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Inside Unified Communications in the Smart Office Environment

Fri 12 Nov 2021

How would you define ‘unified communications’ (UC)? What does it consist of and what does it do, what functions can be ‘unified’?

At Altona, our general definition of UC is the capability to combine many disparate devices within a single system. The point being, is to make connecting as simple for the operator in a meeting room as possible. It shouldn’t matter what manufacturers’ devices are being used, it will be a seamless unified connection and user experience.

More than ever before, people are using various pieces of equipment to connect to each other and to organisations’ in-house networks, communications, and presentations systems. These users may be in the same room or linking in from a huddle area in the building, or in a different location. However, they need all these devices to work together seamlessly, and without the need for a technician to set them up.

Many organisations’ staff are spending less time in the office, which means they will have less familiarity with the installed AV systems, when they are at the office. Therefore, it is essential that today users can walk into a meeting, virtual or otherwise, and easily plug their device into an AV system, such as our Omega platform and link to all the available devices, such as the monitors, the sound bar, and USB camera, plus allow other BYOD to share access to the same USB devices. This is now one connection for the laptop and is increasingly becoming a wireless cast operation for that same laptop or mobile device.

What business needs does UC satisfy, what benefits does it bring? How do organisations know they need it?

A key need, in rapidly changing working environments, is for effective communications for teams. With multiple collaboration and web-conferencing platforms available, the capability to simply connect to the favoured platforms such as Zoom, or Teams has become essential. When these systems work uniformly and easily the users shouldn’t have to think about the technology supporting their increased capability to present effectively.

In our busy working lives, we are increasingly moving away from systems that require presenters arriving early to set up the presentation room. Systems, such as our Omega series, now allow for a higher level of integration. Also, becoming increasingly popular in collaboration spaces are touch panels, like our Velocity series, that provide access to system power, source switching, and PTZ camera controls or presets.  More importantly these can also provide a touch-free experience by accessing an occupancy sensor to detect when someone enters the space. The panel will wake and provide a QR or pin code allowing the user to log into the room’s AV platform and cast from the BYOD to the room screen.

What key technologies are involved in UC?

Key technologies that add benefits for the users and organisations, are devices such as wireless presentation systems, speaker mics, PTZ cameras, and presentation bars, usually set up below the monitor, the latest versions of these are equipped with internal cameras, speakers, and DSP for better sound quality.  Essential to all of these is the Bluetooth, NFT and other IoT technologies and protocols that allow the various devices to handshake and communicate with increasing speed and volume of data.

Occupancy sensors like the Atlona OCS-900N are a technology that will increase the tailoring of systems to the individual. These sensors live on the network to communicate with select Atlona products and our Velocity system to automatically control AV components based on whether the space is occupied.

How are they generally delivered?

Atlona has various products that utilise AV over IP, which is a flexible, scalable, and cost-effective AV distribution platform.  This capability delivers the performance and reliability of traditional AV with the unrestricted scalability and cost efficiency of integrating over data networks.

Our Wireless Audio-Visual Environment (WAVE) is a wireless presentation system designed for speedy content sharing from iOS, Android, Mac, Chromebook, or Windows devices. Quick and easy connection to Apple AirPlay, Goggle Cast and Miracast, from users’ preferred laptops and devices.

How do they fit together? How readily can they be ‘unified’? How can buyers ensure a good user experience and good technical performance?

For the user’s BYOD, the meeting room is now easy to connect to.  The organisation’s AV platform has become easy to use, due to increased sophistication of the installed platforms that support users’ BYOD requirements.

We always recommend professional design and installation of these systems, to ensure seamless capability and support, created to fulfil the customer’s requirements. DIY installations, using retail products, such as 4K 55inch TV monitors can result in systems that cannot offer the range of control or connectivity options required by the other elements of a system or its multiple users.

Commercial functions such as, ‘Wake on LAN’ (WOL), which switch on monitors when LAN activity is detected, are increasingly used on professional AV, but not available on retail supplied monitors.

Most major professional AV systems manufacturers provide certification courses and work to ensure designers and installers are qualified and can optimise systems for customer’s needs and room requirements.

How can organisations successfully implement UC and maximise the benefits they derive from it?

We always recommend a professional AV designer and installer. Their experience is crucial to gaining a realistic overview of what is available, achievable, and affordable.

Consistency is essential to a successful implementation of an AV system. Key to the system is knowing what the room will be used for and how the users will interact with the available systems. Is it an executive board room or a huddle space? These areas require different capabilities, although there must be a consistent design to ensure maximum BYOM (Bring Your Own Meeting) ease of use.

Systems, such as, WAVE-101, use its own wireless access point or the corporate Wi-Fi installation to communicate with a user’s device as they enter a room. The system greets them with a QR or pin to access the system, providing seamless, fast access reducing the wasted time during a meeting.

UC success is not necessarily about the amount of money spent, there are modular systems such as our Omega series that offer a comprehensive solution, while provide for additional capabilities to be added as the requirements increase. However, piecemeal, or unplanned development will result in an environment that probably will not meet the organisation’s needs, the connectivity requirements of users, or any future connectivity needs.

What are the main issues and pitfalls for buyers and users of UC solutions?

The market for business AV systems has expanded massively, and therefore a key issue is an incompatibility.  Also, manufacturers, like Altona, make our systems easy to use and operate. The user operation is simple. However, behind the GUI (graphical user interface), the technology integration relies on compatible products and the expertise of trained designers and integrators to ensure the simplicity of the operation of a customer’s AV system.

Therefore, organisations need to exploit the experienced design and integration teams using industry-leading compatible AV platforms, to design systems for their organisation’s needs. This is the optimal way to eliminate installation and support issues.

How do you think UC will develop over the next few years?

The AV and IT convergence has happened, and we are in the AV adoption phase. AV over IP is allowing AV systems to share the structured cabling systems that the organisation’s IT departments previously dominated. Increasing data volumes are being consumed by AV applications and IT teams are beginning to accept that AV can coexist with IT data streams on the network.

As we move forward we envisage that increasing numbers of applications moving to the network, such as, occupancy sensors that will utilise AV systems, like Velocity, and Building Environment data to offer greater user-tailored applications over the network, in real time.

Smaller, more powerful chips will allow devices to integrate more and expand the user capability, such as systems bars, like our Omega devices, to offer more capabilities, to reduce devices, reduce their size, and increase the quality of the AV results.

For more information: www.atlona.com


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