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Arthur M. Rosenberg

[January 15, 2004]


By Art Rosenberg

More Communications Convergence In The Year Ahead

The New Year is when everyone looks back at the significant events of the past year and tries to predict what will happen in the coming year. The telecommunications industry is particularly concerned, as are their enterprise customers, because of the disruptive technology and regulatory changes that are taking place. Perhaps more importantly, it is a good time to compare our visions of the converged communications future with the progress of the past year, and adjust our expectations and plans for moving forward towards ubiquitous multi-modal communications.

There will be many kinds of communications-related convergences taking place within the enterprise, including:

-        IP network transport;

-        Wired and wireless connectivity;

-        Desktop and handheld multi-modal communication devices;

-        Visual and speech user interfaces for both control and content;

-        Business/Information applications and personalized contacts;

-        Unified “Communication Application” servers;

-        Technology management and administration; and

-        Enterprise systems and carrier services.

Although there is a thread of interdependency between the above-mentioned convergences, the pace of migrating various technologies, users and organizational responsibilities will dictate how and when such convergences will all be realized. So, it is practical to evaluate various key components of “converged communications” separately, i.e., network infrastructures, application servers, communication devices, user interfaces and personal contact/accessibility controls.

The fact that enterprise costs are reduced by converged infrastructures has little to do with end user needs and preferences. What is driving such end user demand and ultimately the enterprise’s responsibility for supporting such needs are “always on” wireless communication mobility and the flexibility of multi-modal and cross-modal communication interfaces. While wireless device access to enterprise information and transactional application services is also an important facet of end user mobility, i.e., remote and mobile work from laptops, the new value-add of communications mobility will be driven mostly by handheld devices to support real-time demands on person-to-person communications. 

On the other hand, IP infrastructure technology can cost-effectively facilitate the flexibility of voice communications implementation and migration strategies for the enterprise, including options for outsourcing telecommunications services, self-service provisioning by end users and interoperability with legacy voice technologies and services. IP infrastructure simplifies the traditionally difficult and expensive implementation of proprietary computer telephony integration (CTI), enabling more “intelligent” call processing in IP Telephony.

  • VoIP, SIP and Communications Applications – The “Chicken and the Egg”

The telecommunications industry has clearly accepted IP networking for its infrastructure future and is focused on facilitating the graceful migration of existing enterprise telecommunications technologies (PBXs, desktop phones, call center applications, etc.) away from the limitations and costs of TDM-based voice communications. “Greenfield” installations and selective replacements of old phone systems picked up significantly in the past year. Enterprise organizations, however, are not yet fully committing to VoIP and IP telephony until they are also ready for the operational “communication application” benefits that VoIP networking will enable for their various end users. Device-oriented SIP-based presence, availability and converged modality management is the next technology infrastructure step that leading enterprise telecommunication providers like Avaya, Nortel and Siemens, as well as wireless carriers will be pushing in 2004.

  • UM, UC, and Wireless Mobility

“Unified Messaging” (UM) was a useful concept that we espoused many years ago, but it never took off because consolidating message retrieval and management for voice mail and e-mail was not enough of an ROI incentive for costly replacements of existing voice mail systems. Although we quickly recognized that UM was a mere subset of all forms of personalized contacts and Unified Communications (UC) (which includes real-time voice and messaging contacts), we also found in our market research that enterprise organizations found UM/UC functionality to be important primarily for their mobile users. Now that such devices have become “multi-modal” and are being increasingly supported by enterprise organizations, the visions of UM/UC will create more practical interest and demand by mobile end users.

·        The Rise of Speech Interfaces

2004 will be the year that speech technologies as a user interface for communication applications may come into more practical use, primarily  because of the growth of wireless mobility, multi-modal devices and the maturity of speech recognition. Although speech can be used for communication application content (e.g., calls, messages), the use of speech for any application user interface control has already become a hallmark of mobile, handheld devices. The way we see it, therefore, “speech” deals with application user interfaces, while “voice” represents a form of person-to-person communication contact. In 2004, we should see further progress in combining speech commands with visual output to support the multi-modal needs of handheld mobile communications.

Part 2

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