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A Brief History of UC&C, Summary and Predictions

Convergence & VoIP Alert By , Network World
August 26, 2011 10:38 AM ET
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VoIP, unified messaging, products and services

Network World - Today, we'll wrap up our summer series on the evolutionary history behind unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) with a quick topical recap, some analysis of what brought each of the five elements into the UC&C portfolio, and a brief look at what we expect to be the most dynamic factors affecting UC&C in the coming year.

We started our series looking at how dial-up Internet access changed the PSTN engineering rules for access, leading to a softswitch architecture employing VoIP protocols to offload remote access server traffic from the voice network onto the data network, placing the first VoIP "Trojan horse" into the PSTN. The domination of data in the PSTN also shifted the engineering rules for core networks. Whereas the primary architectural consideration used to be "voice first, data second," the shifting traffic mix toward data in public networks changed the rule to "data first, voice second" when building core infrastructure. As we look forward, we see this same paradigm shift with the growing amount of video traffic across public IP networks, and the rule will soon be (if it isn't already) "video first, data second, voice third." And we expect that in a few years, video will replace voice calls as a preferred real-time communications medium.

RECAP: A Brief History of UC&C, Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five

We next looked at how the IP-PBX came into being, following a similar need to converge voice and data traffic on the LAN. The IP-PBX life cycle also began at a time when software-driven systems using off the shelf hardware lowered the cost and sped up development, replacing the hardware-driven legacy PBX infrastructures. IP-based protocols like XML, VXML and HTTP helped make more advanced features like call center integration a standards-based development effort, again improving costs and feature design efforts. Server-based architectures also laid the groundwork for what has today evolved into cloud-based "communications as a service" (CaaS), along with emerging "unified communications as a service," or UCaaS. Cloud-based CaaS and UCaaS are both ideally suited for the small-business owner who wants or needs the UC&C features but who doesn't have the resources for a premise-based solution, so we predict heightened competition for market share in the SMB segment.

Following the IP-PBX article, we discussed how unified messaging (UM), unified communications (UC) and the importance of SIP-based presence became the next logical step in the evolution of unified communications and collaboration. UM brought access to audio, text and (later) video messages from a phone or a PC, UC added the dimension of real time communications to UM, and SIP (session initiation protocol) became the key enabler as the standards-based protocol of choice to enable presence. We predict continued growth of UC features, especially as many of these "come standard" with premise-based VoIP systems and hosted VoIP services.

With the advent of comparatively cheaper broadband access and improvements in video compression, high-definition video and telepresence became part of the collaboration equation on the converged network. The ability to integrate video sessions with other applications like document sharing, presence management added to the value of video as an important part of many UC&C solutions. As telepresence solutions becomes less expensive, we expect to see increasing use of HD video communications across all market segments -- including B2B, C2C and B2C.

Steve Taylor is president of Distributed Networking Associates and publisher/editor-in-chief of Webtorials. Larry Hettick, an independent analyst and consultant, is a 30-year industry veteran. He has covered VoIP and UC at Network World for 12 years.

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