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Unified Communications: Hype and Promise

Cisco Systems Inc., Microsoft Corp. and other players have bet big on unified communications (UC), touting it as another in a line of Next Big Things.

Consider Cisco's purchase last week of Jabber, a privately held purveyor of instant messaging (IM) and presence technologies. Jabber complements Cisco's quiver of telephony, VoIP, Web conferencing and other UC technologies, according to industry watchers.

While UC might have what it takes, Next Big Thing-wise, it'll first have to grow up. And if market watcher In-Stat is right, that could take awhile: Thanks to vendor hype, misleading uptake numbers and an exceptionally broad definition of what actually constitutes "unified communications," full-fledged UC adoption (and the transformation of the people-and-process and business-to-business statuses quo it promises to bring with it) might not be a reality for another generation.

"Real transformational changes will take more time, perhaps even a generation, to accomplish," said In-Stat analyst David Lemelin in a statement. "But, it's possible that a new generation, dubbed 'Millennials,' bringing to the workplace communications habits formed in their early years -- text messaging, social networking, blogging, etc. -- portends more rapid adoption."

Vendors like to trumpet impressive UC adoption numbers -- such as claims that half or more than half of enterprises are at some stage (evaluation, purchasing, implementation) of UC or UC applications. These statistics are misleading, however, because they include bona-fide UC baby-steps -- such as subscription to a Web conferencing service.

Nevertheless, In-Stat predicts, UC is poised for take-off: by 2012, UC revenues could reach $18 billion. And while there's a surfeit of vendor-driven hype and uptake inflation in the UC segment, VoIP messaging itself is a relatively mature technology, according to In-Stat.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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