Britain's first mobile phone call was made on 1 January 1985. Since then a generation has grown up that regards a phone as a device that you carry with you and not something that sits in a fixed place on a desk. Users increasingly want to use devices such as notebook PCs, tablet computers and smartphones for business calls and mobile working.
The latest mobile devices don't just receive calls and voicemails; they can also be used for SMS texts, instant messaging (IM), emails, Internet access, and function as a contacts directory and diary. In addition, there is an increasingly diverse range of other apps used for business. The trend has been termed the bring your own device (BYOD) phenomenon, where users - rather than employers - specify and buy a mobile device of their choice.
Those working in the telecoms industry already know that there has been a steady decline in sales of traditional desk phones, with figures showing serious annual falls, including a dramatic drop of 19 per cent in 2009 compared with 2008, according to figures produced by Canalys. Even allowing for the impact of the recession a decline by nearly one fifth in sales is an indicator of a significant paradigm shift.
Unified communications is resolving the challenges of BYOD
The biggest counter to the BYOD trend is the loss of control this presents to businesses. The use of personal devices and the issuing of private mobile phone numbers have serious legal and security implications.
If personal mobile numbers are given to business contacts, then those contacts are lost from the enterprise when an employee leaves and they remain the intellectual property of the employee, who may have left to work for a competitor.
The use of personal mobile devices also means that the enterprise has no rights to emails, phone logs and messaging history even though it has a responsibility for the employee's business communications. Personal devices may also provide an entry point for hackers into the enterprise's ICT systems. With no control over the applications used on the device, the enterprise may also find itself compromised by the use of pirated software and inappropriate content.
To mitigate these issues, many businesses are following a fixed-mobile convergence policy as part of an overall unified communications (UC) solution. The simplest way to achieve this is to download a mobile client app onto a device so it can be used as an extension of a UC system, such as Microsoft Lync. Mobile device users can then benefit from having access to phone system features such as transferring calls, making conference calls and access to the corporate directory. They may also get 'presence' information on colleagues' availability.
Furthermore, this meets the enterprise's requirement for cost control, management oversight and data security. A UC 'one-number' solution can allow the enterprise to retain ownership of the phone number by providing a single number to contact a staff member regardless of their location or the communications device that they are using.
The explosion of UC in the workplace
The evolution of the latest UC telephony solutions with integration of mobile devices provides more flexible, agile working practices allowing people to work remotely and across multiple locations. In today's office environment it's important not to be confined to a desk phone but to have several communication possibilities.
Consequently, UC as a technological architecture is about to become standard in many enterprises. The worldwide total for premises-based UC was £7.59 billion in 2011 and is projected to grow to £12.95 billion in 2016, according to a report by UC Strategies.
The uptake of UC is being driven by the compelling savings that can result. Research by Microsoft in a whitepaper called 'Achieving Cost and Resource Savings with Unified Communications' states that businesses can save around £560 annually per person if they deploy UC solutions. By reducing meetings, employees not only save travel costs but also spend more time on the job rather than travelling from one location to another.
Enterprises want to benefit from the cost-savings and efficiencies offered by UC with on-screen information including presence, instant messaging and unified messaging. The need for on-screen UC deployment is driving the adoption of hosted UC clients.
The professional headset as the BYO device of choice
As many users are connecting to the UC system using softphone client apps via their preferred BYOD terminal of choice, headset attach rates have increased. For privacy and clarity in a business environment, a headset of some description must be used with the mobile terminal device. A headset is also a preferable option because it allows the user to write, or type while talking. Consequently, as sales of traditional desk phones plummet, sales of professional business headsets are soaring.
As a result, the IT market research company Frost & Sullivan estimates that 50 to 70 per cent of companies that buy a full UC solution equip their system with headsets rather than conventional desk phones.
Due to this shift, the global enterprise headset market is set to double in value from £684.8 million currently to around £1.37 billion by 2019. Of this, UC optimised headsets are expected to represent 37 per cent of the total market revenue. As users switch from a desk phone to headset use, they require a headset suitable for all-day wearing that is comfortable and provides premium audio quality. This is unlikely to be provided by the basic 'ear bud' headphones that came in the box with their device.
What makes business headsets so attractive to employees?
There are a number of factors that make headsets optimised for UC solutions a better choice than a basic headset. Optimised headsets enable plug-and-play connectivity, eliminating conflict issues. For essential call control operations, an optimised headset allows the user to manage functions such as answering and ending calls; adjusting volume or muting the call; and last number redial.
Of course a user can do this onscreen with a softphone app, but call control via the headset is a real advantage when using a wireless headset. With a wireless headset optimised for UC, the user can move around the workplace while managing calls, giving flexibility and mobility.
Another critical factor is hearing clarity and speech intelligibility. Customers migrating from a conventional desk phone to a softphone client with a headset for voice communications can experience a drop in sound quality. But optimised headsets can offer true wideband audio when connected to a UC system increasing the frequency spectrum to give better sound quality and speech recognition. This is achieved by advanced speaker and microphone designs, developed to meet the Wideband TIA 920 standard required by many manufacturers of phone systems and handsets.
Headsets designed for professional business use incorporate features such as noise-cancelling microphones and health and safety technology, providing in-built protection against acoustic shock and sudden sound surges.
Headsets sold in retail outlets are often designed for occasional light use and cannot offer the durability, comfort and audio quality of the business grade alternatives. Consequently, it's important for buyers to focus on the real benefits of a business-grade headset and the total cost of ownership over the life of the product, rather than on an initial price point.
Jane Craven is Director of Sales for Sennheiser UK Telecoms.
Image: Flickr (Victor1558)