Enabling Mobile UC

The Middle East market is ripe for mobile unified communications due to high mobile penetration rates, writes Piers Ford

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Enabling Mobile UC Wael Abdulal, collaboration manager at Cisco UAE says guaranteeing quality of service os a major roadblock to mobile UC
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By  Piers Ford Published  May 27, 2012

The Middle East market is ripe for mobile unified communications due to high mobile penetration rates, writes Piers Ford

Despite the rapid consumer adoption of mobile technology across the Middle East, the integrated business use of tablets and smartphones has been stubbornly slow to follow. Users might be clamouring to use their devices to access corporate  IT systems and multimedia applications but network managers are still hampered in their efforts to provide this degree of connectivity by some familiar obstacles – including that perennial thorn-in-the-side, quality of service, not to mention security concerns.

However, there are signs that increasingly, mobile Unified Communications (UC) is enabling a new level of accessibility that will give remote and roaming users genuine flexibility.

“Guaranteeing Quality of Service has been one of the major hurdles to the adoption of mobile UC,” agrees Wael Abdulal, collaboration manager at Cisco UAE, one of the big vendors with a keen eye on this emerging market. “Users want simplicity and want things to work regardless of the device they are using, the network they are connected to or their location.”

Abdulal offers mobile video as a key example of an application primed to take advantage of mobile UC but currently restricted by the jitter and delays symptomatic of an unreliable Quality of Service, and the limitations of point-to-point or user-to-user only services.

“The first issue is being more and more addressed by business and service providers,” he says, “and the second has been addressed by vendors and it is becoming easy to initiate multi-party voice/HD video calls from mobile devices.”

He testifies to the power of mobile video. “From my personal experience, the killer application is when I was able to join telepresence sessions from my Cisco Cius and iPad,” says Abdulal. “As an active participant in voice, video and data sharing, I was able to see all participants as active users and silent ones, and my face captured by the tiny camera was displayed on a 65-inch screen. The interesting part of this experience is that I made the call from my living room at home. This is the flexibility mobile UC brings and it is important to have this experience from any device.”

Increasing productivity
Abdulal is convinced that the high penetration of mobile in the Middle East makes the market ripe for mobile UC.

“As businesses start looking for ways to improve staff productivity and cut down on travel expenses, they are turning to solutions and technologies like mobile UC, as they can do more with less. With mobile UC, employees can be connected and engaged from any device and location, and this helps to improve productivity. We are seeing a good uptake from all sectors but noticeably among service providers, healthcare and education, where we see good, strong demand.”

Products like Cisco’s Jabber and Cius applications, Avaya’s Flare and Alcatel-Lucent’s My IC Mobile, are competing for the attention of network managers who are looking for ways to enable staff to connect with their business via Macs, iPhones, tablets, Blackberries, Androids and other smartphones.

At Avaya, Nidal Abou-Latif, vice president, emerging markets, would add the hospitality, and oil and gas industries, to the list of sectors looking to capitalise on the benefits of an integrated mobile workforce.

Avaya supplied one of the region’s earliest successful mobile UC systems for the Atlantis resort in Palm Jumeirah, where staff use Nokia handsets to stay in touch with core voice and data systems, and automatically switch between the Wi-Fi and local GSM networks according to the most economical connection.

“Smartphones, tablet PCs and other personal communication tools are making their way into the workplace,” says Abou-Latif. “In fact, many employers are providing staff with a stipend and telling them to bring their own device. It’s a development that’s getting a lot of attention these days, with good cause. Increasingly, employees want the convenience of a single device that meets both their business and personal needs – and they know what they like. It’s clear they prefer the latest gadget they’ve selected on their own.”

Improving bandwidth
Abou-Latif says the telecom industry has worked hard to improve bandwidth scales using 3G and 4G technologies, and that improvements in infrastructure across the region mean that more competitive data usage packages are available as a result.

However, consistency remains an issue for many industry players. KS Parag, managing director at conferencing service provider FVC, says local ISPs need to ensure the availability of bandwidth from at least 384kbps up to 512kbs. He also suggests that the market needs to develop solutions more specifically tailored to the needs of different sectors.

“The mobile UC market is only just beginning to take off largely because of the increasing adoption of tablets within the enterprise,” he says. “In a market that is largely fluid and mobile, we are seeing great adoption of these technologies in the education sector, and in medium-to-large enterprises with satellite offices – particularly those in the finance and energy sectors. While still at quite an early stage, UAE businesses are embracing mobile unified communications, followed by businesses in Saudi and Qatar.”

Cross-application, service and device integration remains the greatest challenge to effective mobile UC implementation, according to Roch Muraine, director, strategic solutions for the Middle East and Africa at Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise. While open standards like SIP have helped to transform the user experience in terms of interaction between applications, network managers still need to profile their users adequately and establish comprehensive mobile security strategies.

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