The term seat comes from the domain of software licensing and is the standard term, usually, for an end user tied...
to a desktop. Software licensing models have been with us for decades and they refer to times when employees pretty much did all their work at their desks. Since we usually sit at our desks, a per-seat license is traditionally granted to an employee on the basis of where the person is seated when using the software, which until recently only took place on their desktop computer.
Although the term pre-dates laptops and mobile devices and may seem archaic, this conventional mode of working is deeply entrenched in our psyche. A good parallel is movies, where almost all the language we still use -- film, clip, reel and frame -- is based on the 35mm world some of us grew up in, even though the industry is now mostly digital.
Applying the per-seat concept to unified communications (UC) is a bit complicated, since you don't have to be at your seat to use UC software. But it's safe to say that's where employees still are most of the time. This is where you'll be when accessing UC on your desk phone or computer, and since mobile UC applications haven't gained much traction, "seat" is still a pretty accurate term to use.
Having said that, a per-seat license defines the parameters of how an employee uses UC applications. These parameters address things like which UC features an employee can use, which directories he or she can access, which endpoints UC can be used with, how much customization is allowed and which levels of network access can be granted. Generally, the broader the parameters, the more costly the monthly licensing fee. Companies tend to have many levels of fees depending on the UC needs of their various groups and departments.
If you're coming from the legacy telephony world, per-seat licensing may seem like a strange notion since phone systems were hardware-based prior to IP. While UC is largely the invention of legacy phone vendors, their UC products are primarily software-based. By extension, UC is a consumable service and in terms of the business model, per-seat licenses are the most appropriate pricing mechanism.
UC software licenses vs. UC subscriptions
Scope is key for software license agreements
How do software licenses fit in virtual infrastructures?
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