In unified communications the last metre refers to the interface between a user and the UC end point. Generally this is a handset or headset for audio or a USB camera for video. The quality and performance of the device used in the last metre of your UC solution will have a huge impact on the overall success of any deployment. Even the best designed server and network deployment can be a complete failure if your users are experiencing poor quality audio and video.
We have seen many cases where users report poor quality audio. Often the IT admin’s first response is that there must be a problem with QoS or the network, yet most time the problem is actually caused by a poor audio device. Fortunately for us Microsoft Lync provides excellent reporting on calls that allows us to check what audio device was used for every call. We can also see the perceived network conditions at the time of the call including whether or not a wireless network was used, plus a whole raft of other performance and quality metrics.
The most common audio quality problems are caused by users using their PC/Laptop built-in microphone/speaker.
Microsoft has also made choosing a quality device easy for everyone with the “Optimized for Microsoft Lync” certification. This open certification ensures that devices meet a minimum set of quality standards and also ensures that the devices are truly plug and play and provide an optimized user experience.
You will see the certification on many types of devices, from entry level to high end, including headsets, handsets, speaker phones, cameras, laptops, and even PC’s.
Microsoft maintains a list of certified devices here: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/lync/gg278164
Choosing the right devices for your workforce can be tricky. You will most likely require more than one model of device to suit the needs of different workforce profiles. If you are in the process of deploying devices for unified communications contact Generation-e so we can arrange for some devices for you to try in your environment.
To hear more about how audio devices can affect your call quality check out this session from Microsoft TechEd 2012. Don Kerr from Plantronics and Andrew Ehrensing from Microsoft explain (in the later part of the video) some of the requirements for the Lync Optimized certification and demonstrate how poor audio devices can affect quality.