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The Carriers and UC: Still Waiting

Anyone who has--or thinks they will have--skin in the UC game, as either a buyer or a seller, would do well to read Dave Michels' post entitled "UC in the Clouds with Diamonds," which appeared recently on the UCStrategies website.Michels is of two minds about the role of UC in the cloud, and that doesn't bother him one bit. It shouldn't bother you either. They say that a good lawyer can argue either side of an issue equally well. If that's the case, Michels would have made a fine attorney.

Rather than trying to forge what would be a forced conclusion, Michels delivers a dispassionate and informed analysis, first arguing why the cloud and UC are largely incompatible, then countering with why it makes sense to join your UC strategy with one aimed at optimizing the emerging set of services lumped under the "cloud" rubric. If that sounds confusing the fault is mine...Michels' writing is clear as a bell.

Readers may recall a newsletter I penned about a year ago, called "Where Are the Carriers?" Only 12 months ago, there was much less talk about the cloud in general, and discussion about how the cloud would intersect with UC was virtually non-existent. Given the importance of the carriers as significant providers of communications services and products, their relative quiet about UC was notable--and a problem.

Flash forward to today...the cloud is all the rage. So, have the carriers stepped up to the plate on UC? Well, still not so much.

To be sure, there's been progress. Just this week, Sprint issued a press release entitled, in part, "Unified Communications Enabled by Sprint Now Available..." but it's less about UC than it is about Sprint playing catch up on connectivity. The core of the announcement is that Sprint will connect three of its services -- MPLS, SIP Trunking and Mobile Integration -- to three important UC systems: Cisco's Call Manager, Microsoft's OCS R2 and IBM's Lotus SameTime IP Telephony.

Forgive me, but what I found most notable about the release is that Sprint is rolling out SIP Trunking - customers have been growing impatient for that service for some time, and not because they can't wait to implement UC. But I'm still not sure just when and where Sprint intends to make SIP Trunking available--when I searched on "SIP Trunking" on Sprint's website, the results came back empty.

A visit to AT&T's website produced similarly unsatisfying results. My search for "Unified Communications" came back with information about how I could tie together aspects of my business using ", web, and video collaboration tools." Not much new there.

Verizon's website was only marginally more useful. At least a set of offerings appeared when I clicked on "Unified Communications and Collaboration," but apart from familiar conferencing services, the list was the standard set of carrier services it's been selling for years.

The fact that the carriers remain lethargic about moving into UC may create opportunities for both the equipment and software providers as well as non-traditional service providers. Cisco (via WebEx), Microsoft, IBM, Avaya and Mitel have all raised their profiles with hosted and/or managed services, there's increasing signs that Google intends to step up its enterprise offerings, and Skype seems much more serious about addressing business customers as well.

A year ago, I asked "Where are the Carriers?" when it came to UC. I'm still waiting for an answer.