Unified Communications Puts On its Traveling Shoes

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Unified communications (UC) is an empty slogan -- or at least, a sector that is a shadow of what it can be -- until it has a strong mobile element. The two endeavors overlap and share the goal of making employees more accessible when they are away from their desks.


Mobile devices' inability to support those applications presented a hurdle to the true marriage of mobility and UC. Recent announcements, however, clearly say those limitations have been surmounted. At the VoiceCon Show this week in Orlando, Nortel introduced a number of mobile UC products. The company said mobility has been embedded in the Communication Server 1000 IP PBX 5.5 (available next month) and Mobile Communication 3100 for fixed/mobile convergence. The vendor also introduced the IP Softphone 2050 3.0 laptop for PCs and a DECT system for international markets.


The commentary in the story says that adding mobility to unified communications not only makes people more accessible, but it cuts costs -- to the tune of 30 percent -- by enabling them to use corporate calling plans. Call-completion rates, the story says, improve from 30 percent to 50 percent.


The age of mobile UC is upon us. In January, Datamonitor released a report entitled "Trends to Watch: Unified Communications 2008," which found that many organizations use technologies -- such as presence, mobility and Web conferencing -- that benefit traveling workers. To date, however, the overall concept of mobilized UC has not taken off. Recent cellular advances and the higher profile of mobile e-mail will make mobility a more central feature of UC.


The link, which for some reason omits Datamonitor's name, lists the section names in the report. They clearly suggest the mobilization of UC. Some of the titles: "Mobility Will Play a Greater Role in the Unified Communications Market," "Mobility Will Help Drive Investments in Unified Communications" and "FMC and 'One Number' Solutions Will Become a Reality."


Mobility is a theme that runs through Avaya's VoiceCon announcement of its Unified Communications Services initiative to lead companies gracefully into the world of UC. Avaya UC Services will assess the company's needs and desires, create a plan and deploy the system. While the idea is to address the entire UC landscape, the company clearly sees mobility as a key element. Indeed, the example given in the release describes how Avaya helped the Black & Decker tool company create a mobile UC strategy.


Smaller vendors are mobilizing their UC products as well. Last month, CommuniGate Systems added features to its Pronto! UC system. Pronto!, which uses Adobe Flash, now supports Web-based VoIP. This eases remote access to the corporate PBX and offers features such as click-to-call from the address book, programmable function keys and speed dial.


Network World also positions mobility as an important piece of the overall UC strategy. A Verizon Business director positions mobile UC as the ability to use enterprise applications and services while not being plugged into the network. This requires VoIP, secure access, auto-forwarding of voice and text-to-voice and voice-to-text services. Security, in a mobile UC context, is about risk management -- not locking down applications so that they cannot be used outside of the enterprise.


It is illogical to think of UC and mobility as separate entities. Now, for the first time, the technology is in place to truly join them.