Lippis Report 152: How Microsoft Killed The Unified Communications Interoperability Forum Before It Started
In the Lippis Report Research Note 150, we discussed the new industry group called Unified Communications Interoperability Forum or UNIF and compared it to other industry consortium charted to deliver interoperable solutions. While interoperability is sorely needed in the UC industry, it looks like Microsoft killed its changes of broad industry success before it started. What I hear from both UCIF members and non-members is that UCIF is controlled by Microsoft, and thus, lacks a large cross section of industry players as well as major UC providers. With its current structure, UCIF will make limited headway on its charter. In this Lippis Report Research Note, we review UCIF and its’ opportunities.
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There is no doubt that the unified communications and collaboration industry needs interoperable solutions. Video traffic, in particular, is growing exponentially, which will not abate anytime soon. Driving growth is the new mobile video market with devices being equipped with real time video applications from companies such as Apple with its’ iPhone 4.0 FaceTime feature and Cisco’s Cius tablet. There is a real-time mobile video chat for Android too via the Movicha client application. In addition, every major UC supplier will launch a tablet based, end user device this year with tight links into its UC and video collaboration infrastructure. In short, the next generation office phone is a tablet. The combination of consumer and business mobile video device options will drive demand for interoperability, not only between mobile end points, but into corporate video conferencing systems too.
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There needs to be a base line of interoperability standards for presence and call management also. Yes SIP or session initiation protocol does provide a base line, but many have built proprietary extensions minimizing interoperability options.
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Now is a great time for an industry wide consortium of suppliers, service providers, IT executives and analysts to contribute to a set of interoperability standards with associated certification testing. Before UCIF was established Microsoft drove the initiative with limited to no input or invitation from its competitors. This approach has alienated nearly every major UC supplier from participating in UCIF, and therefore, don’t expect to see Cisco, Avaya, ShoreTel, Mitel, NEC et al to contribute. From this point of view, Microsoft killed UCIF before it even started.
But UCIF can make a contribution especially in the area of real time video collaboration between mobile, desktop and video conferencing system end points. For example, Microsoft could open up its’ Real Time Video (RTV) and Real Time Audio (RTA) codec protocols so that mixed vendor video endpoints can communicate with Office Communicator endpoints natively. With LifeSize, Polycom, HP and Microsoft being the UCIF founding members, their contribution to video collaboration interoperability could have a large impact on the real time video conferencing market.
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For example, I use a LifeSize Express 220 video conferencing system, and as a standalone device that connects to other video conferencing systems via IP, H.323 or SIP, it’s magnificent. It would be great to connect with clients that have video enabled their desktop and mobile endpoints too. The larger the universe of potential video endpoints that one can connect to, the greater the value a real time video system provides. This would be a great charter for UCIF, which is to contribute open standards and certification testing that enable mobile, desktop and corporate video conferencing systems to interoperable.
However, for UCIF to deliver on its charter, it would have to dissolve and restart with Cisco, Avaya, Mitel, ShoreTel, and a larger role for Siemens, plus service providers, analysts and IT executives all being stake holders. You cannot have a closed group defining open standards. It just does not work that way.