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Enterprise mobile providers lack UC mobile strategy, even Microsoft

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Editor's note: Michael Finneran hosted the Integrating Mobility and Unified Communications: Comparing Vendor Solutions vendor panel at VoiceCon 2010 in Orlando. Developing a solid mobile strategy proved challenging not only for end users but for vendors as well.

Those who were fortunate enough to attend the VoiceCon 2010 trade show in Orlando were greeted with an upbeat air at one of the industry's premier events. For the past year, the enterprise network business was clearly a victim of a down economy, but there was a new feeling of optimism and purpose that pervaded the show.

The first big piece of news was that this would be the last meeting under the name "VoiceCon." The organizers have decided to change the name to "Enterprise Connect: Communications Transforming Business." Those of us who work on the show may have grown fond of the VoiceCon label, but with the growing interest in unified communications (UC), the emphasis on voice is clearly sending the wrong message.

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My friend Marty Parker of UniComm Consulting coined the definitive definition of UC as "communications integrated to optimize business processes," and the new title seems to borrow heavily from that idea.

A mobile strategy includes unified communications

With UC, the focus of enterprise communications is expanding to incorporate voice, video, text, collaboration and email. For mobile users in the UC environment, there will be two focal points for communications: a desktop hard or soft phone and an associated mobile device.

While the popular view of UC involves users interacting through a PC-based client that allows access to all of their voice, video and text communications, we are finding that there are many who will still favor the familiar voice handset. So as it moves from show-ware to reality, we are finding that UC is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.

While the popular view of UC involves users interacting through a PC-based client that allows access to all of their voice, video and text communications, we are finding that there are many who will still favor the familiar voice handset.

The other big news item coming out of the show was Microsoft's announcement that the new version of Office Communications Server (OCS '14') would be released later this year. In his keynote, Gurdeep Singh Pall, Microsoft's corporate vice president for the Unified Communications Group, demonstrated the software publicly for the first time. With the new release, Microsoft appears to have a complete and marketable telephony solution in OCS with full E911 capability, survivable remotes, a wider range of voice handsets, and standard speech-to-text translation for voicemail.

Mobile vendors, including Microsoft, struggle with UC and mobile strategy

The desktop implementation of unified communications was on full display, but the mobile component still has the vendors perplexed. I hosted a vendor panel, Integrating Mobility and Unified Communications: Comparing Vendor Solutions, at VoiceCon, and while 10 mobile vendors illustrated the cost and capabilities of their mobile UC offerings, Microsoft chose not to participate.

Microsoft does offer an OCS client for Windows Mobile devices called Office Communicator Mobile, but in truth the company is at an awkward point in its mobility strategy. A new version of the Windows Mobile operating system, dubbed Windows Phone 7, is due to be released later this year, and Microsoft has confirmed that it will not support any of the existing Windows Mobile Version 5, 6, or 6.5 applications (which includes the current Office Communicator Mobile).

The question now becomes will the next version of OC Mobile be based on the current operating system or the iPhone-inspired Phone 7? The current Windows Mobile has been an embarrassment for Microsoft, but developing a replacement based on Phone 7 will mean everyone will need a new handset to run it. In the meantime, RIM has a BlackBerry client for OCS; and for most users, BlackBerry support is a lot more important than Windows Mobile support.

In the mobile space we are already wrestling with issues of supporting user-owned mobile devices, particularly ones like the iPhone that lack important security capabilities.

Challenges of creating a mobile strategy for mobile device management

One of the more notable comments from the show came from Alistair Rennie, general manager of collaboration software at IBM. In his keynote, Rennie referred to IBM's "consumerization of IT." In the mobile space, we are already wrestling with issues of supporting user-owned mobile devices, particularly ones like the iPhone that lack important security capabilities.

User requirements for networking are expanding, and it is becoming increasingly clear that we will have to offer and support a range of user experiences (hard phone, soft phone, mobile, etc.) based on individual needs and preferences."

In the mobile space, we will have to figure out how we support iPhones and Android devices along with our familiar BlackBerrys, while on the desktop, some users will continue to demand traditional handsets along with their PC-based soft phones.

We in IT might yearn for a single-user image that we can deploy to everyone, but it appears we are going to have to learn to accommodate a much wider range of fixed and mobile service configurations for our corporate mobile users.

About the author:
Michael Finneran is a well-respected independent consultant and industry analyst with dBrn Associates who specializes in wireless technologies, mobile unified communications and fixed-mobile convergence.

With more than 30 years in networking and a broad range of experience, Finneran is a widely recognized expert in the field. He has recently published his first book, entitled Voice Over Wireless LANs: The Complete Guide, though his expertise spans the full range of wireless technologies, including Wi-Fi, 3G/4G Cellular, WiMAX and RFID.

This was first published in April 2010

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