At the Lync Conference in February, Gurdeep Singh Pall, Microsoft Corporate VP for Lync and Skype Engineering said,

“The era of universal communications is here to stay. That’s what the next decade is going to be about. It’s going to change your and my life. In fact, 1 billion people in this decade will use Microsoft universal communications.”

Lync-Skype Chief: ‘Era of Universal Communications Is Here’ – Redmond Channel Partner

Bold words. Very ambitious. But are they realistic?

I’d sure like to think we’ll have universal VoIP (with video!) by 2024 or so. The capabilities it would generate for everyone – huge opportunities for developing countries, more expansion away from crowded cities, simple & powerful businesses popping up everywhere…

The problem is, I’m not sure 10 years is a realistic goal.

Why? There’s one small problem…and it’s not one Microsoft can fix by itself.

The Problem Isn’t Microsoft, It’s Internet

It’s not that I don’t believe MS couldn’t pull off the tech angle. They’re already a long way toward it. Lync Server, Lync Online, Azure cloud services, Skype federation, better hardware all the time, worldwide reach, huge development team…

They can make Lync-style Voice over IP universal. I believe that.

What I question is the infrastructure. High-speed Internet infrastructure capable of supporting Voice over IP, and related technologies like video and conferencing.

The Difficulty in Getting Fiber Connections (Even for Businesses)

Let me tell you a brief story. Some months ago we contacted Comcast about getting a high-speed connection into our datacenter. We wanted it for secure backups, cloud service, and – of course – the fastest Lync calling speeds we could get.Universal Communications Loading...

But Comcast wasn’t interested. They would have had to pull a new line into the area. That meant workers and downtime. Both of which they wanted us to pay for. Up front.

So we talked to AT&T. Fortunately, AT&T WAS interested. In fact, AT&T was happy to do the fiber setup, plus cover the cost! It’s part of a program they have running to help turn on fiber connections for local business use.

Read the whole story (and the AT&T program’s details) at our main blog: The Fiber Option: Super-Fast Internet for Innovation District Businesses (And Beyond) – PlanetMagpie Blog

So our connection problem was solved. But, one has to ask – if this is a common issue in rolling out high-speed Internet connections, how long will it take for a “bandwidth build-out” big enough to support Pall’s Universal Communications?

The Form Universal Communications will Take

From the Channel Partner article: “Pall defined universal communications as having five pillars: global reach through the cloud, video everywhere, the ability to work across all devices, context and application intelligence, and a consistent experience for work and life.”

1 billion people using all these services in the next decade? Tall order.

In terms of present technology in use, we’re not that far off. Global reach via the cloud and consistent work/life experiences can be had. The sticking points will come with ‘video everywhere’ and ‘ability to work across all devices.’

Mr. Pall is most bullish on the video. I agree with his notion that “you should be able to reach anybody anywhere in the world with video.” However, video does require bandwidth to support it. While we have lots of bandwidth going around via mobile 3G/4G tech, it hasn’t reached worldwide saturation yet.

I think the form Universal Communications will take is very similar to Pall’s 5 pillars. Though all of them will require a foundation of solid, universal Internet access. That comes not only from technology, but economics. Which is why it won’t happen all at once.

What I Think Will Happen: Staged, Cyclical Spread of High-Speed Internet & Lync

Stage 1: Lync Online receives PSTN calling. (Yay!)
Stage 2: Further expansion of Lync Server/Cisco/RingCentral implementations for VoIP
Stage 3: Infrastructure Build-outs (Fiber, wide-area Wi-Fi, etc.)
Stage 4: Cycle between Stage 2 & 3, expanding their areas of influence as they go
Stage 5: True Universal Communications

Stages 1 and 2 are proceeding. According to an RPC article last week, Lync Server 2013 deployment is expanding like crazy. (Our own IT consultants are also seeing more interest for Lync among Silicon Valley businesses.)

It’s only a matter of time before Microsoft delivers on the “PSTN Calling for Lync Online Users” promise. Stage 3 is where we’ll either see rapid expansion toward “Universal Communications”…or we’ll see economics slow things down.

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What do you think? Is infrastructure the key to Universal Communications, or a potential slowdown? Please leave a comment or email. We love to hear readers’ thoughts!

Why I Think “Universal Communications” is a Ways Off
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