When the goal is to establish a Unified Communication (UC) strategy for your company, the logical place to look first is to your current communication network. Telephone systems provided by AT&T and others are the backbone of real-time communications in many enterprises. Computer networks provided by Microsoft and others are the backbone for asynchronous communications in most companies. It is then no surprise that two of the top vendors for unified communications systems in 2010 were AT&T and Microsoft.
Providers of comprehensive network infrastructure components, such as Cisco and Siemens, also enjoy an aspect of “first mover advantage” thanks to their large installed bases. In an 2010 assessment report Infonetics Research forecasted the unified communications market will reach $1 billion by 2013. Providers with the largest presence and greatest flexibility will continue to dominate.
Microsoft proposes to provide “a complete solution”, essentially the goal of every other major player in this market. Their flag-ship integration offering is Lync, featuring a single interface for desktops and hand-held devices which works with other Microsoft products such as SharePoint, Office and Exchange. This system integrates audio, video, messaging, presence, voice and conferencing, covering the majority of functions most companies require. The most frequently cited drawback to an “all Microsoft” implementation is the lack of flexibility, despite their claims of interoperability. Microsoft addresses concerns of a “closed world” by partnering with specialized providers. One recent example is described in a press announcement touting the corded and wireless headsets from Jabra, now “seamlessly integrated” with Microsoft Lync.
It should be no surprise AT&T puts the emphasis on their established global network. AT&T Collaboration employs their huge IP network to connect any appropriate device with any other such device. A major component of AT&T's unified communications is AT&T Connect, a feature-rich conferencing service. Along with the audio and video capabilities to establish a conference just about anywhere at anytime, AT&T Connect also features the ability to share and collaborate on documents, share applications, and record the whole event for posterity. As with the other fortunate owners of a significant installed base of equipment serving millions of users, AT&T is actively working to expand their “package” of services by partnering with others in the industry.
Foregoing attempts at clever differentiating names Cisco simply calls their system “Cisco Unified Communications”. Leveraging their expertise in some of the more arcane aspects of IP networking, such as Quality of Service, Security and Interoperability, the Cisco Unified Communications system offers enterprise tested IP telephony, IP video conferencing, rich-media conferencing and numerous related services. Many industry-specific unified communications systems utilize Cisco underpinnings.
Siemens, on the other hand, has gone all the way over to labeling every aspect of their UC offering as “OpenScape” something or other. Components of their offering include “OpenScape UC Application”, “OpenScape Web Collaboration” (conferencing), “OpenScape PhoneApps” (building on the telephone services of “OpenStage”) and OpenScape Video” (HD and desktop video), just for starters. It appears Siemens would also love to be seen as a provider of the “complete solution” for enterprise unified communications. Possibly to counter the “everything under one roof” positioning, “OpenScape Fusion Developer Program” allows other parties to create unique features and capabilities.
For the immediate future, the big players are likely to get bigger, more partnerships will be forged with a growing hoard of smaller industry members, and standards will out-pace proprietary interfaces.
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