AT&T to Build UC Platform for Shell

The carrier over five years will build a UC solution that enables communication via a range of devices and over top mobile platforms.

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AT&T over the next five years will migrate 150,000 employees at Shell onto a new unified communications platform in a deal that the two companies announced Sept. 16.

The managed collaboration service will enable Shell workers in more than 50 countries to communicate with each other through a range of applications—from instant messaging and video conferencing to application sharing, presence and voice calls—through a single interface, according to AT&T officials.

It also will help Shell deal with the challenges of an increasingly mobile workforce as more employees work remotely or from the road, an issue that most companies worldwide are dealing with to varying degrees.

"We're helping them save money by providing the framework for a mobile environment," AT&T Senior Vice President Mark Shine said in a statement.

No financial details were disclosed.

The deal with Shell will be the largest and most comprehensive unified communications (UC) deployment that AT&T has done for a single customer, according to officials.

Once in place, Shell employees will be able to connect via a broad range of connected devices, including tablets and smartphones as well as PCs, and across such major mobile operating systems as Google's Android, Apple's iOS and Microsoft's Windows and Windows Phone. Phone numbers and voice mail will not be tied to a specific location or devices, entire teams scattered throughout the world can be called and video conferencing tools will add to what remote and mobile workers can do, AT&T officials said.

UC has always promised such benefits as simplified management, lower operational and capital costs, easier collaboration among workers, partners and customers, and an improved user experience. IDC analysts have said that the UC market in 2013 is more than $26 billion and could grow to almost $38 billion by next year. Helping to drive that growth is such trends as cloud computing, the increasing use of video technology and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) practices.

However, challenges have included complexity in understanding and integrating the various technologies and making UC platforms easier for people to use, according to analysts and vendors. However, a wide range of vendors—from Cisco Systems and Microsoft to Avaya, ShoreTel, Unify and Alcatel-Lucent—continue to grow out their UC portfolios.