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For enterprises, mobile unified communications is still about the basics

For large enterprises, mobile communications is about getting fixed-mobile convergence right before moving on to advanced features.

As desk workers increasingly consolidate chat, video and voice into a more seamless communication stream, mobile workers are still focused on the basics of getting voice calls to follow them as they move between office, home office and the road.

"What typically is referred to as mobile unified communications is linking the world of wireline with the world of wireless," said Wu Zhou, a senior analyst with IDC. "You're looking at a nascent marketplace that is evolving as we speak."

Email, chat, and what limited video there is are all still typically delivered as separate applications, and enterprises do not seem to be in a hurry to change that, according to Zhou.

What enterprises do want, however, is a way to securely manage their communications while giving workers the flexibility they expect.

"Even in places where IT managers are risk-averse, they have to have a solution for a mobile UC environment because their users are bringing those technologies into the workplace," Zhou said.

That means developing and deploying security management solutions across a wide variety of devices, particularly as the cell phone becomes linked to business-critical data.

Zhou said that one overlooked aspect of mobile unified communications was the push for single applications that pull in data from a variety of sources and seamlessly integrate it into a handset's operating system.

Although these applications are often considered to be outside the domain of communications, they do play an important role in improving a constant dialogue between road warriors and the home office, she said.

For their part, many enterprise service providers are still trying to finalize what unified services enterprises are ready for.

"There's a lot of things we're looking at, but we're very much at the beginning stages," said Stephanie Souder, product marketing manager for Verizon Business. "What we've done to this point is started initiating fixed mobile convergence solutions."

Verizon Business has so far steered away from embracing dual-mode phones, but that is a technology on their radar, Souder said. Several companies currently do offer dual-mode handoff solutions, she said, but that demand is fairly specialized at the moment as the technology matures.

What enterprises really want, she said, is that mobile workers should have access to all the features of fixed-line phones: One voicemail box, one number to call to reach them, five-digit extension dialing to others in the office.

Andrew Kelly, vice president of global partners for Siemens, said his company envisions an evolution in unified communications: First to consolidate, then to converge, and finally to extend.

Kelly said this evolution was currently under way in mobile communications, with the big driver still being cost savings for the largest enterprises. Siemens recently partnered with BT to deliver converged communications to global enterprises.

"Now the customers are [beginning to say], 'How do I accelerate my top-line growth? How do I get people to talk to each other easier, quicker?' " he said.

On the horizon, under Kelly's "extend" category, are a host of possibilities, many of which are not currently even in communications paradigms. For example, Antenna Software has developed a tool to share training videos on the fly to help field technicians better solve problems.

"Unified communications is really not considered for the sake of unified communications. It's for the sake of having businesses be more productive wherever they are," Zhou said. It does not matter if those communications come in the formats traditionally assigned to mobile phones (voice, email, text messages) or something completely new (live updated CRM information or on-demand video tutorials for field techs).

For the large enterprise, however, many of these solutions are still siloed from one another. Mobile communications managers often have no ownership of applications such as mobile CRM. This segmentation creates unnecessary complexity.

That complexity is a problem Kelly sees as fading in the near future.

"As soon as it's easy to deploy, I think people will wonder how they ever lived without it," he said.

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