• United States
by Steve Taylor and Larry Hettick

A subtle yet important distinction

Nov 17, 20032 mins
NetworkingUnified Communications

* The difference between unified messaging and unified communications

Today, we’d like to set the record straight about what constitutes unified messaging and what constitutes unified communications.

Unified messaging is defined as technology that brings together electronic mail, fax and voice messaging into a single inbox. It uses a single directory, and provides the user with message access through a common set of message management tools.

Unified messaging delivers the user access to any message, anytime, anywhere, on any device. By strictest definition, unified messaging is limited to non-real-time communications. Users can access multiple message types via a wireline phone or a mobile phone with the telephony user interface (TUI); they can also access their messages from their desktop computers or remotely via a graphical user interface (GUI) on any Web browser-enabled personal computer.

Unified communications is an enhancement to unified messaging that adds real-time communications to the unified messaging mix.

Call management features and instant messaging are typically included with unified communications. More advanced unified communications systems integrate desktop applications like calendars so, for example, a user’s calls and messages can be managed based on the user’s availability, as shown on his or her calendar schedule.

We’d also like to point out that both unified messaging and unified communications can exist WITHOUT being based on a voice over IP (VoIP) telephony system. However, we would caution readers about purchasing such products if they do not include an easy transition to or interoperability with a VoIP system.

We make these definitional distinctions for reasons beyond the simple need to be precise. First, some analysts believe unified messaging should not exist without being part of unified communications. Second, adding the VoIP element to both realms is a two-edged sword. And third, we believe the future of applications convergence will rely heavily on both unified messaging and unified communications. We’ll discuss each of these three points in the coming issues.