February 2008 | Volume 11/ Number 2
Mobile Enterprise Innovations
By: Richard “Zippy” Grigonis
The Enterprise’s increasing love affair with mobility is finally being served by inventive vendors and service providers. The technology ranges from simple but effective voicemail distribution to Fixed-Mobile Access technologies such as dual-mode phones that allow roaming between WiFi and cellular worlds, or even the transfer of PBX (News - Alert) capabilities to any remote device as needed.
In some cases these systems were developed out of actual immediate demand. For example, take SkyMail (http://www.skymail.net) an application launched by Pacific DataVision (http://www.pacificdatavision.com) better known as PDV. SkyMail allows the mobile worker to wirelessly dictate documents and share information with an individual or group from a mobile phone by simply making a phone call and speaking.
John Pescatore, President and CEO of PDV, says, “PDV’s founder, Peter J. Lasensky, was in commercial construction. The technology and the application were developed to solve a field documentation problem. He had a growing construction business in San Diego that was hired for a job involving a lot of change orders. At the job’s conclusion, he presented the invoice to the customer, who replied that he wasn’t going to pay for the change orders. ‘I didn’t authorize you to do the work,’ the customer said. The dispute went into arbitration, but at the end of the day, there was literally no documentation on the change orders.”
“So Lasensky was about to lose his case,” says Pescatore. “He was looking at his Nextel phone, and it dawned on him that if he had a way to record his notes or a conversation from the job site, using push-to-talk and then have it stored with a date/time stamp by the network, then he could put it in a project folder and transcribe it or what have you. He explained the idea to the arbitrator, who remarked, ‘I’ve been doing dispute resolution for 30 years. It’s always about documentation. If you had something like that, your case would have been a whole different story.’ So Lasensky developed this technology and had it working over Nextel, and then we got involved in the company a few years ago. We helped him do his first deal. You can use it in the U.S. under Sprint (News - Alert) Nextel’s NextMail brand. It’s also a commercial service in Mexico under the PushtoMail brand from Nextel de Mexico.”
“Now, these are all push-to-talk products,” says Pescatore. “Our SkyMail release is a circuit-switched cellular product. The value of what we provide is the ability to increase productivity of field-based workers by enabling easy, clear, and fast communication from the mobile user or workforce back to the office or anywhere in the world, without typing or writing. It shouldn’t matter whether you hit the push-to-talk button or the ‘send’ button. It’s the ultimate value that is key. So we launched SkyMail, which is quite easy to use. If a disaster occurs, for example, I can scroll to a contact in my address book that might be labeled ‘urgent system outage’. I’d press the send button. It dials a phone number and I speak a message, such as, ‘There’s been a disaster; let’s meet up at the office,” which is instantly routed to one or up to 50 people as an audio email. SkyMail’s customized email subject lines like ‘Service Outage — Critical’ or ‘Job Closed Out — Non Critical’ can spotlight the message’s significance so that the recipient can listen to the most important messages first. The recipients receive an email containing a link to the voice message and a text reply box, so that the recipient can reply with a text message delivered directly to the sender’s phone. All SkyMail messages are time-and-date stamped for documentation and stored on a secure password protected website for tracking and record-keeping purposes.”
SkyMail thus increases the speed and accuracy of communications from the field, freeing up mobile workers to focus on their primary tasks, which could involve selling, driving, hauling waste or installing cable TV service. Aside from prioritizing and documenting communications from the field, customers can use SkyMail to report expenses, send reminders to themselves and quickly communicate status reports and directives. SkyMail messages can always be transcribed if necessary, obviating hand written paperwork and any potential for error.
GSM, WiFi (News - Alert), Picocells and DECT
Some vendors and network operators believe that the future belongs to extending PBX services to mobile devices. A specific hotly debated subcategory of this are dual-mode phone devices, which allow a user to start a call over a corporate WiFi system in the office and then seamlessly handoff the call to a cellular network when the user walks outside, and vice versa. Early dual-mode efforts focused on WiFi-GSM roaming, such as Motorola’s (News - Alert) CN620 clamshell handset that could speak 802.11a and GSM cellular and which could tie into a system that provides key features of the desk phone virtually anywhere, including one phone number, one voicemail along with IP PBX features such as call hold, conference calling, and multiple simultaneous active calls. Another similar device that followed it was Nokia’s (News - Alert)’6136 UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access) device, which can also switch seamlessly between any of GSM’s four bands (85, 900, 1800 and 1900 MHz) and WLAN networks, thus enabling users to make calls via the Internet. It also has a 1.3 megapixel camera and an FM radio.
With all the hubbub over WiFi, few Americans are aware of DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Technology), the great European cordless phone standard popularized with immense success by Siemens (News - Alert). But now DECT is entering the world of U.S. enterprise mobility, since the technology was recently ratified by the FCC for use in North America. Take Avaya (News - Alert) (http://www.avaya.com), which undoubtedly has its share of WiFi-based handsets such as the rugged Avaya 3641 and 3645 Voice over WLAN (VoWLAN) handsets, for use in warehouses or hospitals and the more stylish Model 3631 for office settings, having WiFi 802.11 b and g WLANs. But Avaya also now offers the Avaya 3711 IP DECT (News - Alert) Handset too. Avaya DECT handsets, being voice-optimized, target businesses that don’t want to co-mingle voice and data on the same wireless network, while providing high-quality mobile voice communications.
RadioFrame Networks (News - Alert), Inc. (http://www.radioframe.com) took a different course, expanding the possibilities of what you can do indoors with your existing cell phone, by creating picocell and femtocell base stations for GSM/GPRS and EDGE based on 3GPP standards. Designed for the home or the small- to-medium business (SMB), these small IP backhauled cellular base stations use a low-cost broadband (e.g. DSL) connection from the subscriber site to the carrier’s network. The device, built by RadioFrame Networks, is delivered and maintained through an OEM such as Nokia to a Mobile Network Operator (MNO) and thence to the customer. Turn it on indoors and you immediately eliminate the need for traditional land line telephone service, since you now enjoy both a strong cell signal as well as IP-over-GSM.
A RadioFrame picocell includes a 1-TRX transceiver (the femtocell includes half-TRX transceiver), all required service logic, and a multiple-switched-ports router with firewall security and web services to provide the MNO remote fault management and configuration capabilities. The transceiver performs start-up provisioning and authentication and supports necessary functions: airlink processing of all communications as well as BTS radio control, Quality of Service, IP tunneling, encryption and management functions.
Pulling PBX Functionality Out of the Air
A more flexible (though technologically challenging) approach is to extend PBX services to any mobile device.
Ascendent Systems (News - Alert) (http://www.ascendentsystems.com), a subsidiary of Research In Motion, provides enterprise voice mobility solutions (both customer premise and carrier-based) founded on single number reachability, real-time notification and conferencing, and voice continuity. Ascendant’s Ascendent Voice Mobility (News - Alert) Suite extends the identity and functionality of a user’s business PBX-based desk phone to any other device, such as a RIM BlackBerry, cell phone, smart phone, laptop, home phone, hotel phone, etc.
Recently, Ascendent worked with Verizon to deliver a new Fixed-Mobile Convergence (News - Alert) (FMC) service for large business customers. Called PBX Mobile Extension, it also converts any phone or mobile device into a mobile extension of a desk phone. Ascendent is doing similar deals with Sprint and other carriers.
Heather Howland, Ascendent’s Senior Marketing Manager, says, “What we do is similar to what the Blackberry does for email, but we do it for voice. It’s like having ‘pushed voice’ technology. Your BlackBerry (News - Alert) or your cell phone becomes a true mobile extension of your enterprise PBX so it acts and functions just like my desk phone. The end user has the flexibility to use whatever device is most convenient to them at the time. If you’re a mobile worker, sometimes you’re in locations where you don’t have coverage or your battery dies, but you still need to get work done, and this gives you the flexibility to be able to work from a different phone if you need to. It’s about being able to pick up a phone and have that become ‘the device’.”
“With the BlackBerry,” says Howland, “we’ve integrated the features directly into the device, so it’s really a seamless, elegant user experience. You can literally toggle between two lines. You can use it as a conventional cell phone or you can put it into enterprise mode where you dial the phone and you can dial a colleague using extension dialing or dial one of my customers and when they answer my call they’ll actually see my caller ID and if they’re a colleague they’ll see your extension pop up. So you don’t have to do anything differently. You just use the phone as you normally would. It’s a very seamless integration with the BlackBerry. With other devices, we can still enable the functionality there too, the only difference is that, to access features, you have to do things such as a star command, or something like that.”
“We work with legacy PBXs, new IP PBXs, or a mixed environment,” says Howland. “Often enterprises have a mix of equipment within their infrastructure to which they’d like to deliver these functions. We have a health care customer that has IP in one location and TDM in another, and they want to be able to offer this solution to all of their users, and have it provide that same experience. They can do that with Ascendent. They don’t have to worry about having a homogenous network that’s all-Cisco (News - Alert) or all-Avaya.”
“Our software sits on a server and interfaces with the PBX. Each user has a profile on the system. In my profile, I have multiple devices active there at any given time: my desk phone, my BlackBerry, my personal cell phone, my home phone. When I entered the office today I decided that I would remain in the office, but I wanted my BlackBerry and desk phone active. So when somebody calls me it simultaneously rings me on both of those devices, and then I answer on whatever is more convenient for me. If I’m out to lunch but an important call comes, I’m able to answer it on my BlackBerry. It doesn’t have to go to one or more voicemail boxes.”
Major companies such as Nortel (News - Alert) (http://www.nortel.com) are also charging into this space. They recently unveiled their “Unwired Enterprise”, the purpose of which is to set up businesses with all-wireless offices, using next-gen technology and devices. This builds upon the offerings Nortel already provides, which make it possible for employees’ wireless phones to work inside their office buildings over WiFi, and once outside the building, to continue working over a wireless mesh.
Nortel likes the term “hyperconnected world”, which pretty much sums up what the ideal business communications system should be capable of. One key component Nortel has identified to bring this world about is MIMO/OFDM, the transmission and modulation technologies behind the latest and greatest version of WiFi, the 802.11n standard (that supports up to three times the bandwidth of current WiFi devices) as well as longer-range 4G mobility solutions like WiMAX (News - Alert), which service providers worldwide are starting to deploy. Expect to see products in this area throughout 2008. Nortel has also already begun enhancing its Ethernet Routing Switch portfolio and other data products to improve real-time wireless application performance.
Mobility and Unified Communications (News - Alert)
Enterprise mobility and Unified Communications (UC) have a sort of symbiotic relationship. If you extend a bunch of services to a remote device with a single friendly user interface, then that implies that the applications should already be capable of working together in a unified or integrated manner.
Mobile workers often work in vertical industries and have specific business requirements. This opens up opportunities for companies such as Hewlett-Packard (http://www.hp.com). HP Services collaborates with their partners, Avaya, Ericsson (News - Alert) and Nortel, to deliver an appropriately formulated UC solution for each customer. For example, HP Services works with Avaya to extend the value of Avaya communications applications with Microsoft (News - Alert) enterprise productivity and UC solutions, creating an intelligent, real-time communication and collaboration environment. HP Services also works closely with Ericsson to provide software solutions, including the Ericsson Enterprise Mobility Gateway (News - Alert), resulting in a PBX-agnostic, carrier-agnostic global communication solution based on HP Blade System c-Class enclosures. Moreover, as a Nortel Global Solutions Partner, HP Services leverages Nortel’s Innovative Communications Alliance (News - Alert) with Microsoft to optimize and enhance customers’ existing communications infrastructure.
Increasingly, the “workplace” is not in the office. It may not even be stationary. But enterprises are now able to choose from among various exciting platforms to maintain productivity, regardless of their employees’ location. IT
Richard Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC’s IP Communications Group.
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