The Future of Unified Comms: Predictions for the 2021 UC Landscape
The future of UC - where is it heading?
Recently, our founder, Rob Scott published a blog and LinkedIn post to outline some of his latest predictions for the future of Unified Communications. The blog discussed some of the trends that we’re currently seeing in the UC marketplace, all the way from the increasing presence of AI and machine learning, to the potential for VR or “mixed” reality meeting rooms.
It’s safe to say that almost everyone with a link to the communication industry today has a vested interest in where the space is going, so it’s no surprise that Rob’s insights sparked some conversation among his communication peers. Here’s an insight into what today’s UC customers, innovators, and creators think about the state of UC today, and what might be coming in the years ahead.
The Changing Reality of Meeting Rooms
One of Rob’s predictions was that virtual reality meeting rooms, augmented contextual displays, and mixed reality concepts might start making their way into the office space. On LinkedIn, the response to this concept was mixed. Microsoft UC & Cloud Consultant Mark Vale noted that while “Techies love Tech,” people are still searching for UC technology that’s simple, and convenient to use. “VR will not be mainstream in business UC for the same reason that 3D will never be mainstream in the consumer world, you need peripherals for them to work. Lose the personal peripheral, and it has a chance.”
Mark also noted that it may be more likely that we’ll begin to see “holographic” and immersive meeting rooms that don’t require wearable apps. Simon Leyland of Microsoft Teams and Office 365 also said that he’s not sure about the upcoming presence of VR either, as it will require a significant amount of investment and energy from a Meeting Room development perspective. However, Leyland believes that
“Video, whiteboards and mobile sharing in meeting rooms need to become the norm, rather than the exception by 2021”
The Rise of Smart UC and AI
The unified communications space is growing smarter by the day. Rob believes that this drive to the more intelligent meeting room will be powered by the presence of AI and machine learning. Some of his predictions include In-car UC powered by AI Virtual Assistants, the presence of AI call analytics complete with real-time assessments of customer sentiment, and invisible UC that allows you to wear collaboration apps in your ear, specs, and even under your skin.
Additionally, the rise of AI also gives way to a conversation of how voice calls may one day be replaced with virtual assistants and bots. Tim D’Ath, a UC Solutions Architect for O2, commented that he believes that the next chapter of UC will advance with an AI strategy that gives employees their won personal AI assistants, constantly responding with meaningful messages and insights, “Google has been experimenting with this technology, which looks very interesting.”
A Slow Decline in Physical Endpoints
Perhaps the concept causing the most controversy in the current UC marketplace is the belief that physical endpoints will gradually become less common. Rob and many others believe that desktop phones, hardware PBXs, and highly skilled engineers will gradually be replaced by simplicity and software. DJ Gillit of Dialpad says that their company believe this decline of physical endpoints is already happening: “So many of our customers want to move away from devices that tether them to a single spot and get more mobile.”
Mark Diaz, the CEO of Vinix feels the same way. In a comment on LinkedIn, he said:
“All I know is there will be telecom parties worldwide the day we can decommission fax!”
On the other hand, some people feel that the desk phone is going nowhere. George Bardissi, the CEO, and president of BVoIP and Bardissi Enterprises, said that less than 20% of all phone deployments are software only. Similarly, Dan Balitewicz, the Solution Architect of Messaging and Collaboration at Kellogg Company expressed similar feelings, stating that endpoints are still in high demand.
Phone Numbers Will Be Phased Out
As we move into an increasingly digital and software-driven world, it’s also likely that phone numbers may become a thing of the past. After all, these days you can connect with people using nothing but an email address. Of course, opinions about the longevity of the phone number vary. Mark Vale believes that phone numbers will be an important part of the communication stack for the next 20 years or more: “Phone numbers will not be phased out, not by 2021, maybe 2041.”
On the other hand, Elle DiCasparro, the Vice President of Marketing for “Enabling Technologies,” said that she completely believes that we’ll begin to get rid of phone numbers,
“Most people don’t even have a landline today at home”
Microsoft Will Be the Largest Business Communications Provider
Finally, Rob believes that Microsoft is on track to become the largest business communications provider in the world by the time we hit 2025 – and he’s not the only one. By 2021, there’s no doubt that we’re going to see an evolving Gartner Magic Quadrant, but Microsoft certainly has the potential to transform the UC environment as one of the most competitive solutions available.
Dan Balitweciz and Elle DiCasparro among others agree with this concept, suggesting that by the time we move from On-Prem to Teams, Microsoft will have the most popular and engaging UC solution in the market. On the other hand, Jishad KP, a Messaging and Collaboration Engineer, commented on LinkedIn that:
“Microsoft might be the leader, but Teams is not the product of the future. It needs a lot of work to improve and provide simplicity in collaboration… I would like to see an app like WhatsApp taking over the UC World.”
What are your thoughts on the future of UC? Do you agree with the suggestions here, do you have predictions of your own? Let us know in the comments below.