Unified Communications Featured Article

UCIF Moves Interoperability Forward

September 12, 2011

It’s been more than a year since the formation of the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum. In that time, the group already has developed a webcam spec that the USB-IF has ratified, is on its way to define a set of implementations for H.264 and is working on selecting a lab to do network testing of IPv6 with SIP, among other specs.

UCIF was created by Microsoft, HP, Juniper Networks, Logitech/LifeSize and Polycom in an effort to unify what they say is a vibrant, but fragmented, UC ecosystem. Interoperability issues are a significant pain point for current and potential users of UC solutions, Bernard Aboba, principal architect for the Microsoft Office Communications Server team, told unified communications a year ago at the creation of the UCIF, which held its first board meeting in May of 2010.

“In terms of the spark [for UCIF], the thing that really motivated Microsoft was we had a number of major customers express concern about interoperability, particularly in the area of video and telepresence,” Aboba said during the 2010 interview. “Many of our customers have disparate systems from different vendors, and they just not only couldn’t make things work together, but they didn’t even see a roadmap for it. And they expressed extreme concern about the direction the industry was taking and asked us to fix it.”

Aboba, who is now UCIF president, told TMC at ITEXPO in Austin today that the need for UC standards is becoming even more urgent as the move to phase out POTS intensifies.

As discussed in this unified communications posting from March, the Federal Communications Commission’s efforts to reform the Universal Service Fund and intercarrier compensation clearly are moves away from the legacy, circuit-switched network and the existing regulation that continues to prop it up. In fact, AT&T and Verizon have been pushing for the end of POTS completely. This excerpt from comments that AT&T submitted to the FCC in December 2009 seems to support that: “Any such forward-looking policy must enable a shift in investment from the legacy PSTN to newly deployed broadband infrastructure. While broadband usage – and the importance of broadband to Americans’ lives – is growing every day, the business model for legacy phone services is in a death spiral. Revenues from POTS are plummeting as customers cut their landlines in favor of the convenience and advanced features of wireless and VoIP services. At the same time, due to the high fixed costs of providing POTS, every customer who abandons this service raises the average cost-per-line to serve the remaining customers. With an outdated product, falling revenues, and rising costs, the POTS business is unsustainable for the long run. Yet a web of federal and state regulations has the cumulative effect of prolonging, unnecessarily, the life of POTS and the PSTN.”

However, the PSTN is the basis for the current E911 system, so before POTS is phased out, the industry, and the nation, have to ensure the correct standards and infrastructure are in place at public safety answering points, noted Aboba.

As reported by unified communications, the National Emergency Number Association has been calling for the migration of E911 networks to what NENA calls NG911, or next-generation 911. The idea is to move E911 systems to standards-based IP platforms and, in the process, enable citizens and those involved in emergency response to interact not only in voice, but also via text, IM and possibly even video communications. Making that change, however, will require a lot of underlying work around standards and infrastructure. UCIF member and Polycom Co-founder and Chief Evangelist Jeffrey Rodman today told unified communications, “The only organization in the position to catch this ball is UCIF.”

Edited by Jamie Epstein

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