Every now and then I get asked the question, what is mobile unified communications and why should I care?

Mobile unified communications is all about increasing reachability, accountability and convenience. The core idea of mobile unified communications is to put all the features, policies and controls available on the enterprise IP desk phone, on a users’ mobile phone.

Reachability and mobile unified communications

Reachability is the probability that I will actually reach you when I call you.

This has been a major problem for business users for the past three decades. Voicemail, first commercialized by Octel which was founded in 1982, merely converted an intended real-time communication into a time delayed interchange – you leave a message for me, I call you back and leave a message for you, you return the call leaving a message and so on.

The introduction of mobile phones, starting with the demonstration of the mobile phone by Martin Cooper in 1973, helped by putting a mobile phone in the briefcase of an employee making them more reachable, but reduced accountability and convenience. Mobile phones introduced a second independent telephone number for the person. Adding to the business card with an office telephone, the fax number and now the mobile number, it difficult and somewhat impossible to activate common enterprise features such as call transfer, conferencing, call park, call detail record. Coworkers had to try and keep straight the office numbers of coworkers AND their mobile numbers.

[span class=inset-left]Mobile unified communications resets the boundaries of reachability, accountability and convenience.[/span]Accountability had been reduced too. Without having the enterprise IP PBX involved in the call, there is no opportunity to apply enterprise policies to the call such as engaging with the enterprise network for lowest cost transport, for example. Mobile calls by employees from the US to the Canadian office, for example, are treated by the mobile operator as a long distance call that is typically billed at $1/minute. If the call had originated from the employee’s office phone the normal treatment of voice calls to Canada as SIP trunk over the IP network of their carrier would reach the same coworker at a tiny fraction of that cost, maybe as little as $.02/minute, and would present the caller ID of the caller’s office extension. The mobile phone greatly increased the cost of communications for the employee, who is frequently reimbursed by their employers a month after the call had transpired.

Unlike call forward services such as find-me, follow-me service which only extend incoming calls, sometimes to the mobile phone, mobile unified communications addresses both inbound and outbound call processing needs. Find-me, follow-me services involved incoming callers to hear a recording and choose to attempt to find me. Callers record their names and wait for the system to attempt the predetermined sequence of telephone numbers which may include the called party’s mobile phone. The called party gets a call with the caller ID of their office DID and listens to the recording of who’s waiting and then can choose to join the caller or send them to voicemail.

Mobile unified communications provides all three capabilities at the same time: reachability, accountability and convenience. Users of mobile unified communications are reachable as if their office telephone is in their pocket. Call records for both inbound and outbound calls are available. Call management policies such as using the enterprise WAN service for the LD portion of the call, using the carrier’s SIP trunking service for long distance or using the shortest-path calling such that a US mobile user visiting the UK and calling a worker in the UK is dialed into local UK office system instead of calling back to the US and then across the WAN are available. Other policies such as enterprise caller ID for mobile-originated outbound calls and single number (enterprise) are supported capabilities with mobile unified communications. Some implementations can support call recording too.

The convenience dimension of mobile unified communications is not just convenience for the mobile user. It has to include convenience for the other enterprise users too. Common enterprise internal features such as 3,4,5-digit internal dialing, ad hoc conferencing, call transfer, call park help coworkers in the office and mobile coworkers continue to work together without impediments. Mobile unified communications blurs the boundaries between the enterprise communications environment and the mobile operator environment that superimposes the unique enterprise call control characteristics of the client enterprise over their users’ mobile devices, networks and practices.

These three features of mobile unified communications – reachability, convenience and accountability – are the source for higher levels of productivity and enterprise control than mere mobile communications. Mobile unified communications promises to significantly change the way people work with mobile services and with each other.

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