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Unified Communications
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Unified Communications
Jon R. Doyle
VP of Business Development
Communi- Gate Systems

Extreme Unified Communications - Extending UC to the Mobile Device

For a few years now, Unified Communications (UC) has dominated trade show floors, vendor press releases, IT discussions, and corporate strategy. The goal of UC is clear: to blend all forms of communication and collaboration - messaging, calling, conferencing, information sharing, and presence - together in a single user account and experience.


Like all new technologies, "Unified Communications" can mean a lot of things to different people or vendors. Furthermore, the sheer complexity of bringing together all forms of communications has opened up new opportunities in the market, in particular hosted UC or SaaS (Software as a Service). Many small and medium businesses are moving towards SaaS for a variety of technologies and UC is quickly becoming a top offering by many providers since communication in general is key to business operations and processes.


True UC on the desktop is really a dream come true for many users that have five or more applications and perhaps the same number of accounts running all the day. With UC on the desktop you can log in once to access and manage all your communication tools from a single dashboard. The need to separately juggle an IM application (or two), email client, softphone, videoconferencing system, etc. is eliminated. And you'll no longer need to check the IM status, send an email, call the office phone, and finally try the mobile phone before reaching a colleague.


But what about beyond the desk and what happens when you are out of the office or country? Mobilizing UC to mobile devices is inevitably the next step in this communications revolution. We have seen Mobile Messaging for years now such as over the air synchronization of email, calendar and contacts. But, mobile UC enables the mobile handset to become an extension of the UC platform and not just a "synced up" device.


Of course mobile UC lets users check their schedule, stay on top of critical emails, and more, wherever they are. However, the real gains for the enterprise come from seamless integration with the corporate presence services, rules engine, and the PBX for voice communications. By extending the PBX to mobile devices, users enjoy seamless coverage and accessibility, whether they're in the office, on a client site, at an airport or hotel, or rolling down the highway.


At its heart, mobile UC is a data connection to the corporate (or hosted) UC platform, whereby the mobile device can perform as a "registered" device to all UC services. For example, say a call is coming into your line, at the office, you might see that in the mobile handset and transfer that call over to a colleague, with all the call handling being done on the UC platform. The mobile phone is no different than any "agent" registered by your account.


One of the more interesting aspects of mobile UC is the connectivity to WLAN or WiFi networks in your home, office, or at other locations. Handsets, like the iPhone are proving to have a great user experience for traversal of networks, opening up a wide range of new usage models for UC services. For example, calls can be routed over the WiFi network when users are in the office or at any hot spot, while GSM/3G networks are used to fill in the gaps when out of WiFi range. The solution takes advantage of the higher bandwidth, lower cost, advanced features such as call handling management and enhanced quality of Voice over WiFi (or Voice over Wireless LAN) technology. According to Gartner Research Group, roaming business users (mobile business users) are within range of a WiFi signal 70 to 80 percent of the time.


This hybrid service leverages the growing availability of dual mode handsets that support both WiFi and GSM - particularly in the enterprise sector where users tend to have higher end handsets. According to ABI Research, more than 325 million dual mode phones are projected to ship in 2011 (way up from the 1.8 million shipments in 2006). Particular phone models include Apple's iPhone, later RIM Blackberry models, higher end versions of Nokia E Series and Sony Ericsson devices, as well as a number of Windows Mobile handsets from a variety of vendors. Support for WiFi is likely to continue percolating down to lower-end, mass-market handsets as well.


This solution can lower the cost of mobile telephony, particularly in the case of mobile international calling tolls and roaming fees, by leveraging VoIP-over-WiFi whenever possible. But the main goals for this business application are enhanced employee productivity and efficiency. Sales associates, account executives, retail managers, healthcare workers, and other on-the-go employees can have almost continuous access to the corporate PBX and associated messaging. The WiFi network essentially becomes a branch of the corporate LAN and PBX system - whether employees happen to be walking between buildings on the office campus or thousands of miles away.


By integrating mobile devices with the PBX, employees can benefit from all the productivity-enhancing call control features found on the desk phone right on their mobile device. Wherever they are, employees can easily transfer a call to a colleague, conference on a supervisor, access the company directory and make sure critical calls get through without call waiting. Employees can enjoy short extension dialing to colleagues even if both parties are away from the office, and outbound calls appear to have originated from the employee's normal PBX extension, so the receiver can easily identify the caller ID.


Most importantly, this solution offers the simplicity of single-number reach and unified messaging. Fixed mobile convergence ensures that employees won't miss a call whether they're in a conference room, sitting behind their desk, or traveling to the next client meeting. And mobile employees no longer need to worry about manually checking their office voicemail every hour (or more frequently!), as all calls are delivered to the mobile device.


For example, a sales representative in a full-day training seminar is waiting for a call from a key client. When the client rings the representative's phone back at the office, the representative sees the call on her mobile device, can listen to the voicemail over the headset, or access the message on her laptop. She can handle an urgent matter on the spot, and pay undivided attention to her training seminar without worrying what she might miss back at her desk.


UC to the Mobile - New Opportunities for SPs


This application gives operators and service providers a highly profitable opportunity to provide their business customers almost continuous access to corporate information, through a single identity, as well as a direct link to the PBX for messaging and voice communication. New technology is available that can easily transform a WiFi-enabled handset into a universal mobile messaging device. This software-based solution manages the handoff between the WiFi and GSM/3G networks, routing the call over WiFi when available or over a GSM/3G network when WiFi isn't present. The solution continuously listens for a WiFi signal. When it detects one, the mobile device initiates a VoIP call over the local WLAN network via SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) and then conferences in the end user as soon as the call is setup.


WiFi to WiFi, WiFi to mobile, and mobile to WiFi handoffs are all supported, so end users can travel between the wireless network in the office to a mobile network outdoors without impacting their conference call.


Fixed Mobile Convergence for Virtually any PBX System


Fixed mobile convergence is not new for the enterprise; however, what is unique is that this solution is compatible with virtually any PBX with IP/SIP connectivity. This means that service providers can now approach any large or mid-sized enterprise regardless of their existing equipment. Even legacy TDM PBX systems can be supported through the addition of SIP gateways.


As a result, service providers can offer unified mobile messaging as a value-added enhancement to a customer's existing phone system - without bringing in the forklifts. Additionally, the lightweight software is pushed down over the air, completely transparent to the end user. By eliminating the need to "rip and replace" existing telephony investments, service providers will undoubtedly find a more captive audience, and can even widen their customer base. The combination of increased employee productivity and lowered mobile minutes offers a compelling model of many organizations. And most importantly, the low investment and minimal risk are crucial to closing the deal.


Fixed-Mobile Convergence in the Consumer Arena


The same technology that can increase mobile accessibility in the enterprise can be used in an entirely different application - this time to offer consumers a low-cost alternative to GSM service. In this application, home broadband subscribers can use dual mode handsets to make VoIP calls over their home WiFi and provider access network. And, when out of the home, the handset transitions to GSM for seamless coverage.


This scenario is receiving serious attention from wireline and broadband operators who lack access to licensed GSM spectrum, particularly in those countries where mobile call charges happen to be high - such as Brazil, Chile, China, India, and South Korea. Now these operators can enter the consumer mobile arena and still bypass the local GSM network. And they can round out their service offering portfolio with mobility services to deliver true triple or quad play services.


Adding fixed-mobile convergence to unified communications also opens the doors to innovative applications for the consumer market. Network operators can offer a seamless communication and entertainment experience across a broad range of devices - the computer, television, and mobile phone. And they can converge these services in new ways, like putting a pop-up window on the TV to alert a viewer of an incoming call, or controlling the entertainment system through a mobile device.


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