Phone convergence great if it’s user-friendly

SIP has great potential, Agile and Avaya say

Talk of convergence has become as much of a cliché in the phone world as in computing. But convergence is of little value to users if it requires a major change in behaviour to access new benefit. For example, having to learn new procedures or navigate more elaborate arrays of buttons on an increasing variety of instruments mitigates against any benefits.

This was the theme of an early morning “After 5” session, held by TUANZ in Wellington recently. The presenters were Avaya and its local agent, Agile. Agile’s Steve Shaw and Avaya’s James Sia drew a number of general lessons about the organisation of a mobile business.

The increasingly pervasive Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) standard gives some hope of similar interfaces and capabilities being made available to users of a wide variety of suppliers’ equipment and networks.

De facto “convergence” between mobile and fixed phone technology often comes about simply by virtue of the fact that staff use their mobile phones at their desks. Sia quotes a Nokia statistic that says only 12% of mobile phone calls are made on the move. Using a cellphone at a desk or in a home already equipped with a landline phone can be a less than economical strategy.

Shaw reported some of his explorations of the capabilities of constantly evolving instruments, such as collecting emails through a cellphone, and using wi-fi in a UK hotel — explorations that often seemed to result in an unexpectedly large bill or a file sitting in the phone’s memory in an inaccessible format. More in-built intelligence is clearly needed with such “convergent instruments”, so they can detect the user’s situation and use the most economical transmission route.

If your company has a branch office, where you are based, and a corporate VPN, your cellphone ought to “know” to take that route rather than use international roaming, says Sia.

A video-demonstration of entirely voice-operated communication from a car was topical given the new restrictions some US states have installed against hand-held operation on the move. Statistics seem to show that hands-free operation is just as distracting.

Sia sounds a warning about the popularity of instant messaging among young people. Those people are steadily rising through your company structure, he says, so the use of IM can be expected to increase, and it is not secure.

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