IDC: Wireless could pave way to unified communications

Unified communications may be the way of the future, but it can be difficult to get there, according to an IDC Canada and Intel.

In a Webcast held earlier this week, the research firm and the processor giant offered some tips on how IT managers could navigate toward a set of integrated communication strategies.

Tony Olvet, vice-president of IDC Canada’s communications practice, said, the promise of unified communications is to help simplify the chaos surrounding our daily lives. This is becoming more attractive promise due to the growing popularity of remote workers and the ability to access information in real-time. The space’s growth is also being aided by the many players jumping into the market.

Said Olvet: “Microsoft, Cisco, and IBM are playing in the same sandbox as telecom providers, along with innovators like Google and small developers from down the street.”

As IT is becomes a key operational driver, said Olvet, people are working toward network convergence. “We all hear about how we have to bring those silos together on a single pipeline,” said Olvet. “This will streamline your infrastructure and add cost savings.”

Mobile and wireless continues to be a hot spot for investment, he said. It is the area of greatest spending and growth within communications services, helped along by increasing and pervasive use, expanding wireless network coverage, high-speed access, critical mass of experienced users, a growing appetite for new mobile applications, and the overlap of home (or consumer) use and work use, said Olvet.

A way to ease unified communications into the workplace is to “tie in the mobile user to the corporate communications environment,” said Olvet, who pointed out that wireless has the highest projected spending increase for this year. Over one-quarter of C-level responders to an IDC survey planned to spend more on wireless and mobile services than they did in 2006. He said that, in 2007, IDC expects Canadian businesses to spend $5.4-billion on wireless services (including both voice and data), which represents 12 per cent growth over last year.

“Wireless services are going beyond basic voice and e-mail applications and into additional industry-specific and horizontal applications,” said Olvet. “The data aspect of wireless services will be central to the next wave of growth in the sector, and IT managers will have to think about how this affects their business, especially as a critical mass of users is in place.”

Security issues, for instance, could affect the business. This is now the top obstacle to adopting wireless communications (over lack of perceived need, cost, while reliability of service dropped from the top spot to fifth).

Fixed mobile convergence — where users can access different types of communications and information services, from a variety of devices, regardless of network or user location — is probably some way off. “The interest is there, but we expect the true wireless and wireline convergence play to take some time to roll out to the enterprise, especially as the organizational constraints of most telcos inhibit the rapid rollout of most services,” said Olvet.

He offered some tips on how to get unified communications off the ground in an enterprise. Since it is common for companies to have separate telephony and Internet functions, said Olvet, “A first step is to have these teams work together, so that they can begin to experience the other business areas.”

Security must be kept in mind, along with the end-user and their role in the strategy. “And you need to push your suppliers to give you a more solid business case, whether it be your services, hardware, or applications vendors. You need to see the better value of it,” said Olvet.

Intel senior technologist Catherine Spence said Intel initially found VoIP cost-prohibitive, but, after some network upgrades, installing VoIP on new systems was a good fit with what Spence calls Intel’s “evolutionary approach” to unified communications.

The company has tackled the security problem by going against the “walled garden” model. Said Spence: “We use a collapsed perimeter and open IP services. We’ve moved the firewall around the core corporate servers, and we fortify elements on the outside.”

It has also found success with integrating mobility into its strategy. By distributing laptops to over 80 per cent of its staff — who use wireless LAN — Intel has changed the way its employees work, which resulted in improved productivity. (One large 5,000-person campus uses a wireless network exclusively, which has also produced improved productivity, and reduced LAN infrastructure.)

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