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2006 – The Year of the “IP Elephant”
[February 02, 2006]

2006 – The Year of the “IP Elephant”

By Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View

Two major announcements last week herald 2006 as the year in which multi-modal telecommunications will really move forward in becoming “converged.” I call converged IP telecommunications an “elephant” because it reminds me of the old story of a group of blind people who surround an elephant and try to describe it by touching only one part of its body (trunk, tusks, tail, feet, etc.)

Up till now, though, we didn’t really have an “elephant” to touch; telecommunications technologies were “silos,” separated at every level from network wired and wireless transport and switching, to application server platforms, to end user desktop and mobile devices, software clients, and interfaces. With IP interoperability and convergence taking place at all these levels and now the addition of a new, real-time “brain” (presence/availability/modality management for individual users) at the top, business communications will start becoming a single, complete “elephant” that can function much more flexibly, intelligently, and efficiently for communicating with people. However, both the technology industry and the enterprise markets will have to stop being blinded by the past in order to understand and exploit the future.

The Need For a Converged Communications Presence “Brain”

The Unified-View has been preaching the gospel of unified messaging and unified communications from the user’s perspective for many years now. In an article I wrote for Business Communications Review in 2004, I called attention to the obvious need for accommodating such end user needs to gain useful enterprise productivity, which is a combination of individual time-savings (micro-productivity) and group task time-savings (macro-productivity) through more efficient communications between people. But until the multi-modal communications infrastructures converge, it is difficult, if not impossible, to take care of different end user needs cost efficiently and effectively.

Instant messaging and presence management services for text messaging have been around for several years, but locked up by the public service providers, most notably AOL, which did its best to kill any interoperability with competing services. Microsoft announced secure IM and presence for internal enterprise usage with their Live Communications Server and was able to get agreement from public service providers AOL and Yahoo to interoperate with their enterprise product. Enterprise telephony providers, most notably Siemens with its OpenScape product, and Nortel with its Multimedia Communication Servers (MCS), focused their use of internal presence primarily on the telephone and Instant messaging.

Clearly, all forms of communication, including “urgent” message notification and delivery, have to be part of the service to business users wherever they may be and for any communication device they may have.

The two new industry announcements show that the key telecommunication infrastructures for business users, conversational voice telephony and messaging, are ready to converge with the “brain” of IP-based presence management technology to enable users to ride the “IP elephant” into the next generation of personalized business telecommunications. The announcements that appeared within the last two weeks came from the big gorilla in the enterprise software industry, Microsoft, and a new startup company, Tello, founded by a quartet of experienced, well-funded, veterans of computer and communications technology.

Microsoft Reorganizes Email and Instant Messaging Into “Unified Communications”


As part of a major organizational restructuring, Microsoft announced a key change that merges their market-leading enterprise email server products for Exchange, with their newer enterprise Real-Time Collaboration (RTC) products based on presence management technology that includes Live Communications Server to support instant messaging and integration with enterprise IP telephony. This move will facilitate enterprise customer migrations to converged communication technology, not only functionally for internal business users, but will also the facilitate the necessary organizational convergence of enterprise IT administration and support for multi-modal person-to-person communications.

The new Microsoft group that will have responsibility for converging these technologies will be called the “Unified Communications Group,” and will be led by Anoop Gupta, former head of the RTC unit. Although Microsoft is not ready to converge their product their server product lines at this point in time, the potential for practical infrastructure consolidations will become more feasible.

As we pointed out in our October 2005 BCR article on enterprise voice mail, unified messaging will shift the role of traditional voice mail systems to an emphasis on enterprise call management (auto attendant, telephone answering, call screening, call routing, etc.), rather than message management. With this Microsoft announcement, that direction will be reinforced, as presence becomes the glue that binds multi-modal and transmodal internal business communications.

The “New Kid” on the Block – Tello for Federated Presence Management Services

We have always seen the “virtual” future of converged business communications as being dependent upon public services that will support inter-enterprise contacts as well as business contacts between consumers and enterprise personnel. At a converged communications conference I organized a year ago, a Microsoft participant described their presence product strategy as relying upon “federation” with public service providers, e.g., wireless and VoIP network carriers, but there were no such providers yet in existence. Now there is!

A group of experienced telecommunication and computer industry leaders started a covert new company in 2004 to provide federated presence management services for person-to-person contacts both within enterprises and across enterprises. They are targeting the need for multi-modal communications services to reach beyond the medium to large enterprises that will be serviced by Microsoft and IBM on the text messaging side, and a host of enterprise PBX CPE providers like Avaya, Nortel, Siemens, Cisco, Alcatel, NEC, Shoretel, 3Com, Ericsson, Inter-Tel, etc. on the IP telephony side.

The initial Tello service offerings are of two types, a basic service for individuals, and an Enterprise version that will cost $30 per subscriber per year.

Their January 23rd launch announcement identified federation partnerships with enterprise CPE providers like Avaya, Nortel, Cisco, and Digium, according to Tello President and CEO, Doug Renert. They have also started integrating with multi-modal device-based services, initially with RIM’s Blackberry. According to Renert, Tello will not try to be all things to all people, but will actively partner with other business application developers and service providers to provide the centralizing presence management service on a federated basis.

I will be commenting further on Tello in future columns, especially as it may open the door to other federated service capabilities.

What Do You Think?

Will presence services become the heart of all person-to-person communications once everything is federated? What impact will Microsoft’s product line convergence and Tello services have upon enterprise users and telecom staff? Will services such as Tello become the bridge for converging personal and business contacts, especially for sharing a single, handheld mobile device? Will federation services become competitive and interoperable, i.e., a federation of federated services?

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

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