Untethering the User From the Device with SIP

Those of you (like me) of “a certain age” might remember that your first work telephone was probably an analog 2500 set that looked a lot like this.


It was fine for making and receiving calls, but that was about it.  It had no Bluetooth integration for a headset or a display for caller ID.   If you knew the flash codes you might be able to perform a conference or transfer, but who remembered those? I certainly didn’t.

Still, for the most part, it was good enough for the times. This was especially true since we had nothing better to compare it to. We had very similar analog telephones at home and so our expectations weren’t very high. You can’t miss something you’ve never had.

As time went by, that analog telephone was replaced with a digital set that supported advanced telephony features without you having to remember all those awkward flash codes. Through simple button clicks, you could conference, transfer, hold, park, and retrieve calls.  It had a display for calling name and number.  You also had non call feature such as forward and that annoying voice mail light.

However, even with the arrival of better technology, not a lot had changed. You were still tied to that phone number and therefore your desk. Mobility was a long cord and was talking on the phone while you read an email.

My identity was still a number on a phone that never moved.

As the PC became more and more a part of our work lives, it began taking on a larger role in how we communicated. We combined voicemail access with our email system. Instead of dialing a number and entering a password, we pointed, clicked, and listened.

The PC also introduced the world to the first wave of unified communications.   I installed my first integrated soft-phone, presence, and instant message application onto my PC sometime in the 1990’s. While it was advanced for its time, it was mostly built on proprietary protocols and offered few integration options.  Even worse, I was still tied to my desk.  Nothing had changed in that regard.

The invention of the notebook PC helped with mobility, but even that had significant limitations. It was too heavy for handheld access and it required a wired or wireless network for connectivity to the outside world.  It did me no good if I was trying to work from one of my kid’s baseball games. Even if there was a 3G or 4G network flying through the air, my PC had no way to connect to it.

Untethering the user

These days, the PC is not the end-all, do-all device that it once was. I spend as much, or sometime more time on my smart phone and tablet. Not only do they provide me with email, calendar, business applications, and those point-and-click voicemails, but I also get enterprise communications. SIP has allowed my mobile devices to become enterprise voice-enabled by simply downloading an application and pointing it at my company’s SBC.

More importantly than having a few more devices to carry around, my communications identity has become untethered from those pieces of metal and plastic. Communication is delivered to my phone. At the same time, it can also be delivered to my PC, iPhone, and iPad. I am no longer just a telephone number married to a desk. I am rooted when I need to be rooted. I am mobile when I need to be mobile.   You can reach me using my old fashioned telephone number. You can also reach me via my SIP name. My desk has become anywhere I happen to be at any given moment in time.

The SIP REGISTER command is used to “bind” a user name to a device.  Depending on the capabilities of your SIP system, you might be able to simultaneously register several devices to the same name.  For instance, Avaya allows you to register up to ten devices for a single user name.  Now, when that user is called, more than one device can be alerted and the user chooses which one to answer.  For me, I answer my 9641 when I am sitting at my desk and my One-X Mobile or Flare when I am out and about — same name or number, multiple devices, my choice.

By now, everyone should know that SIP is media agnostic.  It’s essential that folks realize that this registration flexibility makes it device and location agnostic, too.   Openness to all ways to communicate on all device types makes SIP the protocol for unified communications.

Any device, any time, any media…same user

Separating a user from his or her devices and telephone numbers is extremely powerful.   Not only do I get the aforementioned mobility and device independence, but I also get flexibility in the ways you can communicate with me. You can send me voice, video, or instant message using the exact same name. I don’t have to give you a list of different names, methodologies, or devices. I don’t need to tell you that from 8:00 to 10:00 I will be on this device at this location and from 10:00 to 1:00 I will be on a different device at another location. I don’t have to change names throughout the day in order to be reachable. The same name will find me wherever I am, on whatever device I am using, on any network I happen to connect to, and with any media type.

I will admit that there are certain aspects of the past that I am sad to see go away. I still love the rich sound of a vinyl record played through a tube amplifier. However, I do not miss being tied to my desk all day long. I love being able to pick when, where, and how I choose to do my job and that’s a very good thing.

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