Forget “One” – At Best It’s “Unified” and It’s Not Going to Survive “One More” Anyway!

David Snow
David Snow

Summary Bullets:

  • Such is the pace of communications technology innovation that marketing any communications service with the prefix “one” is a recipe for rapid obsolescence.
  • The most realistic strategy for embracing an increasing multiplicity of networks, channels, devices and identities is to adopt a “unified” communications strategy.

For those with a long memory of telecommunications service initiatives, a sense of déjà vu likely overcame them when BT announced its new “One Phone” service recently. Notwithstanding BT’s rationale for the service, it highlights the continued marketing attraction of “one,” a term used repeatedly ever since more than one network or device could be associated with a subscriber. There have been no end of “one” initiatives over the years and BT has had its fair share. Look at BT’s Onephone service from 1999, and while there are multiple technology differences between then and now, the message is largely the same: one of simplicity and convenience. In BT’s case, the service name differs only by a “space” over fifteen years.

“One” initiatives tend to be destined to disappoint, so why do they keep needing re-invention?

1. One Number for Two Networks

This is where it all started. The moment a second network arrives, like cellular, so does another device and another number. Yes, you can set up call forwarding on one or other of the networks, but it all gets extremely messy. So, carriers devised the idea of “one number;” see for example (BT again) SmartNumber. It’s a communications service, operating under your instructions, deciding when and where to route the call. There were many services like this; few have survived.

2. One Device for Multiple Networks

As mobile began to overtake fixed in popularity, it became more important to get all those calls to the mobile device, so the mobile number actually became the default “one number.” That was not too different from the first initiative, except that mobile phones didn’t work too well indoors, so new radio networks were needed and there were (and still are) schemes to connect a mobile device via Bluetooth, DECT, WiFi, small cells, etc. the moment you walked through the door. The point is, though, the number of networks started to increase; “one” just got more difficult… again.

3. Multiple Devices, Multiple Networks and Multiple Identities

To cut quickly through to the present day, the reality is that we are in an era in which we communicate in a multiplicity of ways:

  • Using multiple devices (including handsets, tablets, TVs, WebRTC in browsers, etc.);
  • Over multiple networks (with various degrees of coverage and still limited or non-existent handover technologies between them);
  • Under multiple identities (whether they are telephone numbers, OTT app IDs, even the “persona” of your BYOD at any one moment in time, etc.).

Bringing all this together into “one” is looking less and less achievable and now many ask whether indeed it is even desirable.

Now, that’s not to say that “one” may not be achievable in certain contexts. In the business environment, where companies strictly define the channels and devices over which employees communicate, it may be possible to achieve “one” temporarily, so we must credit BT with persistence. Nevertheless, even in business, new communications channels keep opening up (see the recent history of Yammer for example) and recognizing that, enterprise communication companies realistically replaced the term with “unified” – hence, unified communications (UC). By the way, “federation,” an even looser term, is now making its presence felt.

The bottom line is this (Marketing, take note): the moment any communication service labels itself as “one,” you can be pretty sure that there is going to be “one more” network, channel, device or identity to accommodate and “one” swiftly becomes “one less.”


For a glimpse at the breadth and depth of today’s UC solutions, take a look at GENBAND SMART OFFICE, Metaswitch Unified Communications and BroadSoft UC-One. (Okay, that “one” must have slipped through). Current Analysis provides side-by-side comparisons of these offerings in its Service Provider Infrastructure service.

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