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How the history
of unified
communications
will impact what
comes next

Author: Nick Reese

Unified communications makes it simple for a business to enable communications and collaboration between employees, customers, prospects and partners. By removing silos and putting all your communications in a centralized system, unified communications lets everyone focus on the message they're trying to communicate instead of choosing the right channel to communicate it.

Given the history of unified communications, adopting the technology seems like a no-brainer now, but it wasn't always this way. Not long ago, communications were fragmented and stratified, making it difficult for companies and customers to easily connect.

By looking at the history of unified communications, we can better understand why the infrastructure we have today exists. This can help us predict unified communications future trends, which, in turn, can impact how you plan your infrastructure today.

The history of unified communications

For many years, communications were generally tethered to a location. If you wanted to call a specific person at a business, you would dial their number and hope they were at their desk. So, how did we get to a world where anyone can be reached anywhere, anytime, using multiple communication channels?

With the popularization of cell phones, email and laptops in the corporate world, a wired, disconnected communications system no longer cuts it. Eventually, unified communications systems that combined messaging and real-time communications began to be privately developed, with one of the first being the "Poet" unified messaging system created by ThinkRite for IBM's internal use.

With the rise of the internet in the commercial world, businesses began to put IP networks in place that would allow them to transmit voice over the internet instead of using telephone circuits. Some telecommunications providers began to eliminate private branch exchange circuits in their hardware in favor of solutions that utilize internet protocols.

The rise of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) eventually enabled a software-only communications infrastructure, allowing companies to eliminate their traditional private branch exchange systems. With phones untethered from copper wire, they were able to be treated as just another device, allowing communications, text messages, and voicemails to be routed to a person instead of a location.

Today, unified communications are now often delivered through the cloud. Unified communications as a service, or UCaaS, is device-agnostic, allowing users to get the same experience on their phones, tablets, or laptops whether they are at work or part of a remote workforce. In addition to traditional services like voice, UCaaS can enable new services like video conferencing, video calls, enterprise chat applications and collaborative document sharing. In a world where the remote workforce is becoming the norm instead of the exception, UCaaS gives companies, their employees and their customers the flexibility needed to always stay in touch.

Unified communications future trends: what to watch for

While the history of unified communications has led to companies improving their ability to communicate, it has also strained networks that weren't built with the real-time, high-bandwidth needs of voice and video in mind. The next evolution of the space will only keep asking more of business networks.

The most important unified communications future trends include:

  • The complete cloud takeover: According to the Flexera 2021 State of the Cloud Report, 92% of enterprises already have a multi-cloud strategy, while 55% of enterprise workloads are expected to be in a public cloud within a year. Over the next decade, businesses will continue to shift away from legacy, on-premises infrastructure to leverage the scalability, reliability and low latency of the cloud.
  • Automated communications: Advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning will see the rise of computers taking on more of a role in communications. For example, customer service chatbots will be able to handle more and more complex customer inquiries, while smart home devices powered by services like Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri will be used by customers to order products, check their accounts and manage more of their interactions with brands. These AI-powered applications need to be able to process a customer's request, find the info and deliver it in the blink of an eye.
  • Virtual operations: Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have gone from science fiction to real-world fact as people use these technologies for gaming and entertainment. Businesses are also incorporating VR and AR into their operations; for example, a manufacturer may use VR to train employees on how to use complex manufacturing equipment in a realistic but safe virtual environment, while a maintenance engineer may use an AR-enabled camera to scan equipment and get an instant readout on the condition of its interior components. For communications, employees may soon be able to replicate the in-person conference room experience using VR or AR without having to leave their house.

Each of these technologies requires greater bandwidth, heavy compute resources, massive data throughput and ultra-low latency. Multi-access edge computing delivered over 5G networks will not only provide more speed and lower latency but also improve the ability to process data in the cloud and at the edge, reducing bandwidth requirements. The result is greater performance for contextually aware applications, delivering the ultimate promise of unified communications.

When it comes to unified communications future trends, the hereafter is closer than you think. Learn more about the impact demand these technologies will place on your business tomorrow so you can start preparing today.