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The evolution of unified communications in 2021

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Digital transformation has accelerated in recent times, as millions of organizations have had to support remote operations, now joined by the need to develop hybrid working models. Unified communications (UC) is a vital part of digital transformation’s foundations and is the glue that brings together all the various elements into one interconnected environment.

In today’s increasingly distributed working world, that means using the cloud to support unified communications, hence the rise of Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS).

UCaaS represents a significant opportunity for the telecom industry to help businesses of all kinds transit towards complete digital transformation. Plus, there are multiple deployment models to suit different types of service providers: build-your-own, take someone else’s solution and customize with APIs, or use someone else’s hosted UCaaS platform, even brand it as the service provider’s own.

In turn, these options open the door for more organizations — for instance, ICT resellers — to become telecom service providers without the need to invest in their own development, nor requiring extensive in-house expertise. Also, existing service providers can choose to use UCaaS as part of their evolution, and again, without the financial and development overheads.

Business opportunities

Instead, service providers can focus where they can add the most value: addressing customer requirements, safe in the knowledge that — in theory — the platform provider is looking after technical requirements in the background and rolling out new features as they come available.

Similarly, UCaaS opens up potential for smaller businesses to embrace UC, which would be extremely difficult to achieve without the cloud.

UCaaS has multiple advantages for a business customer when executed well, combining numerous communication channels — such as voice, video messaging, chat — integrated with and accessible via various systems, apps, devices, and networks.

The result is a single digital environment where employees have everything they require to connect, work, and collaborate with colleagues and customers. In this modernized work environment, people become the focal point of ICT.

Their experience is determined by their preferences, not dictated by devices, apps, networks, or locations, with all the business tools they require wherever. 

UCaaS in Action

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the advantages of UCaaS is with some example scenarios; for instance, a team could have a brainstorming session involving both in-person and remote employees. In addition to virtual digital whiteboards, the session could also be linked to task-tracking and content-review apps to capture and build action into work processes.

A salesperson could be having an online chat with a customer, then transferring it to a desktop-based meeting, and adding a colleague who has additional expertise. Then the salesperson realizes they are running late for another appointment, so they transfer the whole conversation to a smartphone without any break in the meeting.

A customer could use click-to-chat and initially be asked a few questions by an AI-enabled chatbot. If it becomes apparent that the customer needs to speak to a live agent, the bot can intelligently connect the chat to a voice or even video conversation.

7 steps towards successful UCaaS

The theory is one thing, effective deployment is another, and some critical elements contribute towards successful UCaaS. For instance, while off-the-shelf UCaaS solutions have a significant role to play, there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach to the market. So UCaaS needs to be both ready-to-go and customizable to suit each service provider and its customers.

  • Integrations

In addition, simple integrations with popular business apps are essential, plus open APIs to support further integrations as required. UCaaS should also work with CRMs, ERPs, and other systems people use daily to communicate and collaborate both internally and externally, including vertical market or job-specific tools.

For example, UCaaS may need to connect to back-office systems for payment records and other information in a contact center environment.

  • Flexibility

Flexibility is everything. Users should be able to launch a voice or video call from multiple starting points, such as a calendar, the last email exchange with someone, from an online chat, contact list, or CRM.

In an ideal world, staff should be able to set their presence and availability flexibly and quickly during the working day while seeing colleagues’ status in real-time, with options to reroute incoming communications to someone else automatically.

  • Mobility

With people using their smartphones increasingly for business, even when in the office, ensuring these devices are fully integrated with UC is vital. Depending on the customer’s circumstances, that may need to include both VOIP and GSM mode for smartphones and DECT phones, ultra-portable laptops, and tablets.

In a truly integrated environment, a mobile device should also be connected to a variety of different apps, plus mobile numbers integration within UC and other systems, such as CRMs. This approach delivers flexibility and efficiently, plus visibility of the workforce for business owners.

  • UCaaS and CCaaS

In many markets, service excellence is fast becoming a competitive differentiator. While many SMBs may not need or can afford a contact center or have dedicated customer-facing staff, they still need the means to provide high-quality customer services.

So, a big direction in the UCaaS industry is blending with Contact Centre as a Service (CCaaS), with contact center features embedded as part of UCaaS solutions. Now, even the smallest of businesses can benefit from better organizational-wide visibility and the ability to deliver service excellence with minimal impact on employees and without needing dedicated customer service personnel.

  • Omnichannel

Much of the telecom market is still very telephony-centric, but as we all know, the reality is that users are increasingly using other channels to communicate with businesses, including social media channels and apps. So, UCaaS that is focused on customer service, must supply multiple channels.

  • Freedom

There is a trend in parts of the UCaaS market towards an agency model, but I  argue that this brings dangers for the service provider because they are handing over their relationship with their customers to the vendor. In my view, ownership of the customer must stay with the telecom reseller or service provider to retain control. Also, avoid restrictions such as a vendor prohibiting that a service provider takes on competitive products. In this fast-paced market, organizations need all the flexibility they can get to react to change.

  • Branding

Similarly, many service providers want to be able to promote their solutions and services under their own brand and after all, many customers are not going to care who is providing the technology: they just want to know it works. Therefore, the UC platform needs to offer a range of white-labelling options.

UCaaS continues to develop rapidly, with innovations being introduced all the time. For example, new AI capabilities open up more ingenious ways to engage with customers within a UCaaS environment.

What the world has seen from UCaaS is just the beginning, so watch this space. In the meantime, UCaaS can help telecom resellers, and service providers generate new revenue, explore new market directions, and help their customers achieve digital transformation.

Bertrand Pourcelot has more than 25 years of experience in mission-critical software development within international environments. Before his Centile (now rebranded to Enreach) journey started 15 years ago, Bertrand held various technical, project & team management positions in software development. He worked for Alcatel Space and EADS, supporting prestigious customers including the European Space Agency, the European Organization for Meteorological Satellites, National Institutes for Space Research, and the French Army Ministry. After various technical roles at former Centile as validation & support manager and then head of product management, Bertrand has focused on developing Enreach sales from the ground and taken on a general management position. He is currently Managing Director at Enreach for Service Providers.

Views from the Inside

Tango Networks Unveils Mobile-X Extend, BYOD Business SIM™ for Work-from-Anywhere Communications

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Service embeds app-less business extension into employees’ personal dual SIM mobile phones.

Tango Networks today announced Mobile-X Extend, the communications industry’s first service using a modern electronic SIM (eSIM) to instantly add a business-controlled extension to a mobile phone.

Mobile-X Extend places a full-featured, secure and controlled business phone on employees’ BYOD devices. Now employees can use their own mobile phones for business communications with a business identity while their personal communications remain separate and private.

“Today’s work-from-anywhere business world demands that we rethink how our employees communicate,” said Douglas J. Bartek, CEO of Tango Networks. “Mobile-X Extend is a first-of-its-kind service that reinvents mobile communications for today’s corporate users. It transforms not only how we communicate in commerce, but it greatly improves company operational efficiency and employee productivity. Now employees working in any location can be as reachable and responsive as if they were in the office at a desk phone.”

By integrating into Unified Communications (UC) platforms or UCaaS services, all business calls and texts on a personal mobile phone automatically use the business identity and can be captured and recorded for archiving or monitoring. All personal calls and texts remain private and external to company control.

“The mobile network is the most extraordinary machine that mankind has ever built,” said Andrew Bale, Tango Networks General Manager of Cloud Services. “Today we give individual businesses unprecedented control over that machine. This represents the greatest advance in business communications technology in a generation.”

With Mobile-X Extend, a business can cut landlines and the huge expense of buying, managing and upgrading company-paid mobile phones. This reduces the company’s carbon footprint while shrinking administrative overhead and expenses. The solution eliminates the cost and hassle of managing expense claims for business calls on personal mobile phones.

The service is mobile native, using the mobile network and the device’s native interface for all communications and features. That means it requires no apps or special phone clients and no training. The service offers superior, business-quality communications not possible with over-the-top VoIP.

Mobile-X Extend is based on Tango Networks’ Mobile-X fixed-mobile convergence technologies covered by more than 90 patents.

Businesses use Mobile-X for Mobile Unified Communications, Mobile First and Mobile Only communications, and work-from-home, hybrid and work-from-anywhere flexibility. It brings fully integrated business communications to mobile employees, deskless employees and first-line workers, many for the first time.

Mobile-X Extend is available for customer pilots now and will be generally available in 1Q2022. The service is sold solely through Tango Networks’ value-added resellers and communications service provider partners.

About Tango Networks

Tango Networks is revolutionizing business communications with the industry’s first mobile network built for business, controlled by businesses.

The Mobile-X service turns any mobile phone into a fully featured extension of a company’s communications platform, putting mobile voice, text and data entirely in a company’s control for the first time.

Businesses use Mobile-X to deliver easy-to-use, business quality communications for work-from-anywhere programs, remote workers and employees working from home, the distributed workforce, deskless employees, and workers on the go.

Mobile-X empowers companies to transform operations, streamline collaboration and boost employee productivity across the board. Learn more at tango-networks.com.
              

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Lessons learned from remote education: Teaching will never be the same

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remote education

Before March 2020, catching ‘fresher’s flu’ was a right of passage for university students. Fast forward 18 months and students around the world stayed indoors to keep illness at bay. However, the pandemic has taught the education sector an important lesson — the value of selecting the right communication tools.

According to UNESCO, more than 1.5 billion students around the world were forced out of their typical learning settings in 2020, with many participating in lessons online. Globally, education in the 21st century has never seen so much disruption and it has prompted critical conversations about the role of technology in delivering education.

Education isn’t the only sector that’s facing an overhaul. Over the course of the pandemic, and for several more years to come, communication technologies have grown increasingly more sophisticated. The UK increased its fiber connections by 50 percent in 2020, and while its broadband connectivity stills lags behind many other countries, the nation is undergoing massive change. As Openreach switches of the public switched telephone network (PSTN), every business will be communicating differently by 2025.

Research by broadband company Zen shows that 17 percent of large organizations are still unaware of the switch off. Education facilities also risk becoming out of the technology loop if they don’t learn from the past 28 months.

Going remote

Throughout much of 2020 and 2021, educators had no choice but to deliver teaching remotely. However, even though in-person teaching has widely resumed, distance learning could become an increasingly favoured choice, rather than an obligation.

Distance learning isn’t a phenomenon of today’s society. Back in 1969, The Open University (OU) pioneered the concept by offering students the chance to gain a degree without needing to set foot on campus. It was a radical idea for its time — yet proved highly popular. By the time applications closed for its first year of enrolment, the university had received over 100,000 applications.

However, The OU’s popularity has decreased over time with numbers of full-time enrolments slipping over the past decade. But things could be set to shift again. Increased demand for upskilling and reskilling, as well as an emphasis in the attractiveness of online learning spurred on by the pandemic, has caused a surge in OU registrations.

Overall, the total number of OU students enrolled for the 2020/21 academic year is up 15 percent on last year — from just over 141,000 to more than 163,000. While distance learning has seemed like a short-term fix to keep people safe, it’s also encouraged a newfound appreciation for the teaching method that could lead to long-term behavioural changes.

Getting prepared

We won’t be saying goodbye to fresher’s flu any time soon. While most forms of education continue in person, education facilities shouldn’t neglect the promise of distance learning.

What’s more, the past 18 months has taught every industry to expect the unexpected. Most businesses were not prepared to go remote overnight at the start of the pandemic, and education was no exception. However, having the right tools in place to ensure distance learning can be carried out effectively is the best way to plan for any other unforeseen circumstances.

One essential piece of any education facility’s armoury is the right communication tools. In particular, facilities should opt for a Cloud-based solution. Cloud-based platforms provide an easy way for educational institutes to streamline their academic communications and collaborations. They can achieve this by combining real-time voice, video, and messaging capabilities with their business applications.

Using Cloud-based software that enables Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) makes it easy for students and teachers to interact collaboratively by using real-time messaging and video. This can effectively improve completing group projects, enhances the way teachers communicate with students and cuts down obstacles in the system of education. Because technologies such as VoIP enable calls through the Internet, rather than a fixed telephone line, it’s far easier for education providers to interact with geographically dispersed students and with less ongoing costs.

As such, 90 percent of data breaches are a result of human error and using the Cloud to manage communication tools and store their associated data can help universities better manage sensitive information.

At Ringover, another huge benefit we see for VoIP technologies in education is its scalability. Our own software can be easily scaled to suit the size and needs of any business, whether it requires a complete professional phone system or additions to its existing infrastructure. With collaboration tools such as screen sharing, instant messaging, and video conferencing, Ringover’s software can help facilities of any size communicate effectively.

After several weeks of getting to know each other, it’s likely many students are battling fresher’s flu right now. However, no matter which education route a person chooses, having access to effective communications tools is crucial. Post-pandemic education won’t look the same as it did previously, and having scalable, streamlined software in place will help any facility to future proof.

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Introducing the 5G Workforce

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It’s been a long time since a technology breakthrough generated as much anticipation and fanfare as 5G. Buzz around it has been building for some time and with good reason: 5G will fuel an economic and social revolution that disrupts how companies operate while opening-up incredible new opportunities for those who have the talent to support it, a 5G workforce.

To fully grasp the necessity for a 5G workforce, you need to recognize the impact this technology standard is going to have. Consider the following:

  • PwC’s “The Impact of 5G: Creating New Value across Industries and Society” reports that 5G will fuel a variety of new opportunities. This includes “the optimization of service delivery, decision-making, and end-user experience,” which “will result in $13.2 trillion in global economic value by 2035.”
  • Ericsson’s latest Mobility Report states that the number of 5G smartphone subscriptions worldwide will exceed 500 million this year. That’s double from 2020 and the momentum will continue in 2022 when subscriptions are expected to pass one billion.

With numbers like these, it’s easy to understand the excitement around 5G. But for businesses to see the benefits, they need employees with skill sets that extend beyond the 3G and 4G worlds we are leaving behind — these networks utilized similar technologies which eliminated the need to upskill teams, hastening the transition from 3G to 4G.

This is not the case now. 5G requires people with aptitude and experience in an entirely different set of technologies. This explains why Boston Consulting Group estimates that it will create 3.8 million to 4.6 million jobs in the US alone.

As businesses begin searching to construct their 5G workforces, various skills are required to start building your 5G workforce. Some examples of areas that your 5G professionals must be skilled in include:

Software-Defined Networking (SDN): You will be looking for people that have experience with SDN, a new architecture that turns a wireless network infrastructure from a close environment to a more agile and cost-effective network, where external controller control is moved from network hardware to external controller. This allows teams to quickly introduce new services or changes. Many view SDN as the key to enabling 5G to meet its ultimate promise.

Some specific skills here include network engineering experience focused on designing, implementing, deploying and supporting a production network at an enterprise-scale as well as at an enterprise scale

Software-Defined Radio Access Networks (SoftRAN): SoftRAN is key to supporting network slicing, which is the process of creating multiple virtual networks. While each is part of a physical network, network slices can be automated and used for distinct applications with specific requirements.  

When it comes to SoftRAN, you’re seeking people who have experience in network programming, radio frequency transmission systems, C++, Linux, and Java.

Edge Computing: While 5G delivers dramatically increased network speeds (4X that of 4G LTE), it’s the edge that dramatically reduces latency. It brings the computing capabilities we experience in the network to the user, regardless of location. This includes those areas notorious for spotty connectivity that we are all familiar with. Ultimately, the edge is essential for 5G meeting its full promise.

Your edge computing people will have experience in continuous integration and delivery, Java and Python, as well as edge/IoT applications and system design.

Network Virtualization (NV): NV removes the network’s dependency on hardware, allowing it to run virtually on top of the physical network, where it can accelerate the deployment of applications, improve security, and reduce costs.

Key NV-related skills include experience with continuous configuration automation tools, application programming interfaces (APIs), programming languages, as well as success in deploying and optimizing VMware NSX environments and NSX virtual networking implementations.

5G is likely to be the standard in just a few short years, and its impact will be felt across all industries. In healthcare, a connected ecosystem will be born that is predictive, preventative, personalized, and participatory. In manufacturing, we will see new smart factories that fully leverage the power of automation, artificial intelligence, augmented reality for troubleshooting, and the Internet of Things (IoT). The list goes on.

All these innovations and many, many more are within reach but will be fueled by the next generation workers who have the requisite skills to make it all happen. For businesses, the time to begin assembling your 5G workforce and forging an ecosystem of partners to help with this journey begins now.  

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