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The Advent Of Multimedia, Multi-Party Collaboration

By Jack Jachner & Chris Vuillaume

 

Mobility is a killer app in enterprise communications enabling both voice and data communications for conducting business when away from the office. Mobile phones provide anytime anywhere telephony for mobile workers. IP provides low-cost voice access (VoIP) from branch offices and for teleworkers. VPNs provide secure remote data access.

To date, these are separate solutions, with dedicated terminals and applications: cell phones, IP PBXs, and laptops with VPN software and tokens. There is no continuity of service between mobile and office telephony, or for data access. Nor is there a continuity of user experience, which is fragmented among different devices and applications. We are now on the verge of a transition toward User-Centric mobility that provides a seamless service and seamless user experience wherever the user is located, or transitions during the working day: home, office, airport, convention center, and so on.

Rethinking Mobile Communication
The driving force for the new Mobility is the ubiquity of IP service. IP is already used to connect branch offices and remote workers with headquarters, initially for simple toll bypass and then to allow access to HQ applications (including IP Telephony) in a uniform way across all locations of an enterprise. IP is now going wireless, with WiFi and IP enabled cellular. The new Mobility will extend enterprise communication service beyond of the enterprise borders (home, airport, etc). Employees are always connected and with uniform enterprise communication services: calling your colleague by name, by speech recognition or by four- or five-digit dialing, accessing corporate unified mail, or conferencing. Ultimately all the enterprise IT applications will extend outside of the enterprise, to fully support employee mobility. The new IP mobility supports continuity of user experience, services, and applications, and its personalization to person to person communication regardless of their location.

Emergence of Mobile Convergence
Enterprise-class Voice over Wireless LAN (VoWLAN) solutions are emerging, as evidenced by the rapid growth and maturity of WiFi infrastructure solutions, by the emergence of dual-mode (WiFi and cellular) handsets combined with the development in softphones based on the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). While Voice over WiFi solutions have been in use in some industry verticals (such as warehousing), the technology has not reached readiness for the general enterprise market. Mobile and WiFi markets are recently converging and evolving to provide a seamless wireless network for voice and data communication.

This mobile convergence is interesting as it can bring reduced call costs, improved reachability, and increased productivity for the enterprise user with the associated reduced churn and increased ARPU for the Service Providers.

A number of requirements must be met for mobile convergence to be successful in the market. The solution should be open enough to support a wide range of wireless access, user terminals, and network connectivity options, and may leverage SIP as the enabling protocol. The user experience must be simple and seamless for user adoption. It must exploit the benefits of wireline access (such as lower communication cost) and deliver service level mobility demanded by business users. For faster adoption, the service must be capable of coexisting and collaborating with other popular business applications like VPN, XML, http, IM, conferencing. The solution should have a low startup cost and pay-as-you-grow pricing model for growth. This solution has to be remotely manageable (software updates, remote troubleshooting, remote license keying). Finally, the solution must be able to support new network-hosted applications provided by MVNO and customer premise-based systems and applications.

Quest for Smooth Handovers
The typical mobile workers day is interesting, and so are the requirements for his mobile access. He may be in the office with its VoWLAN phone, where he has to be able to hop from access point to access point maintaining quality and communication services. The problem is more complex when the user leaves the office and would like to keep the communication services. This is called Communication Handover.

Mobile users typically use many devices during the day: deskphone, PC, Laptop, home phone, mobile phone. The multiplicity of devices poses challenges. How can you start your conference call at home using your PCs softphone and then continue the same conference on your mobile device? This is called Device Handover.

In real life, mobile users cross multiple networks, including WiFi hotspots, and emerging cellular networks using IMS, GSM/GPRS, hopping from service provider to service provider. How do you maintain the communications services roaming from one network to another? This is called Network Roaming.

Promising Solutions
To satisfy all the requirements, the new mobility solution will necessitate evolution in both the network infrastructure and in communication devices. The mobility services can be delivered from the network with the existing desktop terminals, but will benefit from new converged wireless terminals.

There is a voice-data convergence in wireless terminals, with personal digital assistants (PDAs) becoming telephony enabled and smart mobile phones able to access data. Both are becoming open to run Enterprise-grade telephony applications, benefiting from a colored graphical user interface. Internet access, Office applications, personal information managers, directory accesses, unified communications, and mobility are no longer dedicated to laptops and desktops.

Using WiFi or data-enabled mobile networks, these new devices may provide the same level of features as deskphones (call server independent, incoming and outgoing calls, call transfer, unified messaging, mute button, virtual keyboard for call-by-name feature, message service, unified messaging, personal assistant, collaboration and presence, access to local address book, and access to the call log).

By using WiFi Networks (in the Enterprise LAN or VPN in WiFi hotspot) to connect to companys infrastructure, these devices also save money for the enterprise by leveraging the enterprise communication system.

For the benefit of the user, the same device is becoming your single device with single number, single unified communication, while keeping the same level of enterprise communication services (as you had in the enterprise) and providing seamless transitions between the private WLAN domain and the public mobile domain.

The new emerging mobility solution is lowering telecoms cost with a higher predictability, simplifying deployment, and management of the mobile worker toolbox, increasing end user productivity and satisfaction, and allowing flexible and scalable (up and down) infrastructure deployment. For the user, the benefit is even more obvious: a consistent interface and continuous service wherever business communication needs to be done. IT

This editorial column series is a collaborative effort between Jack Jachner (Senior Director with the CTO office) and Chris Vuillaume (VP Product Marketing with enterprise products) at Alcatel. For more information, please visit www.alcatel.com.

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