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Unified Communications
Featured Article
UC Mag
Richard "Zippy" Grigonis
Executive Editor,

IP Communication Group

Year-End Review and Future Trends in UC

Unified Communications has evolved rapidly from a simple 1990s-type unified messaging inbox for email, voice and faxes, to increased mobility (including FMC or Fixed-Mobile Convergence), multi-modal mashups of various forms of communications including multi-participant conferencing and collaboration (all "glued together" with user presence status information), and now to widespread integrations involving the communications-enabling of legacy business CRM and back-office applications, leading us to the most bandied-about term of 2008: Communications-Enabled Business Processes (CEBP).


Traditional telecom vendors are now taking UC quite seriously and are scrambling to gracefully bridge the world they controlled for decades to the new, more disruptive world of emerging UC technologies.


For example, Alcatel-Lucent is leveraging its real-time communications heritage into the IBM instant messaging and collaboration world via OmniTouch 8600 My Instant Communicator release 5.1, a software client solution that links Alcatel-Lucent telephony, messaging, conferencing, and presence with IBM Lotus Sametime v.8. My Instant Communicator services can be integrated with existing business applications and accessed seamlessly from a computer, an IP Touch© phone or smartphones. It allows end users to benefit from real-time, unified communications, a consistent user experience and complete control over their communications with a tight integration to Sametime for presence and IM. Additionally, the OmniTouch My Teamwork solution adds click-to-conference and dialin conferencing capabilities to Sametime Connect and Meeting Center 8.0 offering an immediate ROI.


Several of the key trends that UC analysts and professionals are talking about include whether it's best to purchase a unified communications system in pieces as the need arises, or as a whole to get the benefits of system integration.


Peter Anderholm, Director of Product Line Management, Unified Communication and Collaboration, Alcatel-Lucent, says, "The prevailing thought is that companies should purchase what they need as they need it, but with an eye toward growth and expansion of their system leveraging open standards-based solutions to assure investment protection."


"Organizations are also finding significant value in UCenabling of business applications," says Anderholm. "With Communications-Enabled Business Processes [CEBP], users can access unified communications features through enterprise portals and business applications. This solution enriches standard business applications with real-time presence, telephony, messaging, and conferencing." Anderholm believes that Alcatel-Lucent has an advantage in this area because the company's solution is standards-based and thus works with both applications and telephony servers or softswitches from all vendors and scales to meet the needs of enterprises and services providers alike.


As for mobile UC systems, with so many professionals being road warriors or home workers, there is a need for traditional desktop features to be accessible from mobile devices with a consistent user experience. Anderholm says, "Alcatel-Lucent will again be meeting this need with the launch of ACE [Advanced Cellular Extension] for Blackberry devices in addition to the existing flavors for Nokia and Windows Mobile Pocket PCs. With this application, calls to a user's desk phone can be instantly routed to their Blackberry for complete call control. With ACE, the mobile professional's user experience is very close to what they get at their desk; that is, complete control on telephony services is available right from the mobile device. In Q2 2009, Alcatel-Lucent will launch My Instant Communicator Mobile, expanding the user experience from telephony services up to rich presence, messaging and ultimately collaboration and conferencing."


Over at ShoreTel, they recently released ShoreTel 8.0, which supports a UC Desktop, more open interfaces for integration and new voice switches for increased flexibility. It also now offers a new VPN-enabled phone to simplify remote end-user deployment, as well as a Gigabit-enabled mid-range IP phone.


ShoreTel's Kevin Gavin, Vice President of Marketing at ShoreTel, says, "These are exciting times. When we look back in five or seven years, we're all going to say, 'Wow! There was never was a category this big that went through such incredible change in such a short time. It's like the mainframe-to-PC revolution all over again, or the emergence of the Internet. It doesn't get any more exciting than trying to look ahead and figure out what the world of UC is going to look like. We'll all be surprised when it all plays out."


"ShoreTel comes from a core IP PBX background," says Gavin, "the whole distributed architecture concept. We have many satisfied customers in that regard. That's our core, underlying strength. Like every PBX vendor, we're moving more toward unified communications."


Gavin continues: "I believe there are four underlying trends that I think are interesting: First, in the old world of telecom, 'business communications' as such was basically having a phone number, and you picked up a phone, got dial-tone, and you talked to somebody one-on-one. It was all Voice. As we move forward, however, things are changing considerably. In terms of empowering users and boosting productivity for end users - which is what UC is really all about - what's key is that communications has exploded in two dimensions: multi-participant and multi-modal sessions. By that I mean that communications is no longer just one-to-one - it's one-to-two, three or many people, and users need to be able to quickly and easily add and delete participants from any given session. The old way of dialing into a bridge is kind of clunky and old-school. The ability for my colleagues to call me and for us to conference you into our session easily and seamlessly, is part of the new age which we're in. So it has to be multi-participant. But it also has to be multi-modal. We're finding increasingly with current ShoreTel deployments that many of our users tell us that they start conversations using instant messaging, and many times the first IM reads, 'Do you have time to talk?'. And the second IM is 'Yes, call me'. And then they pick up a phone and dial. But even that is basically clumsy. The notion that you should be able to begin a session inside of a client and if it's an IM session and you want to talk to the other person, you should be able to click on a button that says 'Call' and the service should know both your phone numbers and then open up a voice link between you. During that call, if you decide you want to escalate that to video, there should be another button on which you can click to instantly start up a video link between you. Similarly, if you want to do a desktop share, you should be able to click on button in that same client software and open up a desktop share/collaborative program."


"In the old days, early adopters had three different clients with three different logons and passwords and directories," says Gavin. "It was kludgy and complicated and it took forever. The new way is to have end users seamlessly and quickly be able to change their type of communication from voice one-on-one, to the new world of multi-modal and multi-participant systems."


"It's all about the client, ease-of-use and integration," says Gavin. "Many people can claim that they offer this technology, but how many end users are really adopting it and how easy is it for them to adopt? Ultimately, it's about serving end users. We have a slew of raving fan customers who can't stop talking about this stuff. I can give you a whole list of them to talk to. It really is transformational when highly 'usable' features appear that normal people can use every day."


"The second trend involves the notion of find-me/follow-me and 'you can reach me anywhere, anytime', which is kind of interesting but a lot of mainstream people resist that," says Gavin. "They say, 'Wait a minute, I already have too many interruptions. The last thing I need is for every call to reach me wherever I am and I need to get away from some of these calls'. So the second trend we see is moving from what used to be 'reach-you-at-anytime-anywhere' scenario to now being able to take calls from who you want, when you want and where you want, and to avoid being distracted when you're otherwise engaged, because we've all got a distraction syndrome going on these days. Increasingly, customers demand filtering tools so they don't get swamped by communications."


"We've filed a patent for a system where if the phone or device leaves your office, it will change your call handling mode and it will stop ringing your desk phone and will instead ring your mobile phone," says Gavin. "I can program it so that when I get to my other office, it will start ringing me there. So find-me/follow-me isn't just some dumb thing that rings every phone. You can appropriately filter calls.


You can put yourself in Do Not Disturb mode if need be, so that when you're in a meeting all of your calls go to voicemail but you can set it so that only certain people calling will be given the option to press the 1 key in order to reach you. We also offer the ability, based on caller ID, to give specific treatments to specific callers. Calls from creditors and ex-wives can be sent to voicemail, but calls from your boss, secretary and spouse can go through to your cell phone, or whatever. So the notion of filtering is increasingly important - consider that the first wave of find-me/follow-me didn't do such a good job in that area, and many people reacted negatively to it, because there was too much information, too much access. The filtering tools are thus key to widespread adoption."


"Early adopters are great, but ultimately widespread adoption really depends on end-user ease-of-use. That's the missing piece in many of these 'puzzles'. That's what we can do - making it easy for mere mortals - and that's no easy task. ShoreTel has some very friendly telephony applications and products, such as our phone, which is designed so you can easily access your voicemail and your corporate directory and you can conference and so forth. You don't need an instruction manual. We also have a desktop client that lets you do IM, visual voicemail and programmable find-me/follow-me. We also have a mobile call manager client. What all of this means is that when people want to communicate, they enter into a communications-designed portal that really is a communications application. It's all good."


"This leads me to the third major trend, which is that, as we move forward, we're seeing the reverse happen," says Gavin. "Instead of having people leave their current application to enter a communication application, we're starting to build communications capabilities into other applications. ShoreTel offers something we call Web Dialer. Skype has something similar. If you're a Shore- Tel customer, and you have this application installed, as you surf the web, any phone number, anywhere in the web, is highlighted on your screen in orange - our corporate color - and if you right click on that number a little dialog box pops up that says 'Call'. If you click on that, Web Dialer will call that number using your phone. We're also integrated with CRM technology from Salesforce.com, Microsoft Dynamics, NetSuite and RightNow Technologies and others. If you're in your CRM app and you need to make 10 calls today, you don't want a communications app in which you're forced to input phone numbers. Instead, from Salesforce.com you can call up a client, click on it, and your phone goes off-hook. Similarly, if somebody calls you, our technology can reach into Salesforce.com and get a screen pop so that the screen you like to show for your interaction recording will appear. So, increasingly, the world is becoming more and more communications- enabled. It's what Gartner calls CEBP, Communications- Enabled Business Processes."


"The fourth trend is that we're seeing the move toward mobility," says Gavin. "I remember when cell phones cost thousands of dollars and calls were 45 cents a minute. Today they're relatively inexpensive and everybody has one. But now the challenge centers on multiple phone numbers and devices. Which number are you using to call me? When you do, what capabilities will I be able to access? When I call out, which number am I going to display to the callee? We need to make sense out of the fact that we've got multiple devices and multiple numbers and we use them at different locations. We've got to unify all of it. Many people think about UC as being presented with a whole suite of applications behind your number. So part of the trend is, unify your numbers. If somebody calls your mobile number or your Direct Inward Dial number, either way you want the call to enter a single voicemail box. And you still want to be able to do your add-video add-desktop shares. You don't want your mobile number be a 'stranded' number and all of your capabilities are hiding behind a particular number. If you go on vacation and you set your vacation call handling mode, do you change things on your mobile, home office and office desktop phone? Or do you have the ability to unify all of the various access points - phone numbers - behind a single application that you're able to manage seamlessly. That's a trend that, frankly, very few people are aware of. We are aware of it and we've achieved some early traction in this area. It's going to be a significant differentiator as we move forward."


OSS and BSS for IMS


Underlying the increased mobility of unified communications is an expansion in fixed-mobile convergence, in many cases following the Voice Call Continuity (VCC) concept compatible with IMS [IP-based Multimedia Subsystem]. As the infrastructure is transformed and continues to grow, many opportunities for OSS (Operations Support Systems) vendors will appear. Providers require such things as integrated systems to manage the process and information flows when activating subscribers and services in the network (provisioning) and storing the required business and technical information (inventory). With the introduction of all-IP networks, service providers will be offering convergent broadband services through both fixed and mobile channels, which will involve investment in a convergent OSS/BSS system, where fulfillment is a major component.


Take Comptel Corporation, which offers Comptel Dynamic OSS solutions that enable telecom service providers to deliver services as flexibly and inexpensively as possible. Comptel's expertise in inventory, provisioning and activation, mediation and charging offloads much of the effort normally expended by providers, and frees them up to focus on delivering innovative services.


Comptel's Marketing Director, Olivier Suard, says, "We're a software company working in the OSS space. We tend to deal in service fulfillment automation, which encompasses the whole provisioning area on the one hand, and mediation and charging on the other. It's the 'lower end' of the billing stack which involves the collection of usage data and working out the value of that usage. Within those two areas we offer quite a few solutions such as mediation, data retention, charging, inventory and provisioning solutions. One of our flagship customers is T-Mobile; they process something like 1.5 billion customer detail records using our software."


Recently Comptel Corporation acquired Axiom Systems in the U.K., a next-generation broadband IP services fulfillment company. Axiom's customizable product offering is an end-to-end fulfillment suite that includes Order Management, Service Inventory, Service Activation and Active Catalog.


"We acquired Axiom to reinforce our presence in broadband," says Suard. "We've been extremely successful in GSM mobile across the world, but much less so in the broadband space, partly because we didn't have an order management component, which is fundamental to a lot of broadband provisioning. So we decided to buy Axiom Systems, which we did in April 2008. They have a wonderful clientele that includes BT and Telecom New Zealand."


"You'll certainly be seeing more FMC and IMS deployments," says Suard. "We recently did a deployment with Far EasTone, the leading convergent operator in Taiwan providing mobile and broadband services. They're the first operator in Taiwan to deploy 3.5G HSDPA [High-Speed Downlink Packet Access] and IMS technologies. Far EasTone offers broadband over ADSL, cable and WLAN and is readying WiMAX too. They are using both our Comptel Convergent Mediation Solution, and Comptel Provisioning and Activation Solution to support delivery of innovative services on their new IMS platform, which they got from Ericsson. In terms of FMC, Far EasTone will be using IMS to deploy a new dual fixed and mobile service. This service allows users to make and receive calls using either a WiFi Internet connection or the 3G mobile network. Users will have just one phone number for both services, and can choose at anytime to use either their PC or a WiFi phone running VoIP, or a mobile handset when roaming about. Far EasTone has adopted the Comptel Provisioning and Activation Solution to register and deregister users on the network, and to allocate and de-allocate the services to them. Far EasTone is also using the Comptel Convergent Mediation Solution to collect usage information to charge for these services."


Mobiles in Motion


FMC and FMC-like technologies are attracting a lot of attention, since the workforce is becoming increasingly mobile and seamless crossing-over from indoor WiFi to cellular networks is an attractive proposition in terms of sheer convenience for harried workers.


For example, the DiVitas Mobile Unified Communication Solution is a network-agnostic, VoIP-based system for wireless communication over WiFi, PBX, and cellular. DiVitas provides seamless access to business applications over any mobile network on any handset under enterprise control. The DiVitas Server installs between the enterprise's IP PBX and Wireless LAN, and monitors and manages a mobile user's device continuously, whether on the corporate or public network. DiVitas works with any carrier and supports most mobile devices. You can even use the dual-mode (WiFi/cellular) handset of your choice to let employees receive voice, data, and applications on a single device from any location including access to the IP-PBX functions of their desk phone. Key information is automatically and seamlessly made available via the most appropriate network - cell or WiFi - without wasting carrier minutes. Moreover, by taking management and control out of carrier hands, enterprises assume policy and security control over mobile communications.


In a similar vein, Varaha Systems provides FMC solutions for small and medium-sized businesses. Varaha's uMobility solution offers Service Quality Aware (SQA), seamless network hand-offs, and enterprise-grade security along with a large set of mobile capabilities. uMobility works with most Windows Mobile and Symbian smartphones over any wireless carrier's network. uMobility can do seamless hand-offs between WiFi and cellular networks.


Instead of a true dual-mode phone capable of handing off a call from a WiFi to a cellular environment in FMC fashion, another related major subset of UC has been simply extending the features of the corporate PBX out to cell phones and other mobile devices when you're outside of the office. For example, Verizon's PBX Mobile Extension service is an implementation of RIM's Ascendent Mobile Voice System. RIM's solution doesn't require software to be downloaded since it's their client and is built in. RIM's BlackBerry Mobile Voice System (BlackBerry MVS) allows enterprise users to easily use their BlackBerry smartphone as a secure, mobile extension of their desktop phone. With BlackBerry MVS, BlackBerry smartphone users can access enterprise desk phone functions directly from the menu interface of the BlackBerry phone application.


RIM picked up this technology through its acquisition of Ascendent Systems, which is now a RIM subsidiary. Ascendent Systems/RIM has announced that Sprint has certified the latest version of the Ascendant Voice Mobility Suite (VMS) to enable FMC in the enterprise. Ascendent VMS Version 4.5 can now integrate with BlackBerry MVS services on BlackBerry Enterprise Server, allowing BlackBerry smartphone users to have menu-driven deskphone features, thus enabling corporate IT and telecom departments to better control their mobile costs.


David Heit, Director of Product Management at RIM, says, "The original wave of BlackBerry sales demonstrated that people like to stay in contact with their email. Before unified communications was coined, the original BlackBerry was an example of its beginnings. Today in 2008, there are many offerings and choices out there and everybody is talking about UC, FMC and voice/data convergence. If I were a system architect or a CIO faced with all of these choices, I would get back to basics and ask myself, 'What am I really trying to do with this technology? Where do I get the biggest bang for the buck?' If you look at the telephony world, the migration from TDM to IP is still ongoing, many customer environments are fairly complex and they've evolved into many different vendor systems, and some of those vendors have merged or have been acquired. So you're dealing with fairly complex environments. To contrast it with email, if you look at Microsoft, IBM and Novell, you've covered about 90 percent of the email market. There's not much variability in terms of email offerings and such, which is totally unlike UC. If you look what happened with email, it's now become part of a whole collaboration story. Everybody has an email offering and secure IM offerings. You have OCS from Microsoft and Sametime from IBM. Social networking offerings are also now appearing from the major vendors. On the plus side it's great that this is blossoming, but on the other side, it's confusing for a CIO. So people are taking a step back and asking what it is they exactly need to do, as opposed to simply letting the technology take them somewhere."


"Another major trend is toward total mobility," says Heit. "More and more people identify what used to be a personal cell phone as a primary business phone. There's an increasing number of people identifying more with their mobile device than with their fixed desk phone as their primary business phone. Organizations must grapple with that. Your average cell phone is evolving into a smarter device. We're now in the era of 16 gigabyte MicroSD cards where huge databases can potentially be placed on mobile devices. This brings up security concerns that will be with us for a while."


OnRelay and Tango Networks have roughly similar products that work with various types of PBXs and cell phones. OnRelay's MBX is offered in two deployment models, Hosted MBX and Managed MBX; the later can be integrated with legacy IP or even TDM PBXs. Tango Networks' PBX/UC solution, called Abrazo, replaces all of your phone numbers with a single phone number, as well as one voicemail box to check and enables use of powerful PBX/UC features from your mobile phone - call forwarding, abbreviated dialing, conference calling, etc. For corporate IT departments, the Abrazo allows you to manage mobile phones as any other corporate asset, eliminating excess calling costs, productivity inefficiencies, inadequate call security, unavailable content monitoring and unnecessary legal exposure.


This article appears in its entirely on the web at www.tmcnet. com/2589.1 UC


Richard Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC's IP Communications Group.


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