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August 2008 | Volume 11/ Number 8
The Zippy Files

UC + FMC = Mobile Unified Communications?

In this issue’s “Packet Voice over Wireless” column, entrepreneur and VoIP strategist Michael Stanford (News - Alert) uses the interesting term, “Mobile Unified Communications (formerly known as FMC — Fixed-Mobile Convergence).”

Stanford writes, “…the perfect FMC solution would be one with wide phone support (including Blackberries), running in the 5GHz waveband, with off-premises WiFi (News - Alert) support as good as T-Mobile’s UMA [Unlicensed Mobile Access] and network handovers as snappy as Agito’s.”

Certainly for some months now Yours Truly has noted the overlap between Fixed-Mobile Convergence (News - Alert) (now sometimes called Fixed-Mobile Connectivity) and Unified Communications. The old monolithic unified messaging systems tended to simply be a “universal inbox” with your PC’s display showing a list of emails, voicemails and faxes. Indeed, back in 1997 I wrote, “In the Unified Messaging world of the future, you’ll have to learn to use your Exchange Inbox as an organizer. Fortunately, Microsoft (News - Alert) has bundled OutLook with Office 97, which combines Exchange’s Universal Inbox with PIM and organizer-like functionality.” Ahem.

In 1996, Premier Technologies in Atlanta, Georgia (essentially a service bureau), was already offering global mailbox services that let you access voicemail, email, or information services with one phone call. Their PC3 enabled you to set up a conference call with a few mouse clicks, send or forward a single message to a list of recipients using cross-media messaging, and even allowed you to receive your voicemail, faxes, email and audio mail all in one “universal inbox” (there’s that term again). Premier customers were notified as to what kind of messages are waiting for them at the switch when they dial in to make a call, with the PC3 website replicating this information on a PC screen where you could listen or view any message. And this was happening in 1996!

The addition of mobility – or at least the ability to extend PBX (News - Alert) features out to mobile devices – gave us “unified communications”, which perhaps in its earliest crude form should have been called “integrated communications”. Today’s ability for technologies such as UMA and VCC (Voice Call Continuity) to seamlessly handover a call-in-progress from a dual-mode cell phone to a corporate WiFi system and back again is technically a superset of that (a superset provided that all of the other UC capabilities come along for the ride), so perhaps we should call it “mobile unified communications” after all. My suspicion is that most people are too lazy to make such a fine distinction, and will simply lump the whole new world of FMC and UC together as simply being “unified communications” or “UC”.

With such fluid mobility and access to so many forms of communications, security will have to be beefed up considerably. I can still fondly recall the amusing antithesis of this occurring on a monthly basis back in the 1990s when my former editor-in-chief would arrive from San Francisco and visit the New York office, sit at my desk, and help out his old pal Zippy by answering my email for me (especially emails from women) with outrageous sexual innuendos – all in capital letters, no less. IT

Richard Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC’s (News - Alert) IP Communications Group.

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