With headsets or conference speakers, such as the Jabra Speak, you often read information about Microsoft Certified (MS) and Unified Communications (UC). Most of the time you can buy these devices in these two different versions. What is behind this and whether it makes a big difference at all is not really clear in most product descriptions. At best, you can guess that one is optimised for Microsoft applications and the other is not. But what is the other one suitable for?
The two terms MS and UC always appear when hardware devices (audio devices, conference speakphone, handsfree) communicate with software. The software is then softphones, video conferencing systems, such as Skype, Zoom, Teams, GoToMeeting, or media players.
What is Unified Communications (UC)?
Reducing it to audio output devices is too short-sighted. Rather, Unfied Communication is a whole platform of managed functions that are usually combined under one (software) interface. In the case of audio devices, it then only means that they support UC software and can communicate with it in a uniform manner.
Translated into German, one would speak of “unified communication“. This means that all possible forms of communication, from classic telephony and fax to chats, e-mail, wikis and video conferences, are combined under one platform. This platform can then be used at any time, as independently of devices and locations as possible. In my view, a typical example of Unified Communications is Microsoft Teams.
There are 4 typical components of Unified Communications (UC):
The aim here is to unify as many communication channels as possible under one platform. Most communication channels are based on TCP/IP or UDP technologies. However, classic systems (telephony, fax) can also be integrated. The various channels can then be managed via the UC system so that, for example, the appropriate communication channel is selected depending on the situation, e.g. chat or video call. At the same time, it can be managed that the information is sent to the appropriate device (desktop, smartphone, etc.), if necessary also depending on the time of day.
The presence function provides the participants of the UC system with information about the status of the other participants. Especially when you are no longer physically working together in a building or room, you do not know what situation the other employees are in. Whether they are in a meeting, on a business trip, attending a video conference or sketching a new concept. The presence function in a UC system provides information about this as automatically as possible.
Context integration then goes one step further and makes it possible, for example, to integrate and display status information in other applications and third-party software modules. So if the name of a UC participant appears in another application, for example, as the last person to edit a document, then it is also displayed there at the same time, for example, whether he or she is “online“. If possible, communication can then be started immediately from the third-party application, for example a chat.
Another case of context integration is when, for example, a customer enquiry lands in the UC system, that the UC system then immediately pulls all the relevant data on this customer from the CRM (Customer Relationship Management) of a third-party provider and presents it. Typical Call Centre and Support Centre functions.
The cooperation functions serve the (virtual) cooperation of different people. For this purpose, functions are integrated in the respective UC system with which one can share applications, share screens or jointly edit a document.
Microsoft Certified (MS)
Microsoft offers a certification process to software and hardware manufacturers which, through many different tests, ensures that the respective software or hardware works safely and correctly with Microsoft products, such as Windows or Skype for Business. Only if one has passed this certification process is one allowed to adorn oneself with this label. You can find out whether a device is Microsoft Certified on the Microsoft pages. These products then meet the respective requirements to interact flawlessly with other Microsoft products.
MS or UC in conference speakers, speakerphones, headsets
With this knowledge, one can now state that hardware products with the label Microsoft Certified also always support Unified Communications system. So what is the difference between Microsoft Certified hardware and UC Certified products?
There is not necessarily a difference. The fact that manufacturers of conference speakers, hands-free devices and headsets sell variants with Microsoft Certified and Unified Communications can also have purely marketing-related reasons. Microsoft certification costs money and effort, so why not sell and advertise with these labels?
However, there can be small, subtle differences in such devices. These are usually in the operation of the devices. For example, the buttons for loud and quiet or the button for answering calls. When these are pressed, specific commands must be generated that are understood by Skype, GoToMeeting or a Cisco softphone. These can be different. And if you have all three applications installed, a Microsoft certified speakerphone will automatically answer the call via Skype while the video conference continues in Zoom and the audio is output via a soundbar. The correct audio output device is then automatically recognised without having to make any complicated settings.
Special keys are also conceivable for such MS-certified devices, which then only function in interaction with Skype, Teams or Windows Media Player.