Integration of The Computer and Telephone as Collaboration Platforms - InformationWeek
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Integration of The Computer and Telephone as Collaboration Platforms

The handwriting is on the wall: the computer and PC are starting to merge, both on the client side (your desk) and on the server side (the switches or servers). So what will this new technology look like, and how will this convergence affect the evolution of collaborative applications?

In recent briefings with Interwise, Centra and as well as a number of other vendors we are seeing more evidence of the "convergence" trend, only this time the convergence is not just audio, video and data conferencing, but also the convergence of the two collaboration hardware platforms on your desk; the telephone and computer.


It has been clear for about a decade that the phone and computer were on a collision course. I have a cell phone/PDA, where the two have been integrated into one device. With the popularity of IP infrastructures, and the inroads that IP-PBXs have been making against Class 5 PSTN switches VoIP is moving into the mainstream as an infrastructure. Cisco sold its one millionth IP-Phone this year. A recent report from the Dell'Oro group shows the increased revenues from soft switches and hybrid systems.

Total Worldwide IP Telephony Carrier Equipment Market (Softswitch, Hybrid Media Gateway Softswitch, Media Gateway):

Total Market




$401 M

$528 M

Hybrid Media Gateway Softswitch         

$61 M

$102 M

Media Gateway

$834 M

$952 M


$1,296 M      

$1,583 M

Source: Dell'Oro Group

Slick Trick

Later this month, Interwise ( ) will be releasing ECP Connect 5.2 that is one of the smoothest blending of the two desktop machines we have seen from an RTC vendor. We have seen a number of hybrid systems (VoIP and PSTN) systems from Raindance (Meeting Edition, ) Spectel (recently acquired by Avaya, and other RTC vendors, where they participants in an online meeting can be part of a web conference or presentation weather they are on a regular analog telephone (PSTN) or listening/talking through their computer (VoIP). We thought this was pretty neat when Raindance showed us this trick, but Interwise has taken it a step further, and provided a third option we haven't seen before. They enable you to call into an 800 # for the web conference from you analog phone and have it be a VoIP call. All this is done seamlessly and transparently, eliminating the necessity to buy an expensive IP phone ($300) until there are enough applications to warrant its use in your enterprise. It also eliminates the big "headset switch" which I am constantly doing when switching from my telephone headset to my computer headset or vise versa.

Alcatel and eDial

Some of the switch vendors, seeing a very fragmented and rapidly changing market also see collaboration as a big opportunity. Avaya recently acquired Spectel for the same reason, and not to be outdone, in mid-September Alcatel acquired eDial (, a conferencing and collaboration vendor. Alcatel's strategy is one focused on "Unified Interaction Management (UIM), and includes four different factors in this comprehensive solution. Alcatel not only offers a soft phone (IP/computer-based phone called "My phone") but also a unifed messaging mailbox "my mailbox" and the ability to do sophisticated call routing and management "my assistant."  The piece they had announced but had not delivered on is "my teamwork" which is where eDial fits in. Alcatel's strategy over the next year or two is to integrate the eDial technology and expand communications infrastructure and middleware layers to meet the goals of thier UIM strategy.  This means that they will be adding video so that they can support a true rich-media environment, and are also extending the SIP protocol with SDP (session description protocol) extensions for additonal functionality.

Given the recent rash of acquistions of RTC vendors by Telecom-oriented acquirers, it shows that many of these vendors do understand that collaboration is critical to their future and they are trying to get into the game faster through purchasing rather than building a solution. However, this convergence of PCa nd telephone for collaboration will continue to be a hot area for the next year or so, as various infrastructue players jockey for position.

Form Factor and Mobility  

The handwriting is on the wall, and the computer and PC are starting to merge, both on the client side (your desk) and on the server side (the switches or servers). So what will this new technology look like?

Let's look at another area where this integration is further along... cell phone/PDA. Although I have a PDA with cell phone functions, I believe, as do some of the other analysts at CS that the form factor will be the phone not the PDA. A good piece of evidence in this area is that Samsung has just announced the first mobile phone (SPH-V5400) with a built-in hard drive. This device is sure to shake up the wireless market, and give rise to new levels of data storage on a handset. On the software and operating system side, Microsoft has hedged its bets with its SmartPhone 2003 operating system for phones that are still a phone form factor but include a number of PDA functions such as contact lists, address, ability to browse e-mail or the web, etc.

Now you have to ask yourself, if the phone is the form factor, then how does that effect collaboration? For example, I am on the road and want to be included in a web conference (assuming I am not driving, but just a passenger in a car) I can call into any number of web conferencing systems with my SmartPhone, but with a 2x2 screen what would I be able to see, or for that matter what should the web conferencing vendor be showing me? Maybe they should just show a streaming video of the person presenting along with the audio portion of the call. If I was using a PDA and had a bit more real estate, say 3x4, then they could show me the presence information (i.e. who is in the conference, who is speaking, etc.) as well as either a picture of the speaker, or maybe the data stream and show the PowerPoint slides that are being discussed. I don't know if you have ever seen Pocket PowerPoint, but you need very good eyes, as everything is very small. Because my PDA has a small virtual hunt and peck keyboard, I could do back channel chat with the presenter or anyone else in the conference, but that conversation mode would be slow and limited. Although we know a variety of cellular providers are upgrading their networks (Verizon puts in $1B to upgrade to 3G network) to 3G or better data carrying capacity, it will probably be 2005 before streaming video to the cell phone is available, and 2006 or 2007 before interactive video is available on SmartPhone, as both the infrastructure and the end points (cell phones) need to support these functions.

Collaboration on the Desktop

The desktop is a different story because there are fewer real estate restrictions. Most PCs already come with an analog phone jack built in. We believe computer manufacturers; especially those that make laptops will start to insert IP telephony equipment as standard. For example, a few years ago only a few phones had cameras in them. Now every phone sold in Japan has a built-in camera. We are already seeing laptop manufacturers build in better speakers (some even offer sound systems from Harmon Kardon) and microphones. Sony's VAIO line of laptops as well as Toshiba have offered integrated cameras for the last few years in their smaller more portable models like the Sony VAIO TR5 and the VAIO PCG-TR3AP3. Monitor manufacturers are not far behind. Last year CTX launched the M730V 17-Inch LCD Monitor Provides Complete Multimedia Feature Set, Including Surround Sound, CCD camera, 3-Port USB 2.0 Hub, and DVI/Analog Input. On the desktop we see the form factor moving into the PC instead of the phone. PCs already have a numeric keypad, larger screens, and with the right card can support both digital and analog hand or headsets. The PC is also the easier tool for collaboration. As these two form factors combine, I can't wait until I only have to wear one headset!

{mosimage}David Coleman is the Founder and Managing Director of Collaborative Strategies CS). He is the author of two books on groupware, and is the editor and writes the “Guru's Corner” column for this newsletter. He can be reached at or 415-282-9197.


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