I wrote earlier that UC is about a fundamental paradigm shift in the communications industry: a shift away from appliances towards software. In a UC future, communication will happen through software applications connected to general-purpose IP networks, rather than through dedicated appliances connected to special-purpose networks.
In reality, however, Unified Communications is very much in its infancy today. Most vendors' UC products focus primarily on instant messaging and web conferencing, and offer only rudimentary voice and video capabilities. As a result these products are a long ways away from displacing traditional telephony-based communications Moreover, while most VoIP vendors offer soft phones, most users prefer the feel of a handset and seem reluctant to give up their phones and handsets in favor of soft phones. Left to its own devices, I believe it will take 5 to 10 years before the communications industry is dominated by UC software.
The one technology, however, that has the potential to accelerate the move towards UC software is desktop video. Unlike audio, customers expect desktop video to be a software product rather than an appliance. This is somewhat ironic, since clearly video is a more challenging medium than audio and could benefit from additional hardware acceleration. However, while users want to hold on to their telephones, they resist strongly deploying appliances for desktop video and insist on all-software solutions instead. So, video has the required elements today (all-software and all-IP) of the envisioned Unified Communications future.
For Unified Communications and Collaboration software vendors, this offers the following opportunity: rather than trying to compete with software-only VoIP systems, UC software vendors should embrace video as a way to leapfrog the VoIP market altogether, and focus instead on accelerating the UC market with video-centric unified communications software