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Feature Article
April 2003


IP Telephony Applications Go Wireless

BY LAURA THOMPSON

By 2006, industry analyst firm IDC predicts that 66 percent of U.S. workers will be mobile workers, either full- or part-time. This increasingly �wireless workforce� has a number of unique constraints and requirements that are bringing about dramatic changes to the business communications landscape, and a new class of mobile IP applications is arising to serve their needs.

Mobile workers have essentially driven the demand for constant connectivity, which has, in turn, fueled the rise of Wi-Fi, GSM/GPRS and other wireless technologies as well as new cross-functional devices such as PDA-style mobile phones. Wireless access is now available (or soon will be) in most airports, hotels, and other public locations, and at private sites such as the ubiquitous Starbucks chain of coffee houses.

Concurrently, mobile workers are increasingly using newer communications options such as SMS, instant messaging, and location- and presence-based services. This trend is over and above their current uses of traditional corporate applications like PBX services, conferencing, and other related services. The proliferation of communications services, including in-house phone systems, voice mail, e-mail, paging, mobile and landline phones, and other devices, contributes to mobile workers� overall productivity but creates new challenges in managing these diverse media. Further, for users, it means having to learn a number of different interfaces and commands to operate each separate system.

By blurring the lines between voice and data, IP-based networks and services allow new �blended� communications capabilities that can offer consolidated interfaces that are well-suited for mobile workers as well as their office-dwelling co-workers. For example, IP Centrex services replace in-house phone systems and bring new capabilities that offer users unparalleled control over who can reach them, where, when, and via which device. Users no longer have to give out multiple phone numbers to allow their important contacts to reach them, and need check only one mailbox rather than two or even three locations throughout the day.

To address the challenge of multiple interfaces, vendors of IP-based communications applications offer easy-to-use browser-based portals. For example, in many IP Centrex applications, portals consolidate control of PBX-type and related communications services into one manageable location while providing additional features such as call logs, centralized, searchable company-wide contact directories, synchronization with Microsoft Outlook directories, and hosted ACD services.

What if it were possible to make these same types of portals available to wireless remote users, via almost any wireless device? Among the chief advantages are that wireless users could be connected to the corporate communications network, with access to all of the corporate telephone services and productivity tools that their wired counterparts access on a daily basis. Further, wireless users would have not only the ability to make phone calls, but would gain access to many new communications options previously unavailable to them.

Using Web services and other open standards, portals can now be made available on almost any device a mobile worker might choose to use -- including browsers; applications such as Outlook; WAP, Wi-Fi, and GPRS-enabled mobile phones; and SIP phones, among others. The Web services model has achieved widespread success in the data world, by providing programmatic interfaces for application-to-application communication. This powerful model is a natural fit for the telecommunications world, as well -- and the wireless realm, with its divergent protocols and special requirements, is a perfect place to apply it.

The Web services model can be supported by a wide variety of devices and operating systems, spanning wireline and wireless devices, browsers, desktop applications, and many other applications and tools. Within this concept, additional protocols such as SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) team to provide the underlying framework that enables such advanced interconnectivity.

In practical usage, imagine this scenario: A salesperson working for a Chicago-based company is in Mobile, Alabama and needs to access the corporate network to look up the phone number of one of her clients, and check for messages at the same time. She stops in at a nearby Starbucks, and orders a tall non-fat latte. She doesn�t have her laptop with her, but she does have her new mobile PDA-type phone, and she can use that to accomplish the same thing -- and besides, it beats hauling a heavy laptop around everywhere.

Since Starbuck�s offers a Wi-Fi hotspot, users of an IP-Centrex type service can simply log on. Within seconds, she has connected to the corporate VPN and is busily checking her messages and then looking up client phone numbers. To make a call, she simply clicks on the number -- and the service connects her to the customer through the central IP Centrex server, which sends the caller ID of her office phone to protect her mobile identity.

After hanging up -- and finishing the latte -- she�s now heading into a large customer meeting where she�ll be tied up for several hours. She uses her phone�s wireless portal again to change her call forwarding settings, sending most calls directly to voice mail while more important callers are forwarded to the sales assistant back at corporate for immediate handling. On concluding the customer meeting, she has just one location to check for her latest voice messages.

As she drives to her next appointment she realizes that to do all of this even three years ago would have taken many phone calls and assistance from a secretary -- or she would have had to swing by the office first. Through mobile IP applications, she now has an unprecedented degree of control over her business communications, along with new flexible options that fit her workstyle.

As the mobile workforce grows, additional services and applications will be necessary to fulfill the needs of this unique segment. Through IP-based communications services and open standards, scenarios such as these will become commonplace, improving productivity and connectivity for mobile workers wherever they choose to work.

Laura Thompson is vice president of corporate marketing at Sylantro Systems Corp., a member company of the International Softswitch Consortium (ISC). The ISC is the premiere forum for the worldwide advancement of the next generation networks through products, services, applications, and solutions utilizing packet-based voice, data and video communications technologies available today via any transport medium including but not limited to copper, broadband and fiber optics. For more information visit www.softswitch.org.

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