The Cost of Convergence

Clark Atwood

Unified communications (UC) means a lot of things to a lot of people. Try to look up Unified Communications in Wikipedia and you can get lost easily. No wonder there is much talk about UC and not a lot of answers.


UC is often confused with unified messaging (UM). UM is generally accepted as e-mail, voicemail and faxes to your e-mail inbox. Some people take it a step further and state that to have "true unified messaging," you need to have the e-mail inbox tied to the backend system so when you delete the message in your inbox, the fax or e-mail is no longer stored anywhere else. Some systems simply send a copy of the fax or voicemail to your e-mail inbox, requiring you to delete it in two places.


UC is often referred to as a variety of communication mediums interconnected, joined or otherwise having some type of relationship to form a logical, if not physical, connection that the user can control, modify and use to create simple and complex communication solutions for him/herself. Sound ambiguous? And you wonder why we use clouds in technical drawings in this industry?


Confusion can happen easily. Take my experience last week eating out with a couple of coworkers. We asked the waitress to split the bill up for each of us. She handed me "my bill," and I added a tip and signed it. We live in such a fast-paced world that we don't take the time to even look at receipts anymore. I did not notice I was given one of my coworkers bills and he was given mine. (At least she got one right.) I brought the slip-up (pun intended) to my coworker. He had a great laugh when he pointed out that his bill was more than mine and he had tipped better on my receipt than I had on his. I felt like I was in a Dilbert cartoon.


There is a battle emerging about whether voice, video and data should be controlled by the software or the network when creating UC solutions. The critical communication services are:

  • It has zero tolerance for poor quality.
  • Limited latency is acceptable.
  • Compression affects quality.
  • Clarity need not be 100 percent but clearer is obviously better.
  • Resolution requirements are really determined by how big you want to blow up the image and how much bandwidth you have to do it.
  • Smooth movement is determined by the frames per second, which require more bandwidth and lower latency for better quality.
  • Some applications, like e-mail, are less sensitive to latency.
  • Critical applications may require a high priority in a converged network intended for precious voice and video bandwidth.

The answer of who will win or lose is pretty simple. The applications that get along with the network combined with proper planning will win. All others will lose. Despite what you may think, even though we have all this newfangled technology to prioritize packets, the concept and practice have been around for some time. The true complexity is in combining all the services onto a single network, having the applications talk to and through the network properly while playing nice with each other, and having a network smart enough (and properly set up) to manage prioritization.


More failure will come from improper setup, going cheap on the equipment, trying to use a public network and expecting Quality of Service (QoS), lack of bandwidth and poor monitoring tools. When trying to implement a new system, it is best to slow down, properly plan, test, put monitoring in place and regularly evaluate performance. If you are a small or medium-sized business that can't afford this, it is best to find a managed service provider that can accomplish this for you. If you don't stop and look, it will cost you. Hey, it cost me about $3 last week.

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