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Mobile unified communications: Everything you need to know

Mobile unified communications is becoming an increasingly important strategy for businesses of all types and sizes. Here's everything you need to know about mobile UC.

Mobile unified communications is gaining significant traction, fueled by the expanding number of remote and hybrid workforces as organizations seek to better support employees, regardless of their location.

At the same time, the technologies, features and simplicity of modern mobile UC tools let workers easily switch between office-based systems and personal devices without losing key UC voice and collaboration capabilities -- a bonus for those employees who frequently move between the office and remote locations.

Let's explore everything you need to know about the scope, deployment strategy, benefits and challenges of mobile UC, as well as what the market looks like today.

What is mobile unified communications?

In today's fast-paced environment, staying connected to teammates, clients and partners is vital. Fortunately, most of us carry technology wherever we go, and with mobile unified communications, employees can use the same voice and video conferencing, chat, presence and file-sharing services that have long existed within the office or at home through UC hardware or PC-based software.

After downloading smartphone and tablet apps on their mobile devices, employees can access their personal UC tools, services and data wherever they may be. This provides tremendous flexibility to those who require the ability to connect and share with others during times when PC access is inconvenient or impossible to access.

Modern UC platforms enable mobile access through a simple yet secure authentication process. Once access is granted, cloud-based UC services become fully accessible over Wi-Fi or cellular data networks. Additionally, all contacts, cloud-stored files, personalization settings and other services become available with the mobile app.

Why is mobility important to an enterprise UC strategy?

For years, the office has expanded well beyond the boundaries of physical corporate buildings. Implementing a mobile-first UC strategy provides flexibility in terms of the following:

  • Enabling mobile and remote work.
  • Improving productivity and communication response times.
  • Expanding the business employee talent pool beyond specific geographic locations.
  • Increasing employee and customer satisfaction.

Beneficial mobile UC use cases

A mobile-first UC strategy offers a variety of benefits. Let's look at three common business use-case examples.

  1. Mobile sales teams. In many cases, sales teams are tasked with visiting client sites across large geographic regions. As such, they require the ability to communicate on the road and to do so without bringing cumbersome and expensive laptops with them everywhere they go. Mobile UC puts all their communications services in their pockets, enabling sales teams to make calls, share files and attend impromptu video-based meetings.
  2. Factory, warehouse and retail. Overseeing large factories, warehouses and retail floors often requires floor managers to be in constant communication with their teams. While voice communication has long existed using radio communication and personal cellphones, a unified, corporate-based set of communications services, such as video, photo sharing and chat, opens the door to improved productivity and team-centric problem-solving. It also gives teams consistent UX and lets workers retrieve information more efficiently through organized sets of business communication and file-sharing tools.
  3. Frontline customer service. Improving customer satisfaction is a never-ending challenge. Giving frontline customer service employees the ability to serve customers when out of the office can be a differentiator that aids in long-term business retention. At the same time, organizations can make their customer service more efficient -- a win-win for both customers and employees.

Challenges of mobile UC

As with any new technology, a mobile-first strategy poses challenges, among them:

  • Wireless access reliability. Despite all the cellular and Wi-Fi access deployed across the globe, situations exist where wireless access is spotty or nonexistent. Determine where mobile UC access is absolutely required, and ensure that wireless network access is available and reliable.
  • Work-life balance. Employees with mobile unified communications access may be concerned they will be constantly tied to their work or monitored for performance. A mobile-first UC strategy must address these work-life balance concerns.
  • Integration with existing UC and collaboration tools. Existing UC systems may not be well suited for mobile UC. This is often the case with legacy UC systems that are centrally located in on-premises data center facilities. Conduct a thorough review of existing UC architectures, and consider transitioning to a cloud-based UC system that can provide consistent performance across large geographic areas.
  • Data loss or theft. Because sensitive data is created and accessed on mobile devices outside of secure corporate boundaries, ensure proper authentication and encryption processes and policies are in place.
  • Increased costs. It might seem ideal to provide mobile UC access to all employees, but understand that the cost of mobile UC services and associated wireless access can create an expense that is greater than the benefit of always-available communications access.

Overview of the mobile UC tool market

The mobile unified communications market is large and ever-expanding. Major players include the following:

  • Alcatel-Lucent.
  • Avaya.
  • Cisco.
  • Ericsson.
  • Microsoft.
  • Mitel.
  • NEC.
  • Ribbon.
  • RingCentral.
  • Zoom.

All these vendors' products include core UC capabilities of voice, video, file sharing and presence, but each has its own pros, cons and interoperability benefits.

For example, some UC vendors offer cloud-only or SaaS platforms, while others offer both cloud and on-premises deployment options. For businesses that require their UC services to be housed and managed in-house for security and compliance reasons, mobile UC vendor options are more limited. Additionally, organizations that require interoperability with existing systems, such as call or contact centers, CRM platforms, ticketing systems, and other UC and business-related tools, must ensure operability and ease of integration.

Some UC vendors are adding new mobile and fixed-mobile convergence capabilities to better support flexible work. Mobile services, like Microsoft Teams Phone Mobile and Cisco's Webex Go, enable employees to use their business number with the native dialer on their mobile phone, rather than switching to the UC app to make phone calls.

Andrew Froehlich is founder of InfraMomentum, an enterprise IT research and analyst firm, and president of West Gate Networks, an IT consulting company. He has been involved in enterprise IT for more than 20 years.

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