Unified communications (UC) was born to serve the enterprise market, with voice over IP (VoIP) as the prerequisite service needed to create the remaining UC portfolio. As with many services that users learned to value in the workplace, the portfolio of UC services is also gaining popularity among consumers. We have seen UC features offered to consumers by wireline providers, by over the top (OTT) providers, and (to a lesser extent) by wireless providers. However, the consumer portfolio still has a long way to go before it "unifies" the consumer experience as completely as the enterprise portfolio.
Among the wireline providers, telcos and cable operators offer VoIP and most have bundled features with their VoIP that are common to enterprise UC. For example, Verizon's FiOS digital voice includes: unified messaging with voice mail via email, follow-me (ringing multiple phone lines), calendar synchronization, and call management features that route a call based on personal user preferences.
YEAR-END 2012: The year in quotes
Over the top players like Skype and Google offer the most feature rich portfolio of UC products. For example, Google Voice will: push notifications when you receive new voicemails and texts, allow you to receive calls from right within Gmail, divert calls with "Do Not Disturb" and send an SMS to multiple recipients. Skype features a widely used softphone and integrates videoconferencing, along with a host of other typical UC features.
T-Mobile's Bobsled service offers a range of UC features, and Metro PCS offers VoLTE along with some RCS (Rich Communications Services), so both offer variations of mobile UC. Other wireless carriers do have plans to offer VoLTE in the next 12 months, with a mix of possible UC services enabled by the planned VoLTE and RCS wireless infrastructure upgrades.
Consumer UC services are an eventual imperative for all carriers because without UC, OTT suppliers have an open door to chip away at the carriers' voice service revenues. Voice and the associated UC portfolio may eventually become "just another data application." However, the ability to bundle voice and a full range of UC services with both wired and 4G/ LTE data connections will become table stakes when competing against other network service providers.