Unified messaging use to surge

Unified messaging (UM) systems that provide users with one "mailbox" for all business-related communications, will become much more broadly adopted in the near future according to separate studies released recently by International Data Corp (IDC) and Ovum.

UM systems are appealing to companies because they promise to increase worker productivity by making it easier for them to manage, review and respond to voice, e-mail, short messages and fax communications using whatever device the employees choose - PC, telephone, mobile phone or handheld computer.

According to the IDC study, the number of unified messaging (UM) mailboxes bought by companies worldwide will increase from an estimated one million in 1999 to more than 38 million in 2004.

The Ovum study, which measured free UM services for users in the US, found that the number of free subscriptions has already surpassed 24 million. This is expected to grow to 34 million by 2002, but the proportion of free subscriptions in the overall market is expected to decline, Ovum believes.

The IDC report examined the market for UM applications sold for business usage. It found that the recent success of hosted UM applications, the growth of IP based PBXs and improvements to reliability and scalability have fuelled worldwide UM spending and mailbox growth. Vendor revenue in this market is expected to jump from $US132 million in 1999 to $US1.7 billion in 2004.

The Ovum report notes that it will become more and more difficult for all but the largest portals offering free UM services to run a viable UM business. In addition, as UM services become an indispensable working tool, the free services are likely to fall short of workers' needs and expectations. Consequently, subscriptions to free services are expected to decline steadily as a proportion of total subscriptions.

Ovum notes that service providers currently can tap into two fast growing sources of UM revenue - service subscription fees and fees from the increased usage of other network services such as voice mail access.

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