What is Unified Communications – UC?

You may have come across the term Unified Communications before. It is often shortened to Unified Comms and is also sometimes represented by its acronym UC.

UC is an umbrella term that represents a range of communication tools and capabilities that provide a consistent experience to customers across all customer end-points. An endpoint could be a mobile phone, a fixed phone, or just an app that a customer may be using to access their account.

The problem with umbrella terminologies is that they make it harder for people to agree on a specific scope in terms of what is included and what isn’t. If you were to run an online search for a UC solution, you would very likely come across a few different flavours of unified communications which won’t help coming up with a specific definition. However, a typical UC solution can offer you a telephone system that is integrated with your other communication tools such as mobile phone, email service, online chats (IM), audio & video conferencing, fax services and various others.

Let’s drop the jargons a little bit more and talk about the word ‘integrate’ to understand it in plain English. So, if your telephone system is integrated with your mobile phone, it basically means that they are both connected to a common account and they can both ‘talk’ to each other. For example, if you are not able to take a call on your fixed phone, you may still be able to receive it through your mobile phone or just get a voice message delivered to the common voicemail account.

The two approaches to UC

It is an industry fact that IT and telecommunication services are coming closer and closer every day. This convergence of IT and telecommunications has encouraged both IT and telecom vendors to offer UC services. As they are both coming from different angles, they often have different approaches. As a result, at a high-level at least, you are likely to come across the following two approaches:

  • Telephone service providers – The providers of traditional telephony or PBX solutions who later added the collaboration part, and used their PSTN connectivity as the key differentiator.
  • Collaboration app providers – The providers of online collaboration apps who later added the PSTN connectivity to their solutions and used their superior ‘online’ expertise (e.g. more user-friendly and collaborative apps) as the differentiator.

One of the main features in UC has been the fixed-mobile convergence often referred to as FMC, which allows both the mobile and fixed phones to be connected to the same account. This gives additional flexibility to customers and makes it easier for them to avoid missing important calls. Typically, the fixed-phone in a UC solution is an IP phone, so the communication takes place using the Voice over IP (VoIP) technology. It can, however, be a strategic decision for the service provider to choose whether they want all their calls to be VoIP based. For example, if a mobile operator offers a UC solution, voice calls that are mainly circuit-switched are their key revenue source. So a mobile operator may decide not to dilute those revenues and create a solution that offers a combination of VoIP and traditional voice calls.

Who is the customer and why do they need it?

Unified Communications solutions are for business customers and include segments like SoHo (Small Office Home Office), SMB (Small and Medium Business) and large Enterprise customers. UC needs for businesses differ depending on how small or large they are, which is why solutions from many vendors target the individual customer segments. Solutions can also vary depending on which sector the businesses are operating in. For example, a plumbing company with 2 people will have very different UC needs as compared to an IT consulting company with 50 people.

The benefits of UC are centred around the flexibility and harmonisation it offers to businesses in addressing their communication needs. It allows businesses to communicate with their customers through multiple inter-connected communication tools that keep all the communication in one place. On the other hand, it also allows the internal staff or employees within a business to work more collaboratively which makes them more productive.

Check out the following post for a quick overview of the acronyms used in the communications industry.

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