UCIF Aims to Address Standards, Interoperability Gaps, But Some Key Industry Players are Missing

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, IP Communications Magazines  |  September 03, 2010

This article originally appeared in the August 2010 issue of Unified Communications magazine.

Microsoft, HP, Juniper Networks, Logitech (News - Alert)/LifeSize and Polycom this spring joined forces to unify what they say is a vibrant, but fragmented, UC ecosystem. In an effort to piece things together, the companies have established the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum, which as of early July had 21 member companies.

While Forrester in a February 2009 report forecast that the market for UC within enterprises in the Asia Pacific, Europe and North America will reach $14.5 billion in 2015, interoperability issues are a significant pain point for current and potential users of such solutions, according to Bernard Aboba, principal architect for the Microsoft Office Communications Server team.

The UCIF was incorporated April 5, held its first board meeting May 6, and formally announced its launch May 19.

“In terms of the spark [for UCIF], the thing that really motivated Microsoft was we had a number of major customers express concern about interoperability, particularly in the area of video and telepresence,” says Aboba. “Many of our customers have disparate systems from different vendors, and they just not only couldn’t make things work together, but they didn’t even see a roadmap for it. And they expressed extreme concern about the direction the industry was taking and asked us to fix it.”

As a result, he says, Microsoft and the four companies mentioned above formed the UCIF, which aims to develop profiles around UC implementations, create test suite and certifications based on those profiles, and do marketing around those efforts.

The five founding companies are joined in the UCIF by Acme Packet, Aspect, AudioCodes, Broadcom, BroadSoft, Brocade, ClearOne, Dialogic, Edgewater Networks, Jabra, Plantronics, RADVISION, Siemens Enterprise Communications, Teliris, Texas Instruments (News - Alert) and Vxi. (For information on how to join, visit: http://www.ucif.org/Join/BecomeaMember.aspx.)

Noticeably absent from this group, however, are enterprise telephony leaders Avaya and Cisco (News - Alert), which as one Unified Communications Magazine source recently noted, launched a videoconferencing renaissance with its introduction of telepresence.

“[Cisco was] invited, and they have not joined as of now,” says Aboba. “Basically all the major players were invited, but several have not joined.”

When asked about its interest in and opinion of the UCIF effort, Avaya spokeswoman Deb Kline responded: “Avaya has long been a supporter of open standards and has actively participated in dozens of standards bodies to drive cross-industry interoperability. These include theInternational Multimedia Teleconferencing Consortium, Internet Engineering Task Force and the SIP Forum to name but a few. UCIF is not a standards body. We believe true multi-vendor interoperability will be dependent upon active participation in the appropriate standards bodies by the majority of players in the UC market place.“That said, we have deep and long-standing relationships with many the key players in UCIF, including HP, Polycom, LifeSize and Juniper and others, and we will leverage these partnerships to see how UCIF evolves,” she added. “Avaya may choose to join in the future.”Cisco spokesman Doron Aronson commented: “Cisco has been in touch with UCIF. We are currently awaiting a response on a number of questions and recommendations that we believe would improve the effectiveness of the UCIF and would also increase the attractiveness of joining for Cisco and other major industry suppliers who have not yet joined. “Cisco actively participates in a number of similar industry forums today,” he added. “We seek to participate in forums that will advance existing standards, have a consensus-driven decision model, and include wide participation, including market leaders across the industry landscape, to ensure the right level of industry leadership.”In any case, Aboba says the goals of the UCIF are important given the current state of things in UC.

“The first important thing to understand is even very basic things in unified communications don’t interoperate well, so it doesn’t matter which scenario you pick, whether it’s a trunking scenario, whether it’s point-to-point video, whether it’s instant messaging – and you can pick a protocol – basic interoperability isn’t there today, not only just within a protocol let alone more complex scenarios,” Aboba says. “So the feedback we’ve generally gotten [from customers] is that we need to start establishing basic interoperability in the major areas of unified communications.”

The first order of business, he says, is to establish basic interoperability relative to SIP trunking. The SIP Forum is working on that as part of its SIPconnect 1.1 effort, Aboba says, adding that he chairs an IEFT working group that’s also involved in moving this effort forward.

“That’s the foundation for at least the audio part,” he says. “The UCIF isn’t involved in that, but we will build on what The SIP Forum is doing with SIP trunking because that’s a very basic step to get interoperability there and to have testing and certification in that area.”

The second key requirement around UC interoperability, he continues, has to do with video trunking and point-to-point video communications.

“To get that addition on top of the basic audio SIP trunking you need to have a profile primarily for H.264 video,” he says. “That’s a second step once you have SIP trunking.”

He adds that basic interoperability for instant messaging also is lacking.

“Today the primary protocols for that are SIMPLE and XMPP,” Aboba notes. “Both of them have interoperability problems, and so there’s a need for basic test and certification and interoperability in that as well, to put the instant messaging piece in place.”

And all of the above are just the tip of the iceberg for what needs to be done to enable UC interoperability, he continues.

“Beyond that there then would be the effort to get interoperable multi-stream telepresence, but you first have to get single stream before you can even try to go beyond that,” he says.

That said, the general goal of the UCIF during its first 12 to 18 months of existence is to get the basics down, he says, “to have test and certification programs for basic audio, basic video, basic instant messaging – not even anything sophisticated, just put the basics in place and then build upon that with more sophisticated scenarios….”

UCIF expects to forward its interoperability efforts by staging various ad hocs or bake-offs, as Aboba calls them, to get a sense of where the pain points are. (The first bake-off events staged by the UCIF are likely to be around IM and presence, a video profile, and video trunking. The UCIF also is very interested in devices such as Web cams, adds Aboba. “You’ll probably see quite a bit of activity in that area.”) Then, the UCIF will build conformance to address those issues and do further interoperability testing as part of formal certification.

Because it can be prohibitively expensive to ship all the people and gear required for a physical event at a single location, the UCIF plans to run test suites over the Internet, Aboba adds. The goal, he says, is “to make interop testing a basic part of what vendors do when they ship their products.” If those suppliers can do that testing over the Internet, he says, it creates a lower cost of entry.

The UCIF Board of Directors


Scott Lucas is the director of product marketing for Juniper Networks branch solutions. Prior to joining Juniper, Scott developed network and security solutions for Extreme Networks and was vice president of marketing at Cranite Systems, where he defined and delivered FIPS-certified solutions for wireless LAN security. He also has held product and program management positions at Proxim and Cisco Systems (News - Alert). Scott began his career at Motorola, where he engineered wireless data networks for public safety and transit applications.


Matt Collier is senior vice president of corporate development for LifeSize Communications, with a background that includes extensive experience in the telecommunications and high-tech industries. Previously, he was senior vice president for voice application services at Level 3 Communications (News - Alert) Inc. Prior to joining Level 3, Matt was founder and CEO of Telverse Communications Inc. (acquired by Level 3 in July 2003). Before founding Telverse, Matt was vice president of business development and OEM alliances at Polycom. In late 1997, Polycom acquired ViaVideo Communications Inc., where Matt was vice president of worldwide sales and business development.


Bernard Aboba is a principal architect for the Microsoft Office Communications Server team, responsible for standards and interoperability. He is currently active in industry forums such as SIP Forum and NENA, as well as in standards organizations such as the IETF, where he has authored more than 45 RFCs and co-chairs the MARTINI and RADEXT WGs. Within IEEE 802, Bernard has been recognized for his contributions to the IEEE 802.1X, IEEE 802.11F, IEEE 802.11i and IEEE 802.11k standards. Bernard also currently serves on the Internet Architecture Board.  


Jeffrey Rodman is co-founder and CTO of Polycom. Jeff has been at the forefront of audio and video communications for most of his career. Drawing from this diverse experience in the industry and from his background as virtuoso pianist and composer, Jeff has developed a keen appreciation for the importance of clear, reliable vision and sound in human interaction, and the ways in which delivery of transparency in perception can be delivered in remote conferencing. Jeff holds a BSEE Cum Laude and an MS in electronic engineering from CSUN.


Mark Gorzynski is chief scientist for the HP Halo Visual Collaboration business. Prior to that he served as senior imaging scientist at Hewlett-Packard, and held the title of imaging scientist at Tektronix. Mark holds a MS degree in Imaging Science from the Rochester Institute of Technology. He sits on a number of standards bodies for the Halo business, and helps in product development.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi