Unified Communications

The Evolution of Unified Communications

Modern world is quite impossible to imagine without telecommunications. Communication system is not only an essential business or communication tool, but rather a critical factor reflecting the march of civilization. Today, it is not enough for us to simply hear each other over the phone. We are used to other means of communication: chats, video conferences and social networks, while when it comes to business negotiations, we turn to collaboration tools. Users would obviously want to have all those features conveniently stored in a single device, where they are free to use it anytime: at home, in the office, at a remote site, or during business trip. However, different types of communication evolved in their own way, thus bringing them together was not a piece of cake. Efforts to collect all communication tools in a single system gave rise to Unified Communications (UC) phenomenon.

Two Sides of Unification

“Unified Communications” can be defined from two interrelated points of view: operator’s and user’s. In the first case, UC is a modern data network based on international open standards, which supports all popular technologies and protocols (H.323, SIP, MGCP, IMS, MPLS, etc.). UC ensures the implementation and operation of any communication services and supports compatibility of equipment by various vendors.

However, this article examines UC from the user’s side as this aspect is the closest to the wide audience. In this context, unified communications represent a single software platform that allows one to promptly render all possible communication and collaboration services on a single device (PC, tablet, smartphone, etc.). UC aims at ensuring that employees are permanently available at any time (or, as an option, during business hours only) and in any place.

At various historical stages of development, unified communication platforms included different features that expanded as communication technologies developed. The term “unified communications” arose in the mid-1990s, meaning the unification of voice communications, text messages, and presence within one communication platform. This became possible thanks to active development of digital communication channels and PBXes. However, the solutions were strongly connected to the equipment of a specific vendor, while communications were nearly always limited to offices.

As IP technologies developed, new functions emerged and software solutions were gaining popularity. At the time, users sought to get rid of hardware PBXs and opted for more flexible software products The further evolutionary process is associated with spreading of Internet technologies and broadband mobile networks. Unified communications finally went beyond offices and turned into high-scale global systems with no georeferenced users.

Evolution of Communication Technologies

Evolution of Communication Technologies: New Methods of Communication and Information Exchange Emerge Every Year

Today, the UC set comprises the following basic functions:

  • Digital telephony (Mobile, IP);
  • Audio and video conferencing;
  • Instant messaging;
  • Web conferencing;
  • Calendar integration;
  • Presence statuses;
  • Corporate address book or Active Directory;
  • Team collaboration tools (screen or video sharing, slideshow);
  • Data exchange.
Basic Elements of Modern UC System

Basic Elements of Modern UC System

A modern unified communications system can function both online and offline, so your message won’t disappear if your colleague is not currently connected. One of the most important UC features is a “single phone number”. Thanks to this feature, you should not search for a telephone number on all channels to call a user — just dial a number, and a system (or a called user) will choose the best method to connect. With the help of cross-platform compatibility, you can implement all communication services in various software environments and on all sorts of hardware platforms without reference to a particular vendor. At a higher level, unified communications should be integrated into the company’s business processes, including support for ERP and CRM systems.

Most In-Demand Functions of Unified Communications

Most In-Demand Functions of Unified Communications. Data by West, One of the Largest UC Providers in the USA (2016)

UC system should certainly protected and easy-to-use on any modern device. Cloud-based unified communications are becoming increasingly popular, which reflects the overall situation in IT sector: cloud systems are easier to implement and maintain. In addition, they tend to offer a more flexible use and payment model as compared to on-premises software.

It should be noted that systems combining only a few of the functions described usually do not belong to unified communications. For example, modern video conferencing endpoints allow for voice and visual communication, sharing documents and presentations. However, they do not provide group chats, team collaboration tools, and, most importantly, cross-platform compatibility and sufficient mobility.

Where is Technology Heading

If properly used, UC can produce tangible economic benefits. Thanks to unified communications, companies can significantly reduce costs for business trips, phone calls and legacy video conferencing systems, as well as enhance the efficiency of employees and decision-making processes. UC have been and remain an important business tool that keeps on evolving. More recently, it has been thought that unified communications are becoming a thing of the past. This is not quite true: the term is becoming obsolete, but the idea is evolving, and it can barely fit to a former, rather out-of-date, name. As a result, Meeting Solutions are replacing Unified Communications.

In the U.S. IT sector, Meeting Solutions are already being treated with close attention. For instance, Gartner puts Meeting Solutions in a separate quadrant that includes such solutions as Microsoft Team (formerly Skype for Business), Cisco Jabber and Webex Teams, BlueJeans, Zoom, Vidyo, Polycom, Huawei, ZTE, etc.

Evolution moves on and, of course, there will come a time when Meeting Solutions will have to be replaced with a new and more advanced concept that meets the demands of modern business environment.