By Bennie Langenhoven, Managing Executive, Tellumat Communication Solutions
Unified communications (UC) is:
- A collection of collaborative applications, including Voice over IP, peer-to-peer video, calendar and email integration, instant messaging, desktop productivity and others, integrated into the corporate communications platform to offer the productivity of feature-rich collaborative communications and business process integration, and
- Presence awareness – the ability to detect a colleague’s availability and location (or shroud your own).
Given the long-time prominence of Voice over IP in the market, VOIP service providers (SPs) – cloud-based or on-premise-delivered – have on occasion jumped on the UC bandwagon as a basis for marketing their own solutions.
But to suggest that VOIP is equal or antecedent to UC is totally misleading; you don’t need a VOIP provider or the cloud to deliver UC. Knowing this will free you up to use any telephony you like to the outside world, including TDM from Telkom – without losing the benefits of UC or VOIP inside the company.
UC – VOIP is on the inside
So where does the confusion come from? It’s true that at the heart of any UC system is an IP-based PBX. IP-based voice (VOIP) is, in fact, as central to UC as its other tools.
But the fact that VOIP is central to UC concerns the inside of a company – it does not mean a UC system’s connectivity to the outside world must be VOIP. You can have full-blown UC inside your organisation while connecting to the outside world using whatever voice protocol you choose.
How it works
Companies with branches or remote workers can experience the typical UC benefits of remote mobile extensions, free inter-branch calls, video-conferencing and so forth – with or without VOIP.
The way to do so is by deploying an IP-based wide-area data network or allowing remote access via corporate VPN or data dial-in. One-premise companies, in turn, can have UC via a local area network. Either way, UC is an internal or inter-branch issue, not an
external connectivity issue.
That is not to say VOIP SPs cannot deliver UC as part of their IP PBX solution – whether from the cloud or via physical on-site infrastructure. In such a case, VOIP is deployed in a least-cost routing configuration front-ending the company’s comms to the outside world, thus bringing additional cost savings to the enterprise. It’s just that it need not be done in that way.
UC and VOIP have difference USPs
VOIP is so close to UC, it even contributes to the UC value proposition of collaborative functionality, productivity and professional image. And as with other UC apps, the VOIP interface also allows viewing and setting of a user’s presence (availability and location).
But in truth, VOIP’s true calling is nothing so fancy – it’s all about low- or no-cost calls. If UC is about doing things in exciting new ways, VOIP is about allowing you to do the same old thing more cheaply.
And at any rate, if cost is the issue, enterprise buyers should know that a UC solution’s architecture has a much greater impact on cost of ownership. For instance, a distributed, appliance-based architecture with N+1 redundancy can deliver far greater savings than call costs, due to its ease of management, upgrades, etc.
Ultimately, the confusion between VOIP and UC does nobody but VOIP providers any favours. Companies should cast their net wide to procure UC systems that give them seamless functionality and quality assurance via channels that provide proven service differentiation.
* Tellumat is the South African distributor of ShoreTel systems.