Can Unified Communications Really Break Down All The Silos? - InformationWeek

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Stephen Wellman
Stephen Wellman

Can Unified Communications Really Break Down All The Silos?

Today was the pre-meet here at Interop -- that strange time right before all the keynotes kick off and the endless slew of press releases inundates your e-mail in-box. Despite the calm before the storm, news already was breaking.

Today was the pre-meet here at Interop -- that strange time right before all the keynotes kick off and the endless slew of press releases inundates your e-mail in-box. Despite the calm before the storm, news already was breaking.As I predicted Friday, mobility is at the center of much of the news that broke today at Interop.

Up first, Avaya launched Distributed Office:

... a new IP telephony communications system for branch offices. With the system, employees get features like "click to conference" and integrated instant messaging for instant communication with others. They also can forward incoming office calls to their mobile phone and not be tethered to a desk while waiting for important calls.

The Distributed Office product can be customized for the individual business location and comes with centralized management tools that allow the IT staff to control the entire branch office's network from a single interface. Centrally managing a network can reduce on-site technician time and cut operating costs, Avaya said.

Avaya wasn't alone on the mobility front. Citrix also launched a product with a mobile play, the WANScaler. The WANScaler is a "software-based wide area network optimization client for mobile employees working outside branch offices."

Not to be outdone, Nortel today unveiled its new strategy, which focuses on Business Optimized Networking. Nortel's new strategy is designed to make its new and existing products work better with unified communications and other new trends in telephony.

Wireless is at the center of all of these new announcements. And not to be outdone, Microsoft is here at Interop talking mobility and unified communications, too.

Touching on this, I sat down with Anthony Bawcutt of Microsoft's Unified Communications Group to drill down on its new Office Communication Server 2007 platform.

Microsoft sees unified communications in three ways. First, it's obviously the completion of the original mission of VoIP: Turn telephony into a software model. Second, Bawcutt said that Microsoft sees unified communications as a way to avoid the "rip and replace" system of telephony -- i.e., being dependent on IP PBXs. In the true IP world, voice will reside on servers just like all other apps. The third thing Microsoft sees in unified communications is the creation of an ecosystem for telephony. In short, Microsoft hopes to convert its ecosystem of desktop users into unified communications users.

While all of this sounds great, I don't know if the mobile world is ready to play ball. Wireless carriers have yet to fully warm to things like dual-mode handsets or more open networks -- key technologies for enterprises that hope to really capitalize on the power of unified communications. And without carrier cooperation, technology movements in the mobile market don't go very far.

Bawcutt argued otherwise. "Wireless is an opportunity and we're getting there," he said. Bawcutt pointed out that dual-mode devices are coming to market and that carriers are just as eager to sell to enterprises as Microsoft and its partners.

I think carriers will need to open their networks more in order to achieve this level of openness. And they're going to have to let in more types of devices (in particular, dual-mode handsets that allow Wi-Fi). Without this move to open their systems, I think all this talk about mobility and unified communications could remain just that: talk.

What do you think? Will mobility be the next big part of unified communications? Or will the wireless carriers and their closed networks keep this dream from becoming a reality?

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