Unified Communications for Mobile is here – is your business ready?

The term Fixed Mobile Convergence (FMC) was first coined in the early-mid 2000’s, with the vision of making the mobile phone an extension of the office telephone system. One number, one voicemail, one service. That was of course before we envisaged that smartphones would take control our lives.

The telecoms industry has always been great at dreaming up new ideas, however, these ideas always seem to take a little longer to arrive than you’d ever expect. Some fade away, surpassed by new technologies before they can take a hold, others eventually find a way to break through, but not before multiple start-up and corporate casualties.

Here in 2018 the sense is that FMC; albeit now in the guise of Unified Communications (UC); is finally reaching its breakthrough point.

We think it is fair to say that UC is (or certainly will become) the mainstream replacement for traditional fixed line telephone systems. However, we also believe that we’ve reached a point where these services are (for the first time) going to genuinely be extended to smartphone users to truly transform Enterprise communications.

In fairness, we have had the mobile technology (e.g. VoIP/SIP software clients from Cisco, Avaya, Broadsoft etc.) for years, however we are not sure we have really had the mobile networks to support the mobile element of a “unified communications” service, until now.

With the first evolutions of FMC services, there was simply too much reliance on legacy mobile (2G) voice services and PBX call forwarding over public telephone networks (PSTN) to make it a viable and cost effective alternative solution for the mass business market.

To compound this, the user experience on mobile applications was poor; the mobile OS platforms had yet to stabilise around iOS and Android; and frankly it was just easier to communicate on the mobile network using the native dialler and contacts. Add all of this together, and there just wasn’t a credible return on investment model for all but the most creative or optimistic IT directors.

Mobile networks have, on the whole, finally caught up to the party; and it’s reliable and quality mobile data that’s the true enabler for delivering a seamless Enterprise UC services to mobile users. Mobile data speeds and coverage are now largely up to the job, and importantly, the cost of mobile data has finally fallen to a point where it also makes commercial sense to use mobile data to carry voice and even corporate video traffic when Wi-Fi is not available.

That means corporate mobile users can effectively make voice calls, access “on-net” audio and video conferencing services, collaborate with colleagues using Instant Messaging (IM) and video, all with integrated file sharing. At last, the technology is catching up with the vision.

For corporates, this not only offers the productivity and flexible working gains that are always discussed (and more difficult to measure), but it generates hard cost savings in the form of:

  • Free “on-net” calling for business users (globally) – reducing mobile voice charges
  • Opportunities to dramatically reduce conferencing access, Webex and bridge charges
  • The eradication of roaming mobile voice charges when connected to Wi-Fi
  • The ability to rapidly decommission traditional desk phones
  • Consolidation of services into a smaller number of platforms to reduce support costs

For large global organisations, we believe that Mobile UC has the potential to dramatically reduce traditional mobile costs, especially where devices are configured to automatically connect to corporate or trusted Wi-Fi. If pushed, we’d say 30-50% is achievable given the right device configuration and critically, the mobile network agreement has been negotiated with the foresight to enable such a reduction in usage and costs. Businesses that don’t address the mobile contract element, will inadvertently find themselves duplicating costs rather than saving money.

From an IT operational and support perspective, these Mobile UC services can be rapidly delivered to any smartphone (or tablet) with a data connection (Wi-Fi or Cellular) and can be pushed to devices via Mobile Device Management (MDM) platforms. In the case of business iPhone’s and iPad’s enrolled in Apple’s DEP programme, that process could ultimately involve “zero-touch” from IT teams, offering significant resource savings.

As this technology is delivered as a “layered” service, it can also be easily rolled out to BYOD users independently of the user’s own mobile number or SIM. As a Mobile UC user, this would allow us to keep traditional mobile numbers for personal use and instead have a business issued DDI for both inbound and outbound calls. The service would allow us to turn the business communications element “on” or “off” as required. So, no more need for two phones, no business calls in evenings or whilst on holiday and all voice and conferencing access / usage charges (except for mobile data) would automatically be charged to the business. We think this flexibility could be one of the major catalysts that drives users as well as IT to encourage investment in Mobile UC.

On a daily basis, we are starting to see IT decision makers build strong business cases for rolling out Mobile UC. These business cases are built on both the promise of productivity gains as well as robust cost savings benefits. This combination, in my experience, has always been the trigger for adoption in the Enterprise telecoms market. After so many false dawns, Mobile UC’s time has finally come.

Now as to which Mobile UC platforms and vendors will ultimately win through and dominate the market? Will the mobile networks fight the tide or embrace the next generation of services? Judging by the level of corporate investments and acquisitions in this space, the big guns like Cisco, Microsoft and Avaya are convinced that’s it’s going to be a market worth betting the house on, and it will be fascinating to see how this space evolves over the next few years.

Looking for an independent specialist team to help your IT and procurement teams through the challenges of mobile management or to develop your Mobile and UC strategy? Get in touch.

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