Unified Communications

One of the most powerful feature sets available today is unified communications. Yet very few of my clients are selling it today. But if your customer base includes businesses or a lot of residential power users then you need to include unified communications in your product portfolio, and you need to sell it.

What is unified communications (UC)? UC is the integration of real-time communication services with non-real time services. Real time services include such things as voice telephony and VoIP, instant messaging, speech recognition, data sharing, collaboration and video conferencing. Non-real time communication services are often packaged under the name of unified messaging and include such features as voicemail, email, SMS and faxes.

There is no standard set of features that are included in a UC package and it seems that every company that offers it does it a little differently. So a carrier must typically build this product by tying together all of the components and features you already have available into a bundled product. Most carriers who own a softswitch and a voice mail server are capable of creating a basic unified communications product.

There are numerous value propositions that UC offers to end user customers:

  • Brings the ability to delivery any communications medium to any device, anywhere.
  • Extends the corporate network so that mobile customers can be productive from anywhere.
  • Gives the freedom to each individual UC user to tailor the product for the way they can best use it.
  • Can add telepresence technologies to let a UC user check the availability of other resources in his network. For instance a user can see if somebody is available to talk before they try to call them, eliminating the voicemail chain.
  • Can add collaboration and data sharing components which will make employees far more productive. Good collaboration software gives users the ability to share and work together on any document from any software platform simultaneously.

The value to a customer of UC is that it allows the customer to send a message on one medium and receive the same communication in another medium. This frees a customer from any restraints imposed by location or device and the perfect UC product will deliver any communications path to any device anywhere.

For example, a customer can receive an email on any device of his choice and also has the option to have the email content delivered as a standard email, or as a voicemail or text. Normally the customer can receive the medium, in this case an email, live in the medium for which it was intended, but can also opt to receive or store the email on a non-real time basis in any other medium.

The control for making the desired choices is given to the customer. To continue with this example, the customer can set up his UC to always receive emails in a certain format, for example, as a voice mail he listens to on his cellphone, or he can change his options on the fly during the day.

UC is a very powerful product for customers who grasp it and use it. It can make a customer sticky to your network if you give them the freedom to have complete control over their communications.

How do you create a UC product for your network? The first step is to decide what you want to offer. Not every UC system tries to deliver every communications product to every device. Many UC products instead are crafted to satisfy specific customer applications. If you own a softswitch you probably already own many of the components needed to build a simple UC product. For example, there are various features built into the feature packages on a Metaswitch that can be combined to create a decent UC product. And if you only have a few business customers who will be interested in UC, this might be sufficient.

The other alternative is to buy a UC product from somebody else’s platform. Today there are numerous companies who have assembled UC products that function on their own platforms. As a carrier you can access these platforms on a wholesale basis and buy ready-made UC products for your customers rather than build your own UC products from scratch.

There has been a lot of industry activity in developing UC products in recent years. Since March 2008 there have been several open source UC projects based on Asterisk that has led to the creation of open source UC product lines. In May 2010, the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum (UCIF) was created to develop standards between technology companies for UC and to create interoperability profiles, implementation guidelines, and best UC practices. The original founding members were HP, Juniper Networks, Logitech, Microsoft and Polycom.

Because UC can be done in many different ways and can include numerous product components you can save a lot of time before trying to create a UC product by talking to CCG.

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