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Looking Back on Communications in 2015

We did it. 2015 is drawing to a close, and 2016 is only a few days away. Another year older, slightly worse for the wear, but here we are and that in itself is cause for celebration.

As I look back on 2015 and the world of unified communications, I am struck by how much has been accomplished and how much we need to do. I've seen more SBCs installed and SIP trunks deployed than the previous three years combined, but less than I hoped for. I've had more security conversations than ever before, yet I know of far too many systems that are still vulnerable to attack. People are adopting mobile SIP clients faster than ever, but we still have a long way to go.

While I could go on for pages, here are roughly a thousand words about 2015 and the current state of enterprise communications -- some good, some bad, and some in-between.

This isn't something I should publicly admit to, but I can be a very impatient guy. When I want something, I want it now. The day I decide to buy a new car is the day I go out and buy one. There's no sitting around contemplating the pros and cons. I can't handle any form of delay after I am sure of what I want to do.

That's why WebRTC has been so frustrating for me. Now, no one has to convince me of its importance and potential to change the way we communicate. Not only have I played with several vendor's products and read the specifications of even more, I actually took the time to learn the WebRTC programming interfaces and wrote my own client and server applications. While they weren't anything to write home about, they got the job done, and I learned quite a bit in the process.

So, it's not the technology of WebRTC that frustrates me; it's the lack of understanding from my fellow communications professionals. If you read my article about the 2015 SIP Survey, you saw how 50% of respondents couldn't even say they know what WebRTC is. With all the proselytizing that I and other bloggers have been doing, I find it hard to accept that someone can know all about SIP trunks yet not have any idea about the next big thing in communications.

Of course, part of the lack of understanding might have to do with the absence of awe-inspiring, game-changing applications. Yes, a number of developers and companies have done some very clever things with the technology, but the fruits of their labor aren't staring you in the face. My impatience has kicked in big time as I wait for click-to-call and click-to-video buttons to show up on the webpages of the companies I frequent.

I have also grown quite impatient waiting for Apple and Microsoft to fully jump on the WebRTC bandwagon. While it's true that the new Microsoft Edge browser has added Object Real-Time Communications (ORTC) and it's close enough to WebRTC in terms of interoperability with Firefox and Chrome, the APIs are different, and I can't help but wonder why we need yet another way to write the same application.

The Apple story is even weaker, and I have yet to hear what the plans are for real-time communications in Safari. In my opinion, it's time for them to join hands with the rest of the WebRTC community and show us what they can do.

For a current look at where WebRTC is supported and to what extent, take a look at this chart. Personally, I see too much red and not enough green.

As a recovering software developer, I love the emphasis that vendors are putting on APIs as of late. I am especially excited about how far they've come since my days as a TAPI and TSAPI programmer. Now, instead of having to struggle with complex call models and asynchronous call progress messages, developers are able to build sophisticated applications with Java objects and RESTful Web services. I've personally played with some of these tools and have been able to come up with interesting and useful applications in a matter of minutes.

For some more concrete evidence of this sea change, check out what Beth Schultz said in Adopting an API Attitude at Cisco and what I wrote about in An Introduction to Avaya Engagement Call Control Web Services. This love of APIs goes well beyond Cisco and Avaya; you can find Web services interfaces on nearly every major vendor's products.

For the bulk of my career, if I said "carrier" to an IT director, I was talking about the likes of AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint. While I certainly continue to work with and position the legacy carriers, these days I am just as apt to throw in the names Flowroute and Twilio. Even better, I am running into IT directors who have heard of these relative newcomers and welcome a new kind of discussion.

I say "new kind of discussion" because these carriers have a different story to tell. They have fully embraced the world of Web-based communications, and their products reflect that from the ground up. They support the RESTful Web services that excite me so much and have opened up their SIP trunks in ways the big boys have not. They have security and backend service offerings that are unique to the industry, and while not every enterprise needs this kind of flexibility, more and more do. I love having these new tricks in my magic bag of communications solutions.

Despite my impatience, I hope you see that I am excited about where we are, where we are headed, and the work that will get us from here to there. This is not an industry that rests on its laurels, and the innovations I've witnessed in 2015 are as good as anything I've witnessed in previous years. My New Year's wish is that I can say the same thing at the end of 2016. If I am really lucky, I will be saying it until that bittersweet day I hang up my blogging keyboard and start collecting Social Security.

Here's to an exciting 2016 filled with new ideas and people willing to embrace them.

Andrew Prokop writes about all things unified communications on his popular blog, SIP Adventures.

See Andrew Prokop speak at Enterprise Connect 2016, taking place March 7 - 10 at the Gaylord Palms in Orlando, Fla. Register now to take advantage of reduced rates. Use the code NJPOST to receive $200 off the current conference price.

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