Last post, we talked about session initiation protocol (SIP), the application level protocol that allows IP-based endpoints to find each other and connect. Its companions in the application level of the networking stack actually handle the transfer of media, for example, voice over IP (VoIP) and real-time transport protocol (RTP). These are the building blocks of a full-blown unified communications (UC) solution.
Without getting into too much technical detail about which protocol or application does what, this time, we’ll look at the possibilities this framework facilitates once you recognize voice is now a computing workload.
SIP provides basic connectivity between endpoints, and various voice protocols transmit voice data. That’s the fundamental part. Another foundational technology for a UC platform is presence.
Presence is pretty much just what it sounds like. It provides notification to others of where a user is and what he or she is doing. In the office, out of the office, in a meeting, on a call, on a cell phone, working remotely … it’s like a real-time shared calendar, but much more powerful, and not just for human eyes. Presence allows the network to make decisions about how to handle communication requests. If you’re on a call, it can route an incoming request straight to voice mail. If you’re out of the office, it can route the call to your cell phone or your remote location. If you’re in a meeting, a text message can be sent to your mobile device. These so-called “follow-me” services are built on presence capabilities.
The medium can be switched up according to the user’s preferences. Text-to-speech technology can turn an e-mail or text message into a (slightly robotic) voice mail message if that suits your access circumstances at the time. (I have a friend whose company’s system converted text messages to voice mail. I meant to text her smart phone but used her office number instead. When she told me the result, I started sending her random fragments of song lyrics out of the blue. Good times. But I digress.)
Likewise, if you’d prefer to take messages at your computer—perhaps to save roaming charges while you’re traveling—voice mail messages can be e-mailed as an audio file for you to listen to at your convenience.
In a call centre environment, entire business processes—escalation paths, referrals, scheduling—can be built into a UC platform.
And, of course, there are the protocols that handle the exchange of streamed video. While a few years ago, there was a trend toward proprietary videoconferencing solutions, it’s generally accepted by vendors now that an infrastructure that accommodates any kind of video endpoint—from smartphone camera or Webcam to dedicated teleconferencing suite—is more useful.
Add desktop-sharing capabilities and put it into a multi-participant environment, and things get really exciting. Your presentation in front of dozens of executives, all able to interact with you (and each other) in real-time, face-to-face, voice-to-voice, text chat or e-mail … in a sophisticated unified communications environment, users can communicate in the medium they prefer, or simply the one that’s most convenient in their current circumstances.
It may not be practical for an enterprise to incorporate all of these features right out of the box when moving to IP-based communications. But the building blocks are there to gradually create an all-encompassing UC infrastructure.
And to think, it started with a phone call.