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 Unified Messaging

How many contact information do you have? Or, better still how many devices you’re dependent upon for the purpose of communication? It’s obvious that we depend on wide range of equipments for our communication needs, namely cell phones, landlines, fax machine, PC, PDA, laptops and sundry such gadgets. Now, is it not a headache to keep monitoring all these gadgets simultaneously for an important communication? In other words, wouldn’t it be convenient if there’s a mechanism that makes it possible to access all the above at a single terminal?

Such a concept is known as unified messaging. Unified messaging is the integration of several different communications media, such that users will be able to retrieve and send voice, fax, and e-mail messages from a single interface, whether it is a wire line phone, wireless phone, PC or any other compatible gadget.


The essence of communication is breaking down barriers. The telephone breaks distance and time barriers so that people can communicate in real time or near-real time when they are not in the same place at once. There are now other barriers to be overcome. For example, people use different terminals to communicate, and there are new forms of communication, such as e-mail, voice mail, fax machines, and pagers. The unified messaging concept involves breaking down the terminal and media barriers so that people using different technologies, different media, and different terminals can still communicate to anyone, anywhere, at any time.

Unified messaging is a personal agent for the individual user. It can help send and receive messages, whether they are voice, e-mail, or fax. It also will notify the user whenever mail arrives. The concept of notification is becoming a large part of messaging. Some people want to be reached at all costs, anywhere, at any time. Whether they are at home or on vacation, they want to be notified of messages, while others are more protective about their privacy. They do not want to be reached when, for example, they are sleeping or having dinner. Unified messaging technology provides the power to reach people almost anywhere, at any time and the flexibility to allow people to control when they can be reached. This is based on a concept of "your time" communications, where subscribers can interface with messages how and when they want.

Technologies exist that enhance the integration of voice mail and e-mail, such as text-to-speech software that converts e-mail into spoken words. For example, at the airport a user could call in on a phone and hear e-mail messages, making it easy to reach important decisions without delay. Other enabling technologies, such as speech recognition, are becoming more reliable and cost-effective. For example, people who are behind the steering wheel a lot will find speech recognition a particularly convenient interface.

Easy-to-use user interfaces are essential to access the unified mailbox. Whether from the phone or from the Internet-enabled PC, the subscriber can navigate through the unified mailbox with ease and full control at all times. Checking e-mail from the phone becomes intuitive, and likewise, hearing voice messages from the PC becomes second nature.

Unified messaging is a business tool as well. It can provide a twenty-four-hour storefront. People can use the phone to get information or to make transactions. They can purchase merchandise or trade stock without talking to a live person. With the emergence of new technology, especially the Internet, the twenty-four-hour storefront has flourished. More information can be accessed and more shopping can be done than ever before. Through the Internet, people can search for the merchandise that they need and find out more information about what they want to buy.

The phone and the personal computer have become transaction terminals. Newer technologies are emerging for the phone that will make it more than a device by which customers can listen and use the keys to order items.

ADSI technology:

ADSI stands for “Analog Display Services Interface”. Telephone companies worldwide, particularly in Canada; have invested considerably to create services leveraging display phones using ADSI technology. This technology allows the phone to be switched from voice to data mode as needed during the connected session. This device has become a very useful transaction terminal. People can use it for banking transactions, brokerage transactions, and even to order a pizza or an air ticket. On the other end of the network, a pizza restaurant, for example, would have a small database of users on a conventional PC. Customers call in and enter the data mode. Their calling number is recognized immediately as a previous customer, and they can order their pizza with choices presented to them on the phone's display. The caller's address and telephone number is then retrieved from the database. This application is an example of technology yielding business solutions. The concept of community messaging has also been extended to the business world. Information can be sent to a group of people and feedback can be received. For the ADSI phone, messaging is the killer application.

Another important consideration is scalable systems. Some of the current technologies and products in the market only work well on a small scale. The unified messaging platform should reach thousands of customers. The network deployment cost for scaling up these systems must be manageable-merely having the technology to provide a user service is not sufficient. The service provider involvement requires that different infrastructure services be available. For example, users must be added to the system en masse (in groups) rather than having to type them in one by one. The systems also must be integrated with the existing service infrastructure of the service provider. A similar infrastructure service is needed, such as providing management reports, research data, or data-collection facilities to allow the service provider to know which part of the service is being used, what the popular services are, and which services or features are not as popular. This information helps service providers determine where to invest next. The data-collection facility is another feature that service providers want to integrate into their service and system.

Unified messaging can also streamline operations. The Internet has changed technology and communications. It has shown how standards work and how they can benefit even competing products. With standards, less training is required. Different machines and different systems can work together based on common standards. The power of the standard will streamline products and services as well as operations. Fewer service reports are needed. With network-management standards, for example, an essential system of control by polling different machines can be established to find out how these machines work. Streamlining operations will provide large cost savings for service providers.

In a nutshell

The way unified messaging is beneficial for subscribers or end users, it’s beneficial for the service provider too. First it means an increased subscriber base. Secondly, advertisements can be targeted much effectively since subscribers access a single terminal repeatedly for all their communication needs.

An end user of unified messaging gains his major advantage by reducing the number of places he/she must check for incoming voice, fax, and e-mail messages. From a single interface, one can check for all message types.

For corporates, unified messaging can provide a much more organized way to serve their customers. The ability to fax from the desktop alone can increase productivity by about 50 percent.

But then, it’s very essential that the unified messaging platform should be reliable enough to handle the traffic. It should also be scalable to grow as the service provider's market and subscriber demands grow. Unless the UM service providers (usually telephone companies or ISPs) ensure an interrupt free service unified messaging can’t be fully relied upon, because life becomes miserable if your sole communication terminal (say telephone) goes dead.

Keeping the architecture open is essential. An open platform not only performs better in a network environment but places less restrictions on the service provider who wants to expand its network with new services or administration applications.

Some Typical Examples:

Following are few possibilities we’re dreaming of and can be realized by Unified Messaging. Ability to send and receive fax from desktop or PDA or laptop or cell phone (This eliminates entire FAX machine, stationery, a separate phone line etc). Reply, forward and save options are added advantages.

No fear of loosing calls while on line using dial up connections. (Incoming calls can be converted into voice mails. One can access their voice mailboxes while on-line. With a visual interface, either through a Web browser or popular e-mail client, they can find out who left a message, when, and the length of the message. They also have the option of listening to their messages from their multimedia PC if they wish)

Ability to check email, voice mail etc from any phone (Assume you missed a flight but can still be in touch with your office from an airport pay phone).

Customizing communication: say you’re on with an important business negotiation and don’t want to receive any call or other communication except from few people say your boss.

Conversion of messages from one form to another: For example the student who has an e-mail account wishes to message his parents. However, his parents do not have an e-mail account but do subscribe to voice mail. With a powerful unified messaging application, the student can record a voice message and send it via e-mail to his parents' voice mailbox. The parents receive that voice message and never even know that it was sent via e-mail. Instead they treat it as any voice message and can reply, forward, save, or delete it. If they reply, it is sent back to their son as an e-mail with a voice message attachment. In an advanced option text to speech and speech to text applications can also be employed.

In India

The concept of Unified Messaging is yet to be picked up by Indian telephone companies and ISPs. Though there’re segregated attempts by certain firms to offer a part of such services.

Some examples:

India’s leading paging company Mobi Link enables one who buys their package, to send email and sms from any phone. There’re many companies which offer telephone calls over internet (Which’s mainly marketed as cheap rate ISD calls). Ordering consumer like pizza on net and by phone is already in practice (but the requests are handled manually). Cellular companies readily offering internet on cell phones (which are compatible with WAP and/or GPRS). Microsoft’s Office XP and office 2003 have speech recognition feature and coming versions will be compatible with Indian languages too.

The concept of Unified Messaging will be realized if someone unifies all above services and more such that end users like you and me can count on any one terminal for all our communication needs, in a cost effective and fail proof manner. Pray that happens soon.

Shrinidhi H

Development Co-Ordinator



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