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Getting Users Turned Onto IP Telephony: The Converged Desktop

By Tony Rybczynski


The industry is abuzz with IP Telephony, but whats in it for you and other end users in your business unit? IP Telephony can deliver the same feature richness, reliability and performance that you have grown accustomed to and much more. What you may not realize is that IP Telephony can also deliver new desktop capabilities that can make you much more effective.

Traditionally, a phone and a PC on the same desk operated totally independently of each other. Today, the Converged Desktop creates a totally new workspace. The phone itself can now provide enriched communications; can display corporate alerts and have business content pushed to it; and can be augmented through USB-attached peripherals (e.g., a keyboard or wireless headset). Enriched communications includes corporate and departmental directories with click-to-call, conference managers that simplify chairman controls and enhance security, push-to-talk capabilities and zone paging that speed up communications, and visual voicemail that accelerates voicemail handling. Alerts include security alerts, weather alerts, IT alerts, travel advisories, and company announcements. Content that can be pushed to IP phones can stretch the imagination. It can include general purpose information such as headline news and stock prices, and work-related applications such as management dashboards providing daily sales figures, inventory levels, manufacturing efficiency, and call center status. In addition, vertical applications can be provided, for example: restaurant reservations and room and maid status in hospitality; inventory lookup and price checks in retail; time clocks in manufacturing; and student attendance tracking in K12.

While some vendors choose to put a browser in every phone and limit access to Web-based applications, the business need is better served with information from targeted applications being securely tailored for the best user experience, in a way that doesnt require any changes to the application. The converged desktop also leverages the power of the PC to deliver real-time converged communications including voice, multimedia conferencing, application sharing, instant messaging, and presence-enabled personal agents.

Desktop Phones: Hard or Soft Clients?
With IP Telephony, users have a choice of using an IP phone as their telephony instrument, or to install a soft client on their PC. The former has the advantage of exhibiting the familiar look and feel of a phone, including use of a handset or hands-free operation, and the availability of a familiar numeric key pad with associated numerics (i.e., 2 and A, B, C). Convergence does not imply dependence: if the PC is being rebooted to install a patch, the phone keeps working, even in the Converged desktop scenario.

The big advantages of an IP Telephony soft client running on a PC (which can have a similar look and feel through a point-and-click key pad on the screen), are that your quality of experience is the same whether you are in your office or connected remotely over a broadband connection. It is also a lower cost solution and requires a smaller footprint on the desk, as long as the user is comfortable with using a headset. Hands-free operation, however, is problematic. Of course, power over Ethernet can provide continuous operation for IP sets in case of power failures, but is not applicable to PCs because they draw too much power.

The Value of Video for Business
The key technologies that have made video much more affordable are converged IP networking, low cost cameras, and digital processing and storage on general purpose PCs. One-way video streaming is central to video surveillance, training and employee communications. In some industries (e.g., brokerage), live TV news feeds can be streamed to desktops to keep users plugged into world and industry developments.

Many studies have been done to assess the value of two-way interactive video in real-time inter-human communications. R. B. Ochsman and A. Chapanis found that the value of interactive video follows a bi-modal distribution with a low value region between high value conflict resolution (I want to see the whites of their eyes) and high value personal interactions (Hi grandma). They also found that The most important determinant of a teams problem solving speed was the presence of a voice component.

In business settings, Ellen Isaacs and John C. Tang found that desktop video conferencing enhances the richness of the interaction. On the other hand, when compared with face-to-face, it can be difficult to control the floor, have side conversations and manipulate objects. To fully enable rich interactions, video should be integrated with other distributed tools that increase the extent and type of shared space in such a way that it enables natural collaborative behaviors.

The implication is that, while consumer interactive video is growing to be a hot market, the value of business video is greatest when viewed as part of a real-time converged communications environment, leveraging the power of the PC and the converged desktop.

Vote for What You Need
While IT has the overall responsibility for establishing and evolving the enterprise IP telephony and real-time converged communications infrastructure, its the end user who will ultimately reap the benefits of productivity enhancements through collaborative tools. Therefore, business units and end users are key stakeholders in the evolution of the business to leverage the benefits of IP Telephony and multimedia collaboration. The converged desktop is but one of a myriad of opportunities that can enhance your productivity, whether you are in the office or workspace, roaming the site (e.g., warehouse, store, and hospital) or campus, or on the road or working from home. IT

R. B. Ochsman and A. Chapanis. The effects of 10 communication modes on the behavior of teams during co-operative problem-solving. International Journal of Man-Machine Studies, 6(5):579620, Sept. 1974.

Ellen Isaacs and John C. Tang, What Video Can and Cannot Do for Collaboration, Published in 1994 in the Springer-Verlag journal Multimedia Systems, Volume 2, pp. 63-73.

Tony Rybczynski is Director of Strategic Enterprise Technologies at Nortel. He has over 30 years experience in the application of packet network technology. Phil Edholm is the Nortel CTO & VP Network Architecture - Enterprise and is responsible for vision and architectural directions. For more information, please visit (news - alerts).

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