ShoreTel ups the ante in UC market

ShoreTel Australia

By Anthony Caruana
Thursday, 09 May, 2013

ShoreTel ups the ante in UC market

Earlier this week at Interop in Las Vegas and to a small group of journalists in Sydney, ShoreTel announced a new product for its unified communications users. The ShoreTel Dock fuses the office phone with mobile devices. Is this a sign that UC is coming of age?

Unified communications, or UC, has been around in some form or other for over a decade. Typically it’s represented significant complexity for IT leaders as it merges what used to be disparate systems such as email, presence, PBX-based telephony, mobile, instant messaging and collaboration.

For users there’s been the promise of softphones that make the computer a phone but, other than in call centre environments, we’re not seeing many people let go of their desktop handsets. What’s been the issue?

In short, there hasn’t been a device that’s enabled designers to create an interface that pulls all the elements together. While IM works well on devices with keyboards - like computers, mobile phones or tablets - they haven’t worked with a traditional desktop handset. With computer-based telephones, there hasn’t been a solution that’s as easy as picking up a handset or bringing a mobile up to your ear to answer it.

The frustration is that all the pieces have been in place but the glue that brings them together has been missing. ShoreTel is hoping that the Dock is the answer.

In short, the Dock is a docking station for iOS devices that use the older 32-pin connector that Apple recently superseded with its new Lightning connector. ShoreTel’s Managing Director for ANZ says that we’ll see a Lightning-based model later this year. Until then, ShoreTel says that its devices will work with the $15 30-pin to Lightning adapter that Apple sells.

Although it’s an iOS specific device at the moment, it can work with other devices using Bluetooth. However, in those cases, it’s little more than an external microphone and speaker system. When an iOS device is connected to via the dock connector, the dial pad becomes active.

What makes the ShoreTel Dock interesting is that it is not a telephone. It relies on the iOS device to provide the intelligence through ShoreTel’s UC platform. There’s no network connector on the Dock - all it needs is power. Communications are via an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad’s connection to Wi-Fi and cellular networks back to the business’s core systems.

This is an interesting move. It means that anyone can sit at any desk that has a ShoreTel Dock, connect their device and make the handset their own. There’s no logging in or configuration. We can see how this will appeal to hot desking environments and teleworkers.

ShoreTel’s product is definitely interesting. But we’re wondering what’s brought it to this point. It seems that finding a way to bring all of the UC functions together has been limited by the different interfaces of each application. For example, IM needs a full keyboard whereas telephony can work with just 12 buttons.

The UC market is changing quickly at the moment. Many organisations have significant expertise and investment in traditional PBX systems and are trying to  leverage those and integrate with more recent requirements such as video, IM and collaboration. What’s clear is that if you’re starting with a greenfield site without any history or legacy to manage, a more modern solution based on commodity hardware might be easier to deploy and manage.

If we were writing a UC strategy for a business today, integration of services - so there was a single point of contact for users accessing different communications and collaboration services - would be at the top of the list.

Anthony Caruana travelled to Sydney for this launch as a guest of ShoreTel.

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