Communications Connections: Wired or Wireless
Efficiency, flexibility, and cost savings are driving growth in new ICT products and strategies. And America's most "wired" cities are reaping the benefits.
William Atkinson (Apr/May 08)

Information and communications technology (ICT) is an umbrella term covering any communication device or application, including VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), wireless Internet access (including WiMax and Wi-Fi), broadband (DSL, cable, satellite, and over power lines), VPNs, and LAN/WAN. The industry is growing, and as it grows, it continues to morph and become more varied.

 "One trend suggests that, in 2008, digital communications will become more varied and vital," says Craig Wigginton, partner and telecommunications practice leader of the Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT) Group of Deloitte & Touche, LLP. "There is also a move from wired Internet to wireless Internet." The TMT Group recently published its Telecommunications Predictions 2008, which each year examines emerging trends impacting the telecommunications sector.

Another ICT trend of interest to businesses is that the credit crunch and economic downturn in general have had a negative impact on telecommunications providers, both service providers and equipment providers. This is good news for customers. "Prices are coming down, and businesses are putting more pressure on carriers," says Wigginton. "In response, many of them continue to focus on cost-cutting and trying to sell additional services."

Businesses are also finding ways to become more efficient with their telecommunications systems. There is a new trend toward expanding mobile communications coverage indoors, which will spur network sharing. "This will lead to a need for improved indoor network mobile coverage," says Wigginton. In the past, he points out, indoor coverage has not been a major focus of mobile telephony providers. "In general, when you're indoors, you're connected. When you're outdoors, you're mobile." The focus has been to get the world "built" for outdoor mobile communications, making sure there is adequate service for as many areas as possible. Now the goal is to bring the service inside and make it as consistent as possible. "It is in the best interest of the mobile telephone provider to have users continue to use their mobile phones when they go inside, instead of shutting them off," he says. For carriers that provide both wired and wireless, the goal of expanding service inside relates to customer satisfaction. Under this scenario, the customer will have one device, with connection to some combination of the cellular network, the wi-fi network, broadband, and/or voice service.

"Machine to machine" communication is also growing, according to Wigginton. This involves mobile-to-mobile device connectivity. "When you look at the number of machines that can house a mobile device, there are a lot of opportunities," he says. These include vehicles, computers, alarm systems, and point-of-sale equipment. This also provides a strong new revenue stream for telecommunications providers.

Using Unified Communications
Gia McNutt, CEO of SOS, a Loomis, California-based consulting firm specializing in voice/data solutions, sees many of the same trends, particularly in the area of unified communications: "Today, there is more focus on unified communications for business, which blends voice, voice mail, e-mail, cellular, PDA, texting, and so on, via dedicated bandwidth and circuits."

In fact, according to McNutt, the term VoIP is being replaced by unified communications, and now both terms are actually interchangeable. "A recent study I read by Sage Research reported that most large organizations in North America have replaced their legacy systems with unified communication technology," she says. That 2006 study, Unified Communications Applications: Uses and Benefits, also reports that half of all small organizations will have a unified communication system in place by 2010, with 100 percent adoption by 2014.

In the past, most technologies were built on a legacy voice system. As the newer forms of communication became prevalent, businesses have had to "bolt on" other ways to deal with them - a PBX, a web server, and so on. "This requires a number of different repositories for information, and people have to check different places," says McNutt. Today, she says, the average person has six different communication devices. "You might think this makes things easier and faster. However, the way the legacy systems are set up, users end up experiencing lower productivity, because they have to check so many different places for messages - cell phones, wired phone voice mail, fax, e-mail, etc."

In addition, people can't reach other people in their own organization on their first try anymore. Logically, then, it can be even more difficult for people from the outside to reach people inside. McNutt says the Sage Research study found that 93 percent of organizations have experienced a missed deadline or project delay as a result of the impeded access to key decision-makers.

One way to combat this problem is a new technology called "presence management." This allows you to view the communication status of the person you want to contact. "For example, with presence management technology, you can see that the person is on the phone," says McNutt. "As a result, maybe you can send an instant message, and the person can respond to that while he or she is still on the phone." And, with presence management, when customers or other people from the outside call for someone, the receptionist can have access to the person's communication status.

Another innovative ICT trend, according to McNutt, is "find-me, follow-me" technology, often called "single number reach." You give out one phone number to people. When someone calls, the call is first routed to your desk phone. Then, it tries your cell phone. After that, it tries your home phone. If you still can't be reached, then the system routs the call back to the desk phone, so the caller can leave a message on that voice mail, giving you a single place to check for messages. "Of course, you can set the process up any way you like in terms of the order that the call attempts to reach you, such as cell phone first, office phone second, etc.," she explains.

An additional trend McNutt is seeing is the dual-mode phone. "Companies don't want their employees talking to each other in the office on their cell phones, because of the cost," she states. "Instead, you want them using the corporate phone network when they are in the office." But what happens when people leave the office during a conversation to get to an appointment? With a dual-mode phone, you don't even need a desk phone. Your phone is on the office IP communications network. When you are in the office, you are connected via the corporate phone network. However, as you leave the office, the system seamlessly transitions the call to cellular service. "This will be a real savings for companies, as well as a way to enhance productivity," she predicts. Currently, there is a very limited selection of these systems, but this year, she believes, they will become very prevalent.

America's Most Wired Cities
Each year, Forbes publishes a list of the U.S.'s most "wired" cities. While these cities are of interest to "techies" as great places to live, they are especially of interest to ICT-reliant businesses seeking new places to set up offices and other facilities.

Number one on the list for 2008, for the second year in a row, is Atlanta, Georgia. According to David B. Hartnett, vice president of technology industry expansion for the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Atlanta's top 25 technology employers generate over $622 billion a year in revenue.

The main reason the city is so "wired," according to Hartnett, relates to the 1996 Summer Olympics. "When they wired the city for the Olympics, they laid a lot of fiber," he says. "As a result, a lot of companies began to relocate here." Then other companies were attracted by the existing infrastructure, and more young techies moved into Atlanta to work and live. This, in turn, provided an additional incentive for companies to move to Atlanta - it had a "wire-wise" and "wireless-wise" young work force ready to be hired. In fact, 2000 Census figures show that in the years between 1995 and 2000, Atlanta led the nation in the immigration of college-educated 24- to 35-year-olds with a strong background in technology.

Tied for fifth place on the Forbes list is Orlando, Florida, which until recently has been a well-kept secret, according to John Fremstad, the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission's vice president for technology industry development: "People usually don't put `Orlando' and `technology' in the same sentence, because of our strong tourism-hospitality reputation." However, he says, the area supports a $15 billion technology industry.

"Access to the region's strong labor pool of experienced IT talent has been a critical contributor to our rapid growth over the last several years," says Thaddeus Seymour Jr., vice president of product management and marketing for CuraScript, a specialty pharmacy company in Lake Mary, Florida, an Orlando suburb. "Orlando's commitment to future investment in technology infrastructure, IT talent development, and information systems innovation gives us confidence in the region's ability to support our growth in the future."

Number seven this year, jumping up from 10th place in 2007, is Charlotte, North Carolina. According to Jeff Edge, senior vice president of economic development for the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, the financial services industry is particularly large in Charlotte. In fact, two of the largest banks in the country are based there. "All of the information and communications technology infrastructure that is required for this industry is here, and this gives us a leg up."

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