Unified Communications Defined and Other Terms to Know

Unified Communications is at the heart of the solutions that Sangoma provides. Because we’re immersed in it, it can be easy to forget that not everyone knows the lingo like we do. That’s why we thought a quick guide to all the Unified Communications terms defined could prove useful. This list is obviously not exhaustive as there are literal dictionaries dedicated to telephony jargon. But it should be a sufficient reference for most partners, customers, and info-seekers, especially those who are not super “tech-y”.

One Term to Rule them All

The item with which any list of Unified Communications terms defined must begin is obvious. Unified Communications, of course. Unified Communications (UC) is a term used to describe a business phone system that integrates, or unifies, a spectrum of communication technologies and methods into a single platform.

A UC solution combines your phone, voicemail, instant messaging, chat, fax, conference and video calling, IVR, and so much more. All of these form a platform that integrates easily with email, web apps, social media, CRM (customer relationship management) solutions, customer support tracking systems, and even industry-specific software.

UC Acronyms to Know

Here’s a quick rundown of important acronyms. To find these Unified Communications terms defined, skip down to the sections after this quick list.

  • ACD – Automatic Call Distribution
  • API – Application Programming Interface
  • BYOD – Bring your Own Device
  • CRM – Customer Relationship Management
  • IM – Instant Messaging
  • IP – Internet Protocol
  • ITSP – Internet Telephony Service Provider
  • IVR – Interactive Voice Response
  • LAN – Local Area Network
  • PBX – Private Branch Exchange
  • PoE – Power over Ethernet
  • PSTN – Public Switched Telephone Network
  • QoS – Quality of Service
  • SBC – Session Border Controller
  • SLA – Service Level Agreement
  • SIP – Session Initiation Protocol
  • SMB – Small to Medium Business
  • UCaaS – Unified Communications as a Service
  • VPN – Virtual Private Network
  • VoIP – Voice over Internet Protocol
  • WebRTC – Web Real Time Communication

Unified Communications Terms Defined – The Basics

Private Branch Exchange (PBX)

Essentially, the PBX is a business phone system. Anyone who has used a business phone system in the last two decades or so has been using a PBX. It takes all the calls received and directs them where they need to go. In addition to efficiently managing call routing, it also connects phones within an office to each other. This is cost-effective because it means that each phone doesn’t require a separate phone line.

Voice over IP (VoIP)

The human voice is an analog waveform, so it requires conversion to be transmitted over the internet. VoIP (commonly pronounced ‘voyp’) is the whole spectrum of technologies and standards required to transmit voice communications over the internet. Because it eliminates the need to have separate networks for voice and data, it streamlines infrastructure and saves money.

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

BYOD is an exciting trend that is increasingly becoming the norm for business communications. Modern UC platforms allow interoperability across many mobile platforms, including iOS, Android, various tablets, and even home phones. This means that employees can bring their own preferred device with them. With BYOD, they no longer must carry a separate dedicated mobile device for work!

Interactive Voice Response (IVR)

An IVR is the automated attendant that answers and assists customers on the phone. It saves businesses time and money by handling the repetitive task of answering and transferring calls. Some IVRs can even handle advanced functions like payments, retrieving or receiving information, and more.

Application Programming Interface (API)

An API is the piece of the system that allows developers to integrate third-party software to extend system functionality. It provides the flexibility to tailor a phone system beyond standard features to augment and optimize business processes.


This is not necessarily a set-in-stone standard, but it is a common way to refer to features that allow business phone functionality to extend beyond the office. This can be various call forwarding methods as well as softphone applications, among other features.

Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)

Data transfer on the internet is governed by protocols so that computers know what to do when. SIP is the set of signaling protocols that indicate data packets regarding connections between telephones or VoIP stations. Very advanced stuff. What does it means for the average phone user? Lines of communication that were once physical lines can be virtualized and trunked digitally. This streamlines infrastructure needs and cuts costs.

Other Unified Communications Terms Defined

Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) – Especially useful to offices that receive large amounts of inbound calls, an ACD answers and distributes calls to available agents automatically.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) – Common in any business that involves client communication and long term retention, CRM platforms (Salesforce, Oracle, etc.) make interactive client records that integrate with other office tools, especially UC systems.

Instant Messaging (IM) – All in the name, instant messaging is a form of internet text transmission that facilitates communication in real time without the pretense of a telephone call.

Internet Protocol (IP) – IP is the most important protocol. Its function is to deliver packets of data from a source host to a destination based on IP addresses on the packets. This protocol essentially establishes the internet.

Internet Telephony Service Provider (ITSP) – Companies like Sangoma are ITSPs. This is because Sangoma provide voice services (and a lot of other things!) facilitated by VoIP.

Local Area Network (LAN) – As opposed to a Wide Area Network (like the Internet), LANs are restricted to a limited area, such as a building or campus and are typically used for internal communication, file-sharing, and collaboration.

Power over Ethernet (PoE) – Simply put, this allows data and electric power to pass through a single cable, so connection and the charging/power supply are the same.

Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) – This is all of the world’s telephone networks combined. This includes every form of network connection from analog phone lines to fiber optic cable to cellular networks and more.

Quality of Service (QoS) – One of the most important considerations, this is a measurement of the performance of a service like a telephone line or internet connection. To guarantee QoS, UC solutions establish network settings to prioritize the phone system over other forms of data transfer.

Session Border Controller (SBC) – An SBC is a device in many VoIP systems that allows the system to maintain control over signaling and data transmission, which assures QoS and network security.

Service Level Agreement (SLA) – An SLA is the contract you sign with a service provider that specifies the service, the price, and the various legal rights and responsibilities for each party. SLAs are especially important for call centers who try to guarantee reliable customer satisfaction. UC solutions are especially helpful because UC services can be flexibly deployed to meet changing demands, while the convergence of communications saves time and increases productivity.

Small to Medium Business (SMB) – An important classification not only for financial, legal, and tax reasons, but also as a measurement of technological needs. An SMB is any business with less than a thousand employees (with a small business being any with 100 or fewer). An SMB will obviously have much different technology needs compared to a large enterprise.

Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS)UCaaS is a business model that replaces capital expenditure with operational by moving Unified Communications from an on-premise setup to a cloud-based service.

Virtual Private Network (VPN) – VPNs are an amazing security innovation that allows users to access a private network via a public connection as though they were directly connected to the private network. The network connections are virtualized through encryption.

Web Real Time Communication (WebRTC) – This is a standard for enabling real-time communication through a web browser with Javascript APIs.

Next Steps

With all these Unified Communications terms defined, you’re ready to navigate the vast realm of VoIP telecommunications. Now that you know the lingo, learn how unifying your communications can upgrade your business. Download our free eBook, How Unified Communications Improves Businesses, and learn 128 ways implementing UC can benefit your organization. 


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