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Unified Communications

Unified Communications

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Unified Communications

Unified communications (UC) is a framework for integrating various asynchronous and real-time communication tools. The goal of UC is to enhance business communication, collaboration and productivity. Unified communications do not represent a singular technology; rather, it describes a strategy for integrating interconnected systems of enterprise communication devices and applications that can be used in concert or successively.

Unified Communications (UC) refers to a phone system that integrates (unifies) multiple communication methods within a business, including phone calls, video conferencing, instant messaging, email, SMS, fax, etc, and UC solution brings together all the ways the business communicates and lets them “talk” to each other so they can work together in one system – making business even better.

A unified communications environment is typically supported by one or more back-end systems, often referred to as UC platforms, that facilitate integration among services, as well as the front-end clients that provide access. For example, a web conferencing system would make use of an audio conferencing system -- which, in turn, would be built on an underlying IP telephony platform -- and a unified messaging client would allow click-to-talk (CTC), click-to-chat or click-to-video functionality.

UC also supports users moving from one mode of communication to another within the same session. For example, a user may start communicating via email but then decide to escalate the interaction to real-time communication, transitioning the session to a voice call with one click and then to a video conference with another click without any disruption.

Unified communications systems and their components can be deployed on premises, in a public or private cloud, or a combination of all three. Cloud-based unified communications is also called UC as a service (UCaaS). An open source project called WebRTC, for example, enables real-time communications to be embedded into web browsers.

Historically, single-vendor UC environments have demonstrated the tightest integration and compatibility. Interoperability among vendors remains an ongoing challenge in UC, but it has also been mitigated, in part, by partnerships, common protocols and open APIs.

Types of UC technologies

User-facing components of UC include the following technologies:

text-based tools, such as email, text messaging and chat;
voice-based applications, such as telephony, voicemail and audio conferencing;
video-based services, such as desktop video conferencing, room-based video conferencing and telepresence;
web conferencing platforms, virtual meeting spaces and interactive whiteboards;
real-time presence; and
enterprise social networking and collaboration platforms.

On the back end, a strong communication system may comprise the following:

a single- or multivendor unified communications platform or server;
a traditional, IP or cloud-based private branch exchange (PBX);
devices such as phones, headsets, cameras and microphones, which are also user-facing tools;
business communication gateways, such as session border controllers (SBCs); and
a multipoint control unit (MCU), or video bridge, for video conferencing with three or more endpoints.

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