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How UC mobile apps could vanish from smartphone screens

UC mobility has lacked adoption, but the solution could be invisibility, as software tools and mobile carriers can now hide UC calling features within smartphones.

About 10 years ago, unified communications was young, smartphones were new and the mobile knowledge worker was...

revolutionary. The UC mobile app was inevitable and promised to make and receive work calls outside the office. The potential was brilliant, except UC mobile apps never took off.

UC mobile apps make sense because several problems arise when using a personal number for work. For the employer, there's the threat of turnover and customers calling former employees. For the employee, there's the loss of boundaries and getting work interruptions at inappropriate times and places.

UC mobile apps mostly work, but often with compromised quality. However, the real culprit preventing adoption is the perceived effort. Making work calls from outside the office usually means opening and using a separate app. That's not normally a major barrier to adoption, but it's an awkward additional step on a device that natively makes and receives calls.

Call forwarding can mostly solve the problem for incoming calls, but problems persist with outbound calls or if you need to send and receive text messages. Also, other UC features need to be considered, such as instant messaging, presence and video.

Making UC mobility invisible

The onus lies with providers and vendors to create a better service -- one that people will use.

The low adoption rates of UC mobile apps compared to the frequency that these apps are listed as core requirements in purchase evaluations suggests a significant disconnect. The onus lies with providers and vendors to create a better service -- one that people will use. And, in fact, a new approach to UC mobility is taking shape -- you just can't see it.

The solution for UC mobility is invisibility -- UC mobility that just works without behavioral changes. The goal is to make UC mobility as simple and intuitive as a smartphone. Here are a few services that do just that:

  • Apple CallKit. This allows UC mobile apps to borrow the user interface of the native dialer on an iOS device. It's a simple and intuitive approach, but it limits options. For example, there's no conference or transfer button on the iOS dialer, and the UC vendors can't change that. Also, CallKit does not address text messaging.
  • Caller ID relay. In this case, the provider uses carrier-grade quality via a relay network that substitutes caller ID. It can be fairly invisible to the user, but does tend to leave confusing evidence in the call history. Substitution services work best with Android phones, as they can alter the native dialer behavior. Dialpad and some BroadSoft-powered providers offer this feature.
  • In-app communications. Forget the dialer altogether and use the pertinent app associated with workflow. This is better suited for mobile workers who spend most of their day in an app. All calls, in and out, go through the enterprise software, such as customer relationship management or a field service application. The ability to call or text a driver within the Uber app is a common example. These inherently custom services are often powered by communications-platform-as-a-service providers.
The concept of carrying two devices -- work and personal -- may never go away.

The above services enable UC and software tools to become more mobile-friendly. But mobile carriers are also addressing certain problems by making their services more enterprise-savvy. Here are a few examples:

  • AT&T NumberSync. This service works with a subset of AT&T-connected devices and provides advanced call and text forwarding. Although each related device has its own native number, the network-based service sends and receives calls and text messages to each associated device.
  • T-Mobile Digits. This service recently came out of beta and ends the one-to-one relationship between a mobile-SIM and telephone number. Digits numbers can be assigned to different or even multiple devices. Conceptually, a single phone can have multiple, carrier-grade numbers. Although similar to data channel voice over IP services, this approach uses carrier-grade, prioritized, voice services with many benefits.
  • Verizon One Talk. This service blends wired and wireless services into a single BroadSoft-powered PBX environment. There's no need to hide, substitute or forward numbers, since extensions can share the same native number. Verizon was the first to offer this approach in the U.S., but others are coming. AT&T also uses BroadSoft IP Multimedia System technology, and cloud communications provider 2600Hz supports PBX services on Sprint's wireless network.

In all these models, the UC component appears as a default part of the mobile experience. This eliminates the barrier to adoption of opening a separate app.

Not all services support a single device for work and personal use. Thus, the concept of carrying two devices -- work and personal -- may never go away. In addition to user adoption, single-device services raise complex issues with data ownership and privacy -- particularly if the employer uses a mobile device management system.

Regardless if it's a company-owned device or personal device, mobile use cases and expectations are here to stay. Organizations need to evaluate the pros and cons of the different options carefully.

Next Steps

Mobility is one of the UC pillars that you need.

Organizations must prioritize mobile collaboration.

Explore the benefits of mobile unified communications.

This was last published in June 2017

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