A Brief History of Unified Communications (UC)

The history of Unified Communications lies in the birth of voice over ip (VoIP) back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. We were all concentrating on toll bypass for enterprises to save money by placing voice over their data circuits. Then Cisco bought a company called Celsius who was exploring making VoIP to the actual phones and not just moving voice packets as data packets across just the gateway links. This was a gamble on Cisco’s part since everyone still relied on silo hardware based PBX switches and even the switch vendors stated many times this will not work.

This was the first attempt to make voice an application on the data network which was being marketed hard by Cisco around the mid to late 1990’s by using the marketing term AVVID (Architecture for Voice Video and Integrated Data). Then with the invention of the Linux operating system kernel, other startups began mirroring Cisco’s example by building a cheap PBX with features to provide to medium and small companies.

A company who was probably the first to do this was Asterisk. Now two things had to come together for Asterisk to be possible, one a cheap OS (Linux is free) to build the concept of a PBX on, and two a delivery protocol to control voice calls which was developed by the IETF called SIP (Session Initialization Protocol). These two events have also allowed other manufacturers to get into the VoIP game being Microsoft, IBM, 3com, Skype, Vonage, and now even Google.

The second aspect of Unified Communications was the convergence of voice mail, e-mail and fax mail in the same Message Store or Mail server. Many today are converging on this technology or using it today.

Today the voice is treated as just an application running on your network which a solid delivery protocol called SIP. What is unique about this is that now voice can be blended into your corporate applications as well. For instance, a group of users can be working on a research project all using the same network-based application and from the application they can set up phone calls between researchers or even raise it to a conference call. This will provide true real-time collaboration, which companies have been searching for and is finally now being delivered. This is the real growth that will be the focus point in this decade.

What will Unified Communications look like in the future? All I have to say is the telephone itself may be extinct and only time will tell what the replacement will look like.

Author: Joe Parlas

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