The communications (r)evolution part 3: IP Telephony and UC

by Eduard du Plessis, MD of EOH Network Solutions Division

Unified communications, as the name implies, combines many different types of communications methods and technologies. At the same time, it in turn depends on the development of underlying technologies and methodologies. One of the most important is Internet technology. Specifically, a method of data transmission known as IP telephony.

How are IP telephony and UC related?

IP telephony uses packet switching to transmit voice and fax that previously used to be sent over traditional telephone systems. Effectively it applies Internet technology to these transmissions, bringing it into the general Internet communications transmission fold.

Unified communications wouldn’t be worthy of the name if it didn’t include voice communications, which means that a way needed to be found of integrating voice transmissions with other types of communication, like email and document sharing.

The obvious candidate for this is IP telephony, as it uses the Internet Protocol. While IP telephony offered a way of integrating voice communications into the general UC data transmission set, it also offered another crucial capability: it dispensed with the handset in the PBX system.

The handset attached to a copper connection was previously the primary device in an office voice communications system. IP telephony has turned the handset into simply another computer device attached to a network. It can now be an interface on a laptop or a mobile device.

So IP telephony and unified communications are two different things. The former is a method of transmitting voice data over the Internet Protocol, while the latter uses this as an enabling technology to build an integrated communications platform.

The business benefits of IP telephony and UC

The first big benefit that businesses saw from IP telephony was VoIP technology. By sending voice communications across the Internet rather than through traditional copper landlines or GSM cell phone networks, huge savings on voice communications could be realised. This has led to an explosion of VoIP systems in business, with IP-PBX systems replacing traditional ones. Many more are taking advantage of instant messaging as a cheaper IP-based alternative to more expensive SMS technology.

The second big benefit is that because of their shared Internet Protocols, IP-PBX and other IP telephony systems can be integrated with broader Internet technology. This means local IP telephony and UC systems can be combined with other IP-based tools, like applications delivered over the Internet, such as Microsoft 365.

The third benefit of IP telephony is that it can be delivered over the cloud. This allows for virtualisation of the entire PBX and business communications environment, so that everything is delivered on demand through the cloud. This offers immense savings in physical hardware and IT resources, as well as reducing overall business communications costs, thanks to its consumption-based costing model.

How are IP telephony and UC changing the world of work?

UC and IP telephony are allowing us to communicate far more efficiently in business, both internally and with partners and customers. Intelligent call routing based on real-time presence information means that we waste less time trying to contact people to get information we need, or to include them in an important discussion. By always knowing the best way of communicating with people we won’t waste time leaving voice messages that won’t be heard or sending emails that won’t be read. We will be able to locate the people we need or give them the information they need quickly and accurately. The ultimate effect a much more effective business.

The other major way in which IP telephony and UC are changing the ways we work is to be found in the degree to which they enable mobility and remote working. By combining all the various communication and collaboration technologies into a single interface, they allow work to follow people, alleviating the need for people to be in a particular place in order to work. This brings an entirely new level of flexibility and efficiency to a business.

UC and the future workforce

It won’t be long before a new generation dominates the workforce – the millennials. Those born in the nineties have already begun to enter the workplace, bringing with them new ways of working and communicating, which mirror their personal use of technology.

Technology use is second-nature to them, and they have developed ways of interacting and working that make intuitive use of all the different communication and file sharing tools available. They are constantly mobile, and conduct much of their activity using mobile devices. This has led them to develop a deep-seated understanding that work can be delivered from anywhere at any time.

In the workplace millennials will demand the same communication and collaboration technologies that they use in their personal lives. This will make UC virtually a mandatory element of any office environment. Its ability to provide all the communications tools that millennials use will give organisations the ability to tailor the work environment to gain optimum productivity from this new workforce.


Eduard du Plessis is a telecommunications specialist and has been passionately involved in product development, operations and product marketing in the telecommunications industry since 1997. Eduard was the MD at InfoSat from 1997 to 2002 and in 2003 he founded Ensync Business Solutions. He has driven two successful start-up companies in the mobile data and wireless networking spaces (Ensync and AfricaINX) and is now the MD at EOH Network Solutions in its telecommunications sector.