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Many enterprises are looking to unified communications (UC) products to increase productivity and simplify communications. However, adoption of UC solutions has long been a challenge, both financially and technologically, for those wanting the most out of UC.

AT&T is aiming to simplify the transition to UC with a cloud-based offering that eliminates much of the hardware, integration and installation challenges usually associated with a UC project. AT&T Unified Communications Services helps organizations control costs and eliminate unpredictable expenditures.

The cloud is an important new market for legacy telecom vendors such as AT&T, Philbert Shih, managing director at Structure Research, a telecom industry analysis firm, told eWEEK. "The telco sector has cloud on its radar and bought its way in, as the CenturyLink, Verizon, Windstream and Time Warner deals over the last year clearly show. AT&T already has hosting assets but may have chosen to partner in order to first get its feet wet with a relatively new audience and market segment."

The partnering Shih refers to is based on a rumored agreement between hosting service provider SoftLayer and AT&T. "The decision to partner rather than build this capability is a testament to the difficulty of engineering an infrastructure delivery platform," Shih said.

"AT&T choosing SoftLayer speaks not just to the maturity of SoftLayer’s technology, but the infrastructure expertise that lies within the hosting industry, the original home of infrastructure service delivery or what is now known as cloud computing," he said.  

"It is the hosting infrastructure sector, or telcos that have acquired hosts, that is likely to emerge as the main rival to Amazon Web Services in the cloud computing market," Shih reasons.

AT&T’s "UC Central integrates multiple communications and collaboration tools such as IM/chat, email, VOIP calling, Web/audio and video conferencing, voicemail, unified messaging and mobility with presence behind a single user interface designed for both PC and mobile usage," the company said in a statement.

"AT&T UC Voice provides high quality IP Telephony (IPT) from the AT&T cloud and can be used both as a stand-alone service or integrated with AT&T UC Central. There is no need to buy new PBXs and software licenses, or renew maintenance contracts," the statement said.

AT&T UC Voice uses the Cisco Hosted Collaboration Solution (HCS) platform as the foundation of this cloud service, according to the company.

"With AT&T Unified Communications Services, individuals have full access to all of their communications tools at the tips of their fingers," AT&T’s Shawn Conroy, vice president of Voice, Collaboration and Unified Communications Services, AT&T Business Solutions, said during a press call on the new service.

Conroy noted that the combination of cloud services and UC offerings creates an efficient environment. "Not only can this service leverage an organization’s existing investments to improve business collaboration, it also provides an easy transition from where a customer is today to where they want to be tomorrow without incurring significant capital expenses," he said.

Shih wonders if AT&T’s launch of the service is a precursor to other investments in the cloud. "Could this be a precursor to acquisition down the road? It might be," he said. "But for now AT&T is more concerned with getting up and running in cloud before the competitive landscape shifts away from it."

AT&T will host a Virtual Launch event Jan. 26 to showcase the capabilities of this new unified communications as a service offering.

To read the original eWeek article, click here: ATandT Launches Cloud Unified Communications Service