the “Mass” Business Communications Service Markets

While the first four technology areas are starting to make headway as products for both enterprise CPE and service provider/carrier infrastructure migration, the fifth category, handheld devices, is starting to become the battlefield of communications convergence.

As I tried to highlight in my previous comments above, the individual business user’s perspective of communications value is centered on being accessible to and responding to time-sensitive contacts, especially through wireless mobility. These needs require “always on” communication devices and the flexibility that multi-modal interfaces will offer.

Unlike desktop communications (station sets, PCs, laptops, etc.), wireless handheld devices are coming in all flavors of form factors and functional capabilities. They are also becoming “converged” devices that support controlled usage for both personal and business contacts, allowing end users to deal with their real world contacts as both enterprise users and consumers. There is, therefore, no standard “one-size fits all” mobile communication device!

Because multi-modal, converged communications must be device-independent across wired and wireless networks, end user handheld devices cannot be practically controlled and supported by the enterprise in the same way as traditional telephones or desktop PCs. However, every business organization will still require control over communications activities and usage, both from a security perspective and for billing purposes. This will require the convergence of wireless carrier support with enterprise CPE technologies so that enterprises can manage and control business usage, but not have to support the communication devices that will be also used for personal contacts and can be easily lost, broken, stolen, or frequently upgraded.

Since wireless handheld devices are typically marketed through the carrier service providers, rather than by the device manufacturers, we will see a concerted effort by the wireless carriers to capture business market segments at all levels with combinations of CPE-compatible services (e.g., Wi-Fi/Wi-Max/3G), handheld devices, wholesale business group rates, and individual end-user (subscriber) support.

What Do You Think?

Who will make the handheld device/wireless service buying decision in the enterprise, the individual users, business unit management, or the technology managers? What role will the enterprise have for supporting end user devices? Will the enterprise provide client software for mobile devices that will provide control and security for all business contacts?

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

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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