AT&T is looking to solve the thorny issue of interoperability in the unified communications space.
The telecommunications giant is launching the AT&T UC Federation, a service that enables users to communicate in real time regardless of the unified communications (UC) platform they are using. The solution is aimed at addressing one of the key challenges in the UC space.
There is a wide array of UC platforms from a growing number of vendors, including such established players as Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Avaya, Unify, ShoreTel and Mitel, and a range of specifications. Getting all these platforms to interoperate easily is something that has long been talked about but hasn't proven easy.
AT&T officials are hoping the company's new cloud-based service, announced Jan. 22, can solve the issue. UC Federation, which was developed by engineers with AT&T Labs, supports such platforms as Cisco's Jabber and Microsoft's Lync and enables businesses to connect to partners and suppliers through any of the supported platforms, according to the telecommunications company.
They also can control which organizations can communicate and at what level—company, group or user—and can allow certain modes of communications, such as presence, and disable others, such as instant messaging (IM), for example.
It also could be a boon for businesses that are merging or creating joint ventures that may bring different UC technologies to the transitions. By leveraging the UC Federation service, the issue of UC interoperability won't be a concern, according to Vishy Gopalakrishnan, assistant vice president for big data and advanced solutions at AT&T Business Solutions.
"Companies that try to set up UC platforms on their own can face challenges when creating scalable, secure connectivity that meets compliance and support requirements," Gopalakrishnan said in a statement. "UC Federation from AT&T provides tools to help overcome this challenge by removing the hassle and allowing business teams to connect easily and over a highly secure platform."
Without such easy interoperability between UC tools, businesses have to create costly and time-consuming custom connections with external contacts, AT&T officials said. Through their cloud-based federated service, businesses can avoid such projects, use encryption technologies for greater security and more quickly add more partners to the list of those they can communicate.
Interoperability continues to be a goal among many UC vendors. In 2010, several companies—Hewlett-Packard, Polycom, Microsoft, Juniper Networks and Logitech—launched the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum (UCIF) with the idea of leveraging available standards to drive interoperability among UC products. In July 2014, the UCIF merged with the International Media Telecommunications Consortium (IMTC), a 20-year-old group with similar goals. The newly merged group will continue to push for interoperability, the presidents of both groups wrote in a joint letter July 17.
"Over the years, both IMTC and UCI Forum consortiums have supported their members in testing and promoting open standard-based communication technologies, in video conferencing and unified communications," wrote the organizations' presidents, Anatoli Levine (IMTC) and Matt Collier (UCIF). "The purpose behind our merger is to enable and promote a wide-reaching industry forum for our members and to better serve the ever-expanding IP communications and UC ecosystem."
AT&T is offering a free 90-day trial of its UC Federation service for up to 25 users. Currently, the service only supports presence and IM, but AT&T officials said the plan is to extend the support to other applications, including voice, video, calendars and address books, later this year.