Unify Circuit Review: Harnessing the Power of WebRTC
Read our review of the Unify Circuit cloud communications system
It does not take very long to feel old in the world of digital communications.
If, like me, you left school before the turn of the Millennium, you will have entered a world of work in the process of being transformed by new innovations like the internet, IP telephony, email and mobile phones.
Fast forward two decades, and the latest generation entering the workplace don’t use their phones to ‘just’ text or make voice calls any more. They also stream live video on Skype, FaceTime or Facebook Live. They don’t bother with email, they IM. And all of this is powered by constant connection to the internet, without ever having to wait for the office dial-up to kick in.
The internet is key to it all. With ultrafast broadband, increasingly reliable WiFi and the emergence of 3G/4G mobile data connections, being online has become a continuous state of existence. This has reshaped how people expect to communicate, and created the concept of anytime, anyplace availability in the world of work, allowing people the freedom to work where they choose and remain productive even on the move.
For the telecoms industry, the catch has always been that, despite its flexibility and boundless availability, the internet was not designed to carry communications data like voice and video. The way broadband packets, distributes and reassembles data has always compromised the quality of real-time audio and visual communication, requiring specialist platforms running specialist protocols like VoIP or SIP to make it function.
Web Real Time Communication is the breakthrough protocol which has driven the video messaging craze for today’s youngsters. It allows high quality real time audio and video communication to take place direct from a web browser, without having to download or plug in any other apps or platforms to make it serviceable.
In doing so, it takes the idea of cloud communications to the next level, opening the doors to even simpler, more flexible and more affordable multimedia communication straight from any web browser.
And now WebRTC is making its presence felt in the UC industry. One product making full use of its potential is Circuit, a hosted UC and team collaboration platform developed by German UC giant Unify. Circuit’s USP is that it can turn any device into a fully fledged, robust, enterprise class communications device direct from the web browser, with no apps, no downloads.
In this review, we will ask whether a WebRTC platform like Circuit can answer business demands for quality and resilience, and what browser based communications could mean for the future of business comms. Please remember, UC Today is an entirely independent service which does not endorse or back any particular brands or products.
What can it do?
Circuit is a fully loaded UCaaS product offering HD voice and video, conferencing, IM, presence, file sharing and collaboration. Its main point of difference to other UCaaS products is that the whole suite of multimedia tools are accessed directly from within a web browser, without the need to download any apps.
Powered by WebRTC, users simply login online, and can then choose whichever tools they want to use. Like most UCaaS products, it has no upper limit on user numbers and is endlessly scalable.
Circuit is also a single-pane-of-glass solution. All communication options are there in one place in your web browser as soon as you log in, you don’t have to toggle between different apps to use different tools. All options are launched with a single click, and you have complete freedom to add or change channels as you please. For example, you can turn an IM into a video call with a single click, add additional users to create a conference just by clicking the names of contacts, or send files mid conversation.
Despite being browser-based, Circuit gives you full access to any files stored on your device, or in a cloud storage application like Box. Files shared with colleagues are stored by conversation within Circuit, so you can always go back to check versions and pick up the thread of discussions around work.
One of the key benefits of direct browser-based communications is the potential to improve mobility. However, Unify has also realised that most people don’t use a web browser to get online on their smartphone, so they have developed iOS and Android apps which mimic how the browser platform works.
The key questions around collaboration platforms like Circuit which imitate the style and functionality of consumer social messaging apps is whether they can stand up as viable alternatives to business class telephone systems. IM and file sharing is one thing, but the telephone is still the vanguard of most business communications, and companies expect the absolute reliability and clarity offered by landlines.
For such an innovative platform, Circuit shows due deference to the roots of business communications. The HD audio and video are reliably good quality, showing how far WebRTC has brought us from the buffering and lost connections of early web communications. Available in three subscription packages, on the top two tiers you can also plug Circuit into your telephone system via the Unify OpenScape Session Border Control, making internal calls via LAN/WAN and externally via a SIP trunk.
Unify has also designed its OpenScape Desk Phone CP range to be directly compatible with Circuit, so it can in effect work as a surrogate to an office PBX.
What do we like?
The big promise of WebRTC-based business communications is that you don’t even have to log on to a special page, you can simply run your comms tools embedded within your favourite websites or any software apps which connect to the internet. Unify recognises this potential, and has made its API’s for Circuit freely available, encouraging developers to innovate with how and where the Circuit technology is used.
Who is it for?
Circuit forms part of Unify’s ‘Triple Play‘ offering, a channel partner programme designed to help develop bespoke solutions for every end user from Unify’s product portfolio. Clients will be advised according to the size of the organisation, preference for CAPEX/OPEX, and how they want their solutions deployed.
As a subscription service, Circuit fits into preferences for OPEX financing and cloud deployment. With three subscription tiers, it is suitable for organisations of all sizes.
What is it compatible with?
Circuit offers out-of-the-box compatibility with Box.com for sharing and collaborating on files, and can also be plugged into Microsoft Outlook email and Exchange.
How much does it cost?
Circuit is available as a hosted service direct from Unify at the following price points:
- Team edition: £2.95 per user per month
- Professional edition: £4.95 per user per month
- Enterprise edition: £10.95 per user per month
UC Today Opinion
Web-based team collaboration platforms are nothing new in business, of course. So-called ‘social networking’ tools like Slack, Yammer and Google Hangouts have been all the rage for the past few years, cashing in on the power of WebRTC to deliver high-quality real-time communication through a browser.
Circuit shares much of the look, feel and functionality of these kinds of apps. There is undoubtedly something hip about it, it sits right on the cutting edge of where business communications is heading. But it also offers something more than many of its free public cloud rivals. As a proper UCaaS service available through the channel, for a start it offers support and aftercare.
But most importantly, it offers itself as a viable telephony solution, either in its own right or by plugging into existing networks. For many in the industry, the line between PBX and team collaboration platforms is still clear. Circuit blurs that division, and shows where the future of UCaaS may lie.
Are you a Unify Circuit customer? What do you make of it? How would you rate it on flexibility, on team collaboration, and on telephone compatibility? Whatever your thoughts, we are always very pleased to hear them. So please feel free to leave a comment in the section below, and why not share this article on social media and invite friends and colleagues to join in the conversation as well.