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Mobile unified communications products

Paul DeBeasi, contributing writer

Individuals increasingly work from nontraditional office environments and expect to use their mobile phones wherever they work. At a time when the mobile workforce is growing, enterprises are deploying Internet Protocol (IP) telephony

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and unified communications (UC) solutions. IP telephony systems provide new capabilities to virtualize communications across the enterprise, breaking the linkage between a user and a single physical telephone. UC integrates many forms of communication -- email, voice, instant messaging, presence -- across various hardware and software platforms and also integrates communication into business applications and processes. Many organizations have begun the process of integrating their various communications applications and services.

Isolated mobile users

Unfortunately, the mobile phone user still operates largely outside this environment. For many people, the mobile telephone is simply a means to make and receive phone calls -- nothing more. Smartphones, such as the iPhone, BlackBerry Storm or those based on Windows Mobile, may offer additional features like mobile messaging and calendar synchronization, but they often lack the ability to give mobile users the same access to communications services offered by a desktop phone in the office. In effect, the mobile phone operates outside the enterprise private branch exchange (PBX) or telephony service.

These mobile users must endure numerous inconveniences, including dependence on two phones (desktop and mobile), two phone numbers, two voice mailboxes, and two contact directories. When a user is away from his desk, a call to the desktop phone can result in a missed call, voicemail, and caller frustration. Similarly, a call to the mobile phone when the user is busy can result in voicemail -- but in a different voicemail system, frustrating both caller and user. In addition, mobile users do not have access to corporate phone directories, and they must often use full 10-digit dialing when calling another employee who may be just down the hall.

Emergence of mobile UC products

Numerous vendors are introducing products to enable mobile users to access many of the same features and services that previously could be accessed only through a PC or fully featured desktop IP telephone. The goal is to enable the enterprise to extend telephony features to its mobile users while making them more productive, irrespective of location. Some products take advantage of the increasing intelligence of the mobile phone, while others insert themselves between the public switched telephone network (PSTN) and users' various communications services.

Current product offerings in the mobile UC space vary widely. Some products provide a high level of integration between mobile phones and enterprise communications applications (such as presence management, voicemail, and conferencing systems); others are designed simply to give users more options in how they receive incoming calls.

Three well-defined classes of products have emerged, though specific product capabilities within each class vary by vendor (and by mobile platform within a particular vendor's solution). The three classes are:

  • Mobile extension solutions, which intercept incoming calls and route them to the preferred device. Mobile extension solutions treat the mobile device as if it were an enterprise phone extension. Examples include Avaya's Extension to Cellular, Mitel's Dynamic Extension, and Nortel's Mobile Extension.
  • Mobile client solutions, which rely on phone-based clients to enable users to manage their personal communications services and also give the enterprise the ability to manage phones remotely. Mobile client solutions rely on an application server to act as a proxy between the client on the phone and the various enterprise communications applications. Examples include Siemens' Openscape MobileConnect, Cicso's Unified Mobile Communicator, and Avaya's One-X Mobile.
  • Fixed mobile convergence (FMC) solutions, which rely on dual-mode phones (mobile cellular and Wi-Fi) and phone-based clients to enable users to roam seamlessly between wireless LAN (WLAN) and cellular networks. Examples include Agito's RoamAnywhere and DiVitas' Mobile Unified Communication.

Mobile UC issues

Perhaps the biggest issue is the limitations of the products themselves. Mobile extension features are limited to the routing of phone calls; they do not provide for a phone-based client that can access applications such as a visual menu of voicemail messages, nor do they give users the ability to change their presence information via the phone.

Mobile client and FMC solutions generally provide a richer set of features, but systems' capabilities vary greatly, and -- perhaps more important -- capabilities will vary based on both handset and service provider. For example, RIM's Mobile Voice System Client supports only BlackBerry devices.

What these limitations mean is that it is difficult for an enterprise to deliver a service that supports all the handsets that employees are likely to have. Rather, the enterprise can support only a limited number of user devices, meaning that, at some level, the enterprise will probably have to dictate policies for mobile telephones. This will either limit user choice or require that users with nonstandard mobile phones obtain new devices.

Conclusion

Mobile UC products offer enterprises the ability to integrate mobile devices with their IP telephony and UC systems. These solutions give employees the ability to enjoy many of the same features on their mobile phones that previously were available only on desktop phones and softphones. Products vary greatly among vendors and mobile devices. Over time, mobile UC will become a standard feature of enterprise IP telephony UC systems. Enterprises should carefully evaluate mobile UC products in order to make informed decisions about which solutions to deploy.

 

About the author: Paul DeBeasi is a senior analyst at the Burton Group and has more than 25 years of experience in the networking industry. Before joining the Burton Group, Paul founded ClearChoice Advisors, a wireless consulting firm, and was the VP of product marketing at Legra Systems, a wireless-switch innovator. Prior to Legra, he was the VP of product marketing at startups IPHighway and ONEX Communications and was also the frame relay product line manager for Cascade Communications. Paul began his career developing networking systems as a senior engineer at Bell Laboratories, Prime Computer and Chipcom Corp. He holds a BS degree in systems engineering from Boston University and a master of engineering degree in electrical engineering from Cornell University.

Paul is a well-known conference speaker and has spoken at many events, among them Interop, Next Generation Networks, Wi-Fi Planet and Internet Telephony.


This was first published in April 2009

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