Unified Communications Tries to Mature Past its Un-unified Stage

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Telepresence and videoconferencing are an increasingly important elements of unified communications and corporate communications. The industry is attempting to confront a major weak spot, which is interoperability.


Today, service providers or user organizations can't easily or efficiently communicate if they use systems from different vendors. Clearly, that must change for that segment of the industry to continue growing.Two moves toward interoperability have been made in the past month.


This week. RADVISION released the Scopia Elite MCU, which it says creates a high level of interoperability between telepresence systems from Cisco, Polycom and LifeSize. VON does a nice job of reporting that news and tracing how the industry evolved. The essential problem, the piece concludes, was that Cisco opted to use non-standard codecs.


While telepresence is a vibrant segment with several significant players, Cisco is, well, Cisco-and what it does matters. The story says that Cisco has promised to address the interoperability issues and that other vendors have entered arrangements to confront the problem.


Another step was the formation two weeks ago of the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum (UCIF).The press release mentions a great number of founding and early members, but makes no mention of Cisco. It's significant that the release says that the very first task of the consortium will be "managing the escalating diversity of video and telepresence solutions."


There is little doubt that the Cisco acquisition of Tandberg was a key element around which it and other vendors are strategizing. Rob Enderle, my fellow blogger here at IT Business Edge, took a look at some of the maneuvering that could be in the offing. His conclusion:

This is a great start, but the hard stuff is still ahead. It is in all our best interests that it be successful.

Cisco is a massive and influential player. That doesn't mean that it is always right, however. Posting at No Jitter, Eric Krapf refers to several industry analysts-from Wainhouse Research and elsewhere-who point to the Tandberg acquistion as a tacit acknowledgement by Cisco that its approach wasn't working. He writes:

Wainhouse points out that the marketplace rejected an all-proprietary approach to high-end videoconferencing. Not that all interoperability issues are solved, or necessarily will be in the near term -- but the market has expressed a clear preference for serious efforts in this direction by the vendors.

Network World offers statements from Cisco and Avaya, another holdout, on why they have not joined UCIF. The statements, as the writer points out, are similar. They also don't say too much. Avaya points out that UCIF is not a standards body, while Cisco says that it is considering joining "after completing the necessary legal and business reviews."


These are important days for teleconferencing and telepresence. The keys will be how Cisco plays its cards, and the first sign may be whether it opts to join UCIF.