UC will be indispensable

No one can be without a mobile phone today, and it will be the same for unified communications in the near future, says Choo Yuh Joo, director - professional services, regional director - Indonesia and Vietnam, Transition Systems Asia.

Why is unified communications (UC) being talked about these days?

UC has been steadily gaining ground over the last few years primarily because of the sheer economics of consolidating networks and saving operating and capital expenditure. The second factor is the unprecedented connectivity that UC can provide to the sizeable class of road warriors who carry out much of their business from airports and overseas, as they manage regional networks and global conglomerates.

The most recent event that turned the spotlight on UC is the volcanic ashes from Iceland which caused the shutdown of European airspace for over a week, throwing international travel into chaos. Business turned to video conferencing and telepresence for their business meetings, in an effort to continue with 'business as usual'.

You want your customer or colleague to be able to reach you easily, using the medium of communication which is most convenient to him or her. It can be a phone call to your desk phone, a call to your mobile, voice mail, e-mail, fax or instant messaging. On top of these various communication media, you are mobile. The Internet allows you to be connected no matter where you are in the world, and UC makes it possible for communication to be "unified" on a single device, i.e. your notebook. If your customers can reach you and you are able to respond quickly, you are already one step ahead of the competition. No one can be without a mobile phone today, and it will be the same for UC in the near future.

In the telecommunications space, there are two most talked about trends: UC and Telepresence. What is the difference between the two? Are they two sides of the same coin?

UC covers a broader spectrum: it is a communications system that includes three or more of the following elements: voice, video, mobility, Web/data collaboration, conferencing, unified messaging and presence management. A UC system integrates these communications platforms to provide a unified user interface across multiple devices.

The difference between UC and Telepresence is in the quality of the video. Telepresence is a subset of UC and is essentially high definition audio and video technologies. The experience is akin to meeting the person face-to-face, except for the inability to do a hand-shake. This rich, high-quality real-time experience enhances productivity and facilitates many critical business processes like decision-making, hiring, internal and external meetings, etc.

In the era of YouTube and iPhones, do you think video will become an integral part of UC? Or is it already?

Generally, mobile phones are already an integral part of UC. With a mobile phone, the 'follow-me' feature of UC allows you to be contactable with a universal phone number.

Smart phones like the iPhone are on the way to become a fully integrated part of UC. Today, you can get access to your e-mail on-the-go on a smart phone device. From e-mail on-the-go, you can get your voice mail and fax, via your in-box. You can also make and receive free calls using SIP (session initiation protocol) clients. However, easy-to-use, integrated applications on smart phones is not yet easily available for the functions of voice, video, e-mail, and instant messaging. This is expected to change as the market grows and more options will soon be available.

Video is definitely becoming an integral part of UC because of the advancement in video capabilities now available on personal computers and smart phones. Video applications like telepresence, video calling and video conferencing provide an enhanced communications experience.

What are the major challenges and opportunities of UC in Asia?

For small and medium businesses, cost for UC is still a barrier. And the majority of businesses in Asia are SMBs. However, such cost will fall in the years ahead, with computing and device cost following Moore's law (Moore's law describes a long-term trend in the history of computing hardware, in which the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit has doubled about every two years).

SMBs also find it very difficult to adopt UC systems because UC features are not available on the 'low-end' phone systems that SMBs generally use. Today, UC products are being built with small businesses in mind, like Digium's SwitchVox SMB 4.5. Smaller businesses can now benefit from enterprise class features that were previously outside of their price range and reap benefits that will help to boost their productivity.

Increasingly, hosted UC solutions are proving to be a catalyst for UC adoption by small and large enterprises alike. Such hosted offerings are convenient and flexible, with solutions at low monthly rates now already launched by several service providers in Singapore. Whether purely hosted or bundled or managed, the service model for UC can provide high connectivity and collaboration at a lower capital expenditure.

UC is very dependent on the connectivity and reliability of the Internet. For developing countries where the cost of bandwidth is still high and connectivity to the Internet is erratic, development of UC will be limited. This differs from country to country. In Singapore, UC is poised to receive a boost in terms of better connectivity with the country's Next Generation National Broadband Network well on the way.

What are the latest technological developments in the UC space?

Ease of use. In order for adoption of technology to increase, ease-of-use is crucial. All companies should learn from Apple, where the latest technology is so easy to use, is fun, and cool.

Leading UC solutions vendors are reaching out to small and medium businesses with new and exciting product launches or collaborations with relevant players to expand their solutions offerings. Each solution comes packaged with a myriad of features. Companies planning to use UC, need to analyse their specific UC requirements and then evaluate the solutions available in the market, to find the perfect fit.

Do you think there is a shared future for UC and mobility?

UC and mobility in itself are intertwined. In the current global business environment, mobility is an integral part of any organisation. It is this increasing mobility that is driving innovation and evolution in UC technology. Simultaneously as UC solutions get easier to use, companies that were previously averse to remote workers and telecommuting, are now beginning to adapt to the changing scenario.

What has been the experience of Transitions Systems in the market? What kind of solutions are finding takers in the market?

As a leading, value-added IT distributor in the Asia Pacific region, Transition Systems is strategically focusing on IT Security and Converged (i.e. UC) solutions as the two growth segments for our business.

Transition Systems represents some of the UC industry's leading players - Polycom, Alcatel-Lucent, DigIum|Asterisk, ShoreTel, NetScout and Aruba, and more.

As an integrated distributor in the region with comprehensive, value-added service and support capabilities, we see the uptake of UC increasing with the falling cost of UC. For example, Digium is being recognized as one of the leaders in UC, and with its emphasis on open-standards and open-source, cost is being driven down further. Another notable company in this space is Polycom, the leader in video-conferencing.

This story, "UC will be indispensable" was originally published by MIS Asia.

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