Enterprise Connect: Mobile Unified Communications Still Hard

Adoption of mobile unified communications technologies is happening faster in the consumer market than the enterprise. Here's why.
10 Companies Driving Mobile Security
10 Companies Driving Mobile Security
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Mobile phone manufacturers, carriers, and software makers continue to deliver products that show the potential of unified communications on the go, but the adoption of those technologies is still faltering.

"It is happening today--it's just happening in the consumer market, not the enterprise," said Randy Roberts, a VP from Siemens Enterprise Communications. "We have to learn from that, leverage that." Roberts spoke as part of a panel discussion on the future of enterprise mobility at UBM TechWeb's Enterprise Connect conference in Orlando. Half of Facebook's users interact with the service from their smartphones as much as from a PC, suggesting the extent to which the phone has been become the primary device for personal mobile computing, whereas there tend to be more obstacles in the way of using it as broadly for business computing and communications.

Michael Finneran, a principal at the mobile consulting firm dBrn Associates Inc., suggested that videoconferencing is one of the mobile applications that seems to be more talked about by vendors than broadly used. Finneran served as one of the panel moderators and also gave a talk on developing a mobile strategy earlier in the day. Users are likely to watch YouTube videos on their phones, but two-way video remains relatively exotic, he said.

Chris Kemmerer, director of global unified communications and collaboration at Verizon, said that is going to change. "The key to making video more pervasive, especially in mobile, is to make it easier," he said. It ought to be possible to launch a videoconference "without the user having to be aware of what they've just done, other than make a phone call."

Video is one of the areas where Verizon hopes to distinguish its service particularly for customers that use both its mobile service and the hosted unified communications service it announced last year, he said.

The consumerization wave driven by employees bringing their own devices into the enterprises, and demanding consumer-grade products from enterprises, was one of the major topics of discussion. "Arguing with users about this is a losing battle," Finneran said, in his session on mobile strategy. "If you can't beat them, join them. Trust me, you've already lost. The trick is to join them, but join them responsibly." Denial is not a smart strategy, but neither is surrender--some companies give in, but do so in a "brain dead" manner, where they say employees can bring in any device "and we'll worry about security later," Finneran noted. A rational strategy must pay attention to issues such as mobile device management and partitioning of business as opposed to personal data on the device.

[ Vidyo's mobile videoconferencing product is entirely software based. See Vidyo Takes Video Conferencing Mobile. ]

David Lowe, VP of B2B sales at Samsung, said his company started out exclusively focused on the consumer market but now recognizes it needs to "make our devices more enterprise friendly" because that is the market with the most growth potential. He also acknowledged that Samsung and other vendors building devices around the Android operating system need to do a better job of delivering a consistent user experience to compete with Apple's iOS.

"Yes, every Android implementation is different, and for a long time even within Samsung every device had a different [operating system] profile. So that's one thing we're doing, is trying to unify that," Lowe said. Although Android comes with its own challenges, enterprise customers like the openness it gives them and the greater freedom to develop their own applications, he said.

Finneran said he sees Microsoft shifting from an open but chaotic approach, similar to the way Google allows phone manufacturers to develop their own versions of Android, to trying to impose a more Apple-like benevolent dictatorship with more control over the Windows Phone operating system. Yet when he asked Lync group product manager B.J. Haberkorn whether Microsoft would try to push an all-Windows vision of unified communications and mobility, Haberkorn said it was more important to deliver a consistent user experience across a variety of devices. "We want to have a very consistent user interface running across all of them, so that it's totally familiar to you," he said.

Video also poses a bandwidth challenge, given that the demand for it is expected to far outstrip the bandwidth available to transmit video, Finneran said. One important workaround is to allow phones to take advantage of Wi-Fi bandwidth, where it's available, but carriers and infrastructure technology vendors are still figuring out how to make that a smooth handoff. Interest has faded in other technical solutions that have been proposed, such as WIMAX for data transmission over larger areas. Sprint is the last of the carriers talking about WIMAX, he said, and even its interest seems to be waning as it finds itself "going it alone," Finneran said.

Asked about the challenge of video and bandwidth demands, Verizon's Kemmerer started by saying, "Well, I don't think WIMAX is going to be the answer," before going on to talk about the LTE protocol for higher bandwidth mobile data and "Wi-Fi in high-density areas."

Joseph Martin, director of solutions engineering at Sprint, didn't mention WIMAX but said Sprint is acknowledging the need to enable devices to "look for Wi-Fi first" rather than always relying on the mobile phone data network. Sprint also believes it has a leading-edge solution for mobile convergence with the enterprise phone network, making it easier to take and place calls associated with a desk phone extension and handled over the enterprise long distance plan, but from the mobile phone.

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard and

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