Throughout history, developments in technology and communications have gone hand-in-hand, and the latest advances have heralded a new world centred on smart devices and the Internet of Things (IoT).

 While voice is still the ‘killer app’ many organisations depend on for their mission critical communications, data is increasingly being seen as an important part of the mix.

Public safety agencies, utilities and other critical infrastructure organisations must have reliable mission critical communication systems they can depend on when it matters most. But they also need smart applications that increase their situational awareness and reduce the time it takes to do repetitive tasks.

Extending communications beyond voice to integrated systems and data applications is now an essential requirement. The challenge for many companies is bringing disparate technology and mobility under full control. Unifying diverse communication platforms and tools is the key to delivering stronger, simpler and smarter critical communications which enable organisations to protect communities, power cities, move citizens and harness energy resources.

The unified communication market

In its simplest form, unified communications means integrating various forms of communication such as voice, video and data into one system, network or piece of software. The unified communications market is poised for rapid change over the next few years, driven by mobilised workers and innovative technologies.

A recent report by Global Market Insights forecasts that the market size is expected to reach $96 billion by 2023. And according to an IDC report, 93 per cent of businesses in Western Europe plan to invest in unified communications over the next one to three years.

Long-term cost savings, along with increased workforce efficiency, are among major global unified communication market growth trends. Ubiquitous smartphone demand has paved the way for the use of these devices as business communication tools and there is a high degree of integration coupled with content sharing between laptops or desktops and smartphones.

In the critical communications world, unified communications means bringing together new smart technologies to work effectively with existing voice capabilities across radio, IP, mobile devices, cellular and WiFi. By unlocking the combined strengths of the different technologies, organisations experience a range of operational, functional and cost benefits.

Overcoming technology challenges

Because not all technologies are fit for purpose, is it important for organisations to carefully consider their business requirements in terms of voice and data communications, and to determine what is critical and what’s not. Those transitioning from legacy systems need to build their own roadmap and identify future requirements for mission critical voice, mission critical data and non-mission critical data.

For example, setting up a communications infrastructure to support reliable low-band data transmission can be challenging for companies that operate in environments where cellular coverage can be intermittent or non-existent, and where installing wired networks has significant cost implications.

While larger amounts of data can be carried across overlaid broadband networks, providing connections to wide bandwidth devices such as smart phones and tablets, this remains an unreliable and sometimes insecure way of transmitting mission critical data.

Many companies are using a mix of telemetry systems in these instances, interconnecting technologies that each have limitations. The use of cellular systems, such as GPRS for example, is often patchy. There are also a number of other unlicensed radio frequencies, such as 446 MHz, which are prone to interference and overcrowding and could leave companies exposed in emergency situations.

Data driven networks

The challenge for modern unified communications systems in the above example is to provide a robust and reliable infrastructure for data transmission. This is growing ever more important to organisations, especially as automation and smart technologies become more prevalent.

By using a unified, wireless communication network, organisations can not only provide a reliable means of data transmission, they can also combine voice across the same network. This unified approach can also be developed to include a range of new and emerging smart technologies in order to deliver complete control to organisations.

The benefits of unified networks, as opposed to disparate technologies that fail to integrate properly, include increased reliability, low operating costs and enhanced coverage across vast operational regions. Mission critical systems in sectors such as energy, transport and public safety need to adapt to changing regulatory and market demands, while guaranteeing 24/7 availability. By unifying new smart technologies with existing capabilities, organisations can also improve security, address compliance requirements and get critical information in near real time.

While the communication challenge for organisations may vary greatly, the importance of a unified approach will be consistent throughout.

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