To those of us old enough to remember black-and-white television, it seems like only yesterday that a telephone was just a telephone. Hard-wired to the wall and connected to Ma Bell's ubiquitous public-switched telephone network (PSTN), it did one thing and did it reliably. Back in those simpler times, few of us knew anything about the embryonic network, called ARPANET, built for the U.S. military and used by a few research scientists--a network that would, decades later, literally transform the way we communicate. Today, we all know it as the Internet.
A COMMUNICATION REVOLUTION
When the desktop PC made its market debut back in the early '80s, who could have guessed that it would have a revolutionary impact not just on the way we work but on the way we would communicate as well? After all, many of today's Internet entrepreneurs were still in grammar school back then. Since the Internet and the desktop PC came together, the phenomenon of e-mail has become a staple of personal and business communications. It has helped fuel the rise of an entirely new business model: the "virtual corporation," in which professionals communicate and collaborate on projects from remote points around the world.
The other important technological development changing the way we communicate is wireless telecommunications. Once the exclusive realm of jet-setting sales executives, mobile communications is experiencing explosive growth around the world, fueled by dramatic price reductions. The widespread introduction of digital wireless technologies, such as PCS (personal communications services), has opened the door to a variety of advanced mobile data services.
Even the old-fashioned landline telephone service has evolved. Today, your Aunt Martha's voice is probably coming to you at light speed, courtesy of fiber optics. And, if you're on the phone when she calls, she'll be able to leave a message in your voice mailbox, residing on your telephone service provider's voice-mail platform. If she has a fax machine, she can even send you a copy of your cousin's wedding announcement, right over the good old PSTN.
A NEW KIND OF CHALLENGE
It's all quite a step forward from the days of rotary phones. As the millennium approaches, we are entering an era when affordable, reliable, nearly instantaneous communication is accessible to practically everyone in the developed world. But these advances have created their own kind of problem: a proliferation of networks, media, and devices that can complicate, rather than simplify, communications. If only we could bring it all together to enable simple, unified access to and management of all our personal and business communications anywhere, anytime.
Providing this kind of unified communications solution has, in recent years, become a sort of "holy grail" for telecommunications service providers--from landline and wireless carriers to Internet service providers (ISPs), as well as cable companies. The convenience advantage to users of such a unified communications solution is obvious--and so is the profit potential.
While different players have pursued different approaches to the challenge of unified communications, one approach is emerging today that offers the greatest promise. Based on IP(Internet protocol) network standards and technologies, this new solution blends the real-time communications capabilities of the PSTN with a variety of advanced data services. The result is a highly flexible system capable of delivering a wide range of enhanced services across the full range of communications networks--including the PSTN, the Internet, virtual private networks, corporate networks, and wireless telephony networks.
This approach provides an important benefit that is key to capturing users in today's competitive communications market: transparency. Users want information or communications access whenever and wherever they need it, using whatever device is most convenient at that moment. Voice over IP (VoIP), text-to-speech, personal agents, voice recognition, and other advanced capabilities--based on digital technology and open standards--enable users to communicate and conduct business seamlessly, regardless of delivery vehicle or medium.
The range of integrated applications available to provide users with these advanced capabilities is expanding at an incredible rate. But the ever-increasing sophistication of these applications means nothing if it cannot provide users with increased convenience. So, how do today's IP-based enhanced service solutions leverage complex functionality to deliver added convenience and simplicity to users? To illustrate, let's take an example of IP-enhanced services at work in the real world. Let's follow a typical--meaning busy--day in the life of Kim, a sales manager.
A DAY IN THE LIFE
As she sips her coffee, Kim begins her day by logging into her PC at home and checking her messages via the Web. Not just her e-mails, mind you. All her messages--voice, fax, and e-mail; home, work, and mobile phones--are consolidated in a single, integrated account. With a single mouse click, she can listen to her voice mail and read her e-mails and faxes on the screen, taking action as required on all messages. Kim can then set up a "follow-me" schedule, so callers can reach her throughout the day, regardless of which of her numbers they call. And she can instruct her personal agent to alert her if she's been outbid on an item on an Internet auction.
Two hours later, Kim is out on the road. From her mobile phone, she enters her account using simple speech commands and reviews her messages. In response to an e-mail--read to her via text-to-speech--Kim sends a voice e-mail response. This is created as a voice file attachment and sent via e-mail to its recipient.
Making a brief stop at her office, Kim logs into her company PC, enters her account, orders two faxes printed, and forwards one to her salesperson in Hong Kong--complete with a voice annotation providing background.
As she heads to the airport, Kim checks messages again from her mobile phone. One voice mail is important, and she issues a voice command to return the call ("Call Bob Smith"). The system automatically out-dials the number, and Kim has a live conversation with Bob, straightening out some details from the phone message. Upon completing the call, Kim--who is still logged into her account--reviews her remaining messages.
Just as she pulls into the airport parking lot, her mobile phone rings. It's a call from her personal agent, alerting her she has indeed been outbid on that item in the auction. She orders the agent to enter a new, higher bid.
Following the flight, Kim checks into her hotel, pulls out her laptop PC, and enters her account once more. After reviewing her messages, she creates a memo and sends it to each regional office, updates her "follow-me" schedule and number, and adds two new prospect names to her contact list. Kim then instructs her personal agent to give her a wake-up call at 6 a.m.--and to remind her to send flowers to her mother, whose birthday is the following week.
A NEW LEVEL OF FREEDOM
Throughout her hectic day, Kim has enjoyed the freedom to perform a variety of diverse communications tasks, without concern for which device she had on hand or the format of her messages. Even when information resided in multiple locations--multiple voice mailboxes, e-mail accounts, Web sites, etc.--it was all consolidated in Kim's personal account, giving her a convenient, single point of access. This high level of accessibility, flexibility, and transparency delivers the value and efficiency that today's users require and will increasingly demand.
Like all technology applications, IP-based communications services are evolving constantly. Advances in wireless handsets are ushering in a variety of exciting, new capabilities--including Web access. And the line between PCs, handheld PDAs (personal digital assistants), and wireless phones is blurring, opening the door to powerful, next-generation access devices. Other exciting developments yet to come are anybody's guess.
One thing, however, seems clear: IP will likely be the dominant avenue for tomorrow's rich, multimedia communications. And the IP service nodes just now emerging will likely provide NextGen service providers, wireless carriers, ISPs, cable companies, telcos, and other players with the tools they need to bring their subscribers into a new world of unified communications. Who knows? Perhaps the next generation of communications entrepreneurs are even now sketching out their own future visions with crayons in grammar schools around the world.
Osowski is vice president of marketing and business development for IPeria, Inc., Wakefield, Mass.
Circle 257 for more information from IPeria, Inc.
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|Title Annotation:||Technology Information|
|Comment:||The combination of Internet, telephone and wireless communications technologies is changing the world of business communications.|
|Date:||Sep 1, 1999|
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