History of Unified Communications
To understand the true meaning of UC, we’ll take a look at its history and how it has evolved over the years. In the 1980s, most organizations used a Private Branch Exchange (PBX) telephone system. These systems were offered and managed by local phone companies and typically required analog lines which routed calls from a central office to the customer.
By the 1990s, as email became more widespread and businesses deployed Internet Protocol (IP) based networks, voice technology also evolved. Advances in communications technology led to the development of Voice over IP (VoIP) phone systems which could transmit voice traffic across data networks. As VoIP deployments became more popular throughout the 1990s, this led to the decline of traditional PBX systems, given the cost effectiveness of using data networks for voice, and the availability of the Internet as a global delivery system. The advancement of IP telephony, which allowed for phones to live on the same network as computers, opened possibilities for advanced integration between computer applications and phones. This led to the idea of “Unified Messaging,” which streamlined voicemail, e-mail, faxes and other text-based messaging systems.
In the 2000s, realizing the demand for IP telephony, manufacturers such as Avaya and Nortel began to modify traditional PBX phone systems by creating circuit packs that could connect the system to an IP network. Other vendors such as Cisco developed equipment that allowed voice calls to be placed across company networks in order to connect multiple physical locations. Throughout the 2000s, UC solutions evolved with the integration of real-time communication services such as instant messaging, presence, telephony, video conferencing, desktop sharing, integrated voicemail etc.
By the 2010s, Microsoft released Lync, the successor to Office Communicator. Lync was a major player in the business communications space. While there were other options such as Cisco, Lync integrated well with Outlook and the Microsoft Active Directory environment, which most organizations use for their computer network. In 2015, Microsoft acquired Skype and combined its features with Lync to launch Skype for Business.
As cloud technologies evolved by the mid 2010s, a new service model, Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS), emerged in parallel. With UCaaS becoming more mainstream, the provision of unified communications services shifted to the Cloud. Cloud based UCaaS eliminates capital expenditures associated with deploying traditional on-premise VoIP systems, saving the customer considerable deployment costs.
Written by: Payam Pourkhomami, President & CEO, OSIbeyond