Communications is more than just connecting people. The right communications technology helps businesses connect the dots between where they are today and where they want to be tomorrow. In this chapter, you explore the future of emerging cloud communications technologies and how they can help your business today and into the future.
Tighter mobile integration
Predicting the need for tighter integration between business communications systems, core business applications, and users’ mobile devices doesn’t take a crystal ball. The mobile workforce of today and the future expects its mobile phones to work everywhere, so productivity can happen anywhere.
Emerging technologies for tighter mobile integration include the following:
- Voice over long term evolution (VoLTE) networks: This is a specification that enables more efficient use of available bandwidth and tighter integration with apps over an LTE network.
- All IP‐based communications: Carriers move voice services from 2G/3G circuit‐switched (CS) networks to LTE, enabling redeployment and reuse of limited spectrum, and develop apps that are natively voice‐enabled. Today, voice and data are separate, and not all voice is IP‐based — even on LTE networks. In the near future, all LTE connections, both voice and data, will be IP‐based.
- Convergence of mobile and enterprise communications (no more “apps”): Today, most unified communications (UC) vendors provide an app for smartphones that enables enterprise communications. Users will soon be able to make and receive corporate calls on their smartphones—not from a separate app, but from a native dialer.
- Intelligent reachability: Intelligent reachability allows users to be reached on any of their devices through a single phone number with intelligent call routing capabilities, using location data, Bluetooth, and Wi‐Fi, among others, to route the call to the most appropriate device (rather than simply ringing every device).
- New use cases: These enable mobile apps to leverage real‐time communications. Today, an app can trigger the dialer to make a call, but the call happens outside the app. In the future, mobile apps will be natively communications‐enabled via seamless integration to network‐based communications capabilities.
- Enterprise routing capabilities: These use location and contextual awareness through more intelligent and capable mobile networks as UC vendors and cellular carriers develop new technologies together.
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Software‐defined networking over Internet
Today, cloud communications customers generally connect to their service providers over either a multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) wide-area network or an over the top (OTT) Internet connection. At least some OTT is typically used in almost all environments. For example, it’s common to find MPLS at office locations, while employees use OTT at home or on the road.
MPLS offers the best quality, but it’s more expensive than other options. Many service providers include MPLS services and guarantee the quality of service for their customers.
OTT is less expensive, but it’s basically just an Internet connection. There’s no quality of service guarantee, and voice quality can degrade and even become unacceptable at times. For example, if a neighbor on the same network streams a video during a call, the download could interfere with your call.
A new innovation, known as software‐defined wide area networking (SD‐WAN) is emerging, offering businesses the best of both the MPLS and OTT worlds— better quality at a lower cost. SD‐WAN delivers these benefits by using multiple network connections, including a mixture of OTT and/or OTT with MPLS services.
SD‐WAN provides enterprise‐grade performance, visibility, and control over Internet broadband and private links. WAN traffic is automatically steered across the best links and most‐optimal paths. Dynamic multipath packets are steered to the optimal link based on performance metrics, application requirements, business priority of the application, and link cost. This technology can create a virtual, high‐bandwidth pipe from multiple, inexpensive broadband links and leased lines, providing businesses with improved WAN economics and quality.
Workstream messaging / Team collaboration
Unified communications technology generally includes instant messaging (IM). However, IM generally only supports internal users and is designed primarily for one‐to‐one communications. But a new category of communications is emerging: workstream messaging, sometimes called team collaboration. These messaging services are specifically designed for business collaboration.
Workstream messaging provides the same familiar experience of consumer‐based messaging applications, but offers enterprise‐oriented capabilities, like:
- Directory integration
- Single sign‐on (SSO) support
- Integration with other enterprise applications, such as customer relationship management (CRM)
Workstream messaging tools started with basic messaging services but has been expanding into real‐time communications. A cloud communications provider can offer workstream messaging software with extensive real-time capabilities, including support for desk phones and public switched telephone networks (PSTNs).
Because workstream messaging also organizes and shares content (like files and photos), it provides contacts, content, and communications—all in one place. Workstream messaging will combine the benefits of asynchronous communications (like messages and files) with real‐time communications (like voice and video), and become central to business workflows.
Workstream messaging isn’t just another feature of unified communications—it often becomes the preferred means for real‐time communications in an organization.
Workstream messaging is self-organizing, which offers many benefits for users compared to an unwieldy “catch‐all” email inbox. Also, messages are more collaborative because they tend to drive more frequent, less formal, and concise interactions between communicating parties.
Workstream messaging is also superior to IM because, like actual workgroups and teams, it extends beyond organizational boundaries. In the consumer world, messaging‐based apps now dominate communications, but those services do not suitably address enterprise requirements, like security and integration.
Workstream messaging has the potential to change the nature of communications applications, like email, in the future. Organizations using workstream messaging solutions today have benefitted from a significant reduction in internal email volume because these solutions offer many advantages over traditional email systems, like self-organizing message streams.
Some might argue that reduced email isn’t much of a business benefit because messages are effectively moved from one application to another. However, the storage footprint for workstream messaging is generally smaller than for email, and there are numerous other advantages, including:
- Organization. Email tends to follow a last‐in‐first‐out model, but organizing content chronologically is not always ideal. Workstream messaging tools organize messages by logically defined containers that group people or topics together. A new message arrives in that space, and the space itself is promoted to the top.
- Search. Rather than store conversation history in individual email folders, workstream messaging tools share a single copy of the history among the participants. Everything is in one tool, along with content such as documents or photos.
- History. Group history can be easily shared with new members to quickly bring others “up to speed” on a conversation topic.
- Shared knowledge. Some workstream messaging tools allow containers to be searched by non‐participants. If someone in the company is looking for someone with knowledge of widgets, for example, then conversations about widgets can be identified to reveal potential experts.
Many cloud communications providers are moving to continuous upgrades rather than scheduled upgrade cycles. Thus, another advantage of cloud communications software is that it’s not only the most current, but also that it’s more secure than premises‐based solutions, in which continuous upgrades aren’t practical.