Slicing and Dicing the Buzzword: Convergence

Coming together. A combination. Cohesion. We all can come up with synonyms for “convergence,” but what does it really mean and how can you use it to sell advanced services for higher commissions?

When people talk about communications convergence, they often mean service integration over IP. The most basic form is combining voice and data. VoIP uses Internet Protocol, a transport language originally meant to send packets of data an e-mail, say zipping to and fro on corporate data networks and on the World Wide Web. Once someone figured out how to make voice into a series of packets, it became simply another application that can run on the IP data network, or on the Internet, or both.

For the customer, benefits are clear-cut: Put in an IP network for data purposes, run voice as an application (with attendant customer premise equipment), and go from two networks to one, simplifying operations and streamlining costs along the way.

Service convergence doesnt stop at VoIP. Video is making its way into the mix as well, along with presence. Such technologies as find-me-follow-me service, visual voice mail (receiving an e-mail with video embedded) and video chat (real-time instant messaging that includes video) are applications available now, made possible by service convergence and typically embedded in an IP PBX or hosted IP telephony offer from a service provider.

The benefit of such applications for your customers, aside from the satisfaction of being future-forward, is productivity enhancement. A cost-benefit and ROI analysis with an eye on these applications and their benefits to the company can go a long way toward making that local- or wide-area networking sale.

A converged local-area network means voice, video and data are running together, using IP, but because there is CPE required to run the integrated services, network sales are becoming converged, too. A savvy partner can add value to the customer by becoming a single throat to choke for the entire network, offering converged CEP/service solutions.

Another level of convergence and opportunity for a partner is bringing together wired and wireless networks, from a management perspective. As WLANs built with Wi-Fi technology become more and more prevalent, many customers need a solution for integrating the new wireless part of the network with the existing wired desk sets, so all users can share applications and network assets, with full security and a way to monitor all users from a central command station. The process can be an operational nightmare, and many companies would gladly leave it to a consultative partner to execute.

As technical kinks are worked out, voice over Wi-Fi (essentially, VoIP on the corporate wireless data network) and cellular-to-Wi-Fi roaming (employees will have one phone that can move from home to car to office) will enter the convergence realm as well.

More forms of communications convergence are sure to follow. So when you talk convergence, be sure you know what you mean, and that you can explain the benefits and process to your customers. Buzzwords can be useful marketing tools, but successful channel partners also have the knowledge to back up the hype.

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