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Feature Article
June 2004


Mobile Presence: A Communications Tidal Wave Heading Your Way!

BY ERAN YANIV

I saw my business colleague was on an important call. I knew better than to bother him because he wasn�t able to talk. The visual cues told me I should leave him a message. I knew where he was, how he felt, and that he wasn�t available. Did I mention that he was at the airport in Boston and I was sipping my morning coffee in Los Angeles?

 

Mobile presence technology promises to forever change the way the walking world communicates. Mobile users will know who is available and how to communicate with them before calls are ever placed. Friends, coworkers, and family will instantly reveal their ever-changing communication inclinations and moods. Preferences such as �send me an instant message,� �call me,� or �leave me a voice mail� will be known before a number is dialed. The upside to such technology is monumental. According to Forrester Research, the effect of presence first will be to harmonize communications, then boost productivity, and finally lubricate commerce.


PRESENCE BASICS
In its simplest form, presence is knowledge about a mobile user�s availability, capability, and desire to communicate. For example: Is your friend in a service zone? Is her phone on? Is she on a call? Would she prefer a text message? Does she have push-to-talk capabilities? Is she logged on to her instant messaging application?
 

This combination of server-detected and user-projected information is aggregated by a centralized presence server and provided to select groups of people in a user�s address book or in other presence-enabled applications such as mobile instant messaging and wireless portals. Presence information is collected from users, applications running on the mobile device, the handset hardware and queries to the core network. The network provides automatic insight regarding whether a user is in a data session, if the phone is in a coverage zone, if the device is turned on, if the user is on a call, and in some cases, the location of the mobile user.


As presence information becomes comprehensive and personalized, users should be able to maintain full control over which presence attributes they are willing to expose and to whom. Users should also have the ability to set rules that determine when to present a certain presence status as opposed to another. Privacy and flexible user provisioning tools are crucial elements for assuring full presence success.


Presence-based solutions enable the following communication scenarios:
� It�s seven in the morning and you need to talk with a business partner. You see he is able to talk and call him when you otherwise might not have.
� You need to speak with your spouse but you see that she�s outside a coverage zone. You tell your phone to call her when she regains access if you are available to make the call.
� You are on a remote job site and need to troubleshoot a problem. Presence shows that the key support personnel are available. You conference everyone together and quickly come up with a solution.
� You are spending an evening alone and decide you want to play a game. You broadcast your availability, inviting people to play online with you.
� You are working on a project and do not want to be disturbed. You tell your phone to send all callers to voice mail except if your key client is trying to reach you.
� You have some hot news you want to share with your friends. You announce �I have news!� and invite your friends to call when they can.


Presence evolved from the world of instant messaging. Just as IM buddies can see who is available to chat and whether they are �out to lunch,� presence extends and expands these concepts to the mobile market. Presence enables or enhances value-added services such as mobile instant messaging, voice conferencing, push to talk, smart address books, park-on services, interactive games, dating services, and more.


WHY PRESENCE BRINGS USERS TOGETHER

Presence breaks down communication barriers and encourages instant communication by dynamically revealing the status of mobile users. For example, by simply scrolling through an address book list, a user can immediately see if a person is available and willing to take a call. This type of communication has a tremendous effect on the way mobile users interact.


Presence assures fluid communication and better prepares a caller for the state of the person being called. Just as caller ID enables someone to answer the phone �Hi Mike,� presence enables the calling party to say �I saw you were available and thought I�d see how you are doing.� Presence encourages this type of communication by confirming another party�s availability.


Presence-enabled solutions allow mobile users to:
� Increase the certainty of a completed call;
� Efficiently communicate with friends, colleagues and family;
� Let others know the best way to contact them;
� Prioritize communication based on circumstances;
� Selectively express availability to different groups of people;
� Communicate unique circumstances; and
� Utilize new communication alternatives.

 

ENORMOUS POTENTIAL FOR CARRIERS
At its core, presence triggers new communication. New communication generates more calls and more messages, which increases revenue. Whether you bill extra for value-added services or need to increase minute consumption, presence-enabled services are the key to greater profits.


At first glance, it might appear that presence will diminish carrier revenue, however just the opposite occurs. When a caller knows in advance that someone is available to take his or her call, the likelihood of a conversation occurring greatly increases. Additionally, knowing up front that a caller will reach voice mail reduces slam-downs, encourages him or her to leave a message and generates a return call. Traffic will also increase during off-hours as callers see a friend, colleague or family member is available. These new communication opportunities will significantly impact ARPU and reduce churn.

 

Presence promotes usage of enhanced services by making communication more fun and intuitive. For example, callers will know if the person they are trying to reach has a multimedia-capable device, encouraging them to send multimedia messages that stimulate increased use of such services. Presence also enables a carrier to sell new or enhanced services such as a presence-enabled address book, mobile instant messaging, presence-based call return, spontaneous conferencing and much more.

 

Presence can be used to cross the mobile world to other carrier-based services including Internet connectivity, wireline, and international calls, enabling enhanced communications such as mobile to PC interaction.


Other presence business advantages:
� Increases impulsive instant communication;
� Enhances existing services;
� Attracts new users;
� Promotes new, advanced handsets;
� Makes communication feasible when a voice call cannot be completed;
� Integrates multiple applications and services;
� Enables users to complete communication attempts; and
� Increases traffic, user data transfer, airtime, and use of premium subscription services.

 

THE PRESENCE SERVER
The critical enabler of presence services is a centralized presence server. The presence server acts as a gateway between presence-enabled applications residing on a handset and key systems within the carrier network. The presence server detects, collects, and aggregates dynamic presence information and distributes it to authorized users or services. When the presence server is either queried for information or generates a notification, presence information is only presented to authorized parties as indicated via user preferences.
 

A centralized presence server must be able to detect and interrogate operator network components including AAA, GMLC, HLR, MSC, GGSN, SGSN and CSCF. It also must comply with next-generation architecture such as IMS over the SIP/SIMPLE protocol and be interoperable with other presence servers, whether over SIP/SIMPLE or Wireless Village, standard protocols in the industry. Seek a solution that is vendor agnostic to both infrastructure and handsets to assure full compatibility with future investments. A presence server should not create network bottlenecks and must be a certified Telco-grade solution. Additionally, the solution should integrate automatic presence detection, advanced manual user settings, and provisioning.


CLOSING THOUGHTS
Seek a vendor that has mastered the total communications potential of presence from the server-side requirements to the presence-enabled applications that reside on a handset. Intelligent and intuitive handset applications and user interfaces are the glue that will help users stick with presence. The promise of presence is much more than hype. Presence solutions are available today, represent a radical new way to communicate and will prove to be a major profit center for carriers.

 

Eran Yaniv is associate vice president, Americas, at Comverse, Inc. Comverse envisions a world of Total Communication where people are free to communicate in the way that is most convenient and appropriate, allowing them to move between different modes of interaction � from visual to voice to touch � according to changes in context or preference. For more information please visit www.comverse.com.


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