Convergence: This time the hype was justified

Convergence was one of the most omnipresent buzzwords of the 1990s. Remember all the pundits yakking about how it would usher in a new era of computing and communications for the new millennium?

Guess what? The pundits were right. Even though the convergence catchword has lost its cachet, the fundamental concept of integrating voice, data and video across a range of end devices and access types has quietly and steadily gained strength.

Want proof? When you e-mail your photo to your buddy’s cell phone, or call your business associate from your IP-based wireless PDA, that’s convergence. And it’s happening today.

Moreover, several recent trends mean IT executives should make time to plan for how they’ll manage convergence in 2004 and 2005. Specifically:

More companies than ever are supporting remote workers. Approximately 65 per cent of employees work outside an office at least some of the time, according to recent Nemertes Research LLC findings. And the trend is upward. These individuals aren’t on T-1 lines, but they’re increasingly linked via IP over wireless or digital cable.

Almost all major U.S. cable providers have announced plans to deploy IP telephony services broadly next year. Time Warner Cable, a division of Time Warner Inc., signed a deal to roll out voice services to subscribers in 27 states (with the help from MCI and Sprint Corp.). And Comcast, a division of Comcast Holdings Corporation, Cox Communications Inc. and Cablevision Systems Corp. plan similar rollouts in 2004.

Wi-Fi hot spots are growing faster than anticipated. Rollouts in public locations are exceeding expectations, meaning that remote users increasingly have the option of IP-based wireless connectivity for voice and data.

Infrastructure-independent service providers are emerging. Companies such as Gric Communications Inc., Fiberlink Communications Corp., iPass Inc. and Megapath Networks Inc. continue to gain traction serving remote and branch enterprise offices via a range of local access technologies.

IT professionals should consider these trends in assessing connectivity solutions. For example, you might want to rethink the traditional strategy of paying a telco millions to manage your phone services. Instead, you might want to consider infrastructure-independent providers or aggregators for both voice and data services.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What you need to think about is how your organization will work differently once applications are voice- and video-enabled, and when the standard end-user device is no longer a desktop, laptop or even palmtop computer, but a wireless headset.

Johnson is president and chief research officer at Nemertes Research, an independent technology research firm. She can be reached at [email protected]

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