January 2009 | Volume 12/ Number 1
Delivering Mobile Unified Communications
By: Richard “Zippy” Grigonis
People these days are all agog over the productivity gains and enhanced customer experience benefits that Mobile Unified Communications (News - Alert) (UC) can achieve. But some Small and Medium-sized Businesses (SMBs) are either struggling with installing and managing complex premise-based installations of cutting-edge UC systems involving mobility, or are too fearful to try. For them, hosted and/or managed services may be the answer, either from the carriers themselves or from mobile operator adjunct providers who can call upon advanced technologies such as Fixed-Mobile Convergence (FMC) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).
Take DiVitas Networks (News - Alert) for example, founded in 2005, which started out of the gate with a pioneering dual-network enterprise- based telephony solution called the Mobile Convergence platform. The company offers version 2.0 of what’s now called the DiVitas Mobile Unified Communications solution (DiVitas Mobile UC) that combines corporate voice and messaging applications (deskphone, contacts, IM, presence and push-totalk) for businesses and infuses them into a single smartphone (such as Nokia (News - Alert) Eseries and Nseries and Windows Mobile), thanks to a single piece of client software that co-exists on the phone. Mobile workers are now both easily accessible and can use their familiar tools and applications. Aside from native mobile voice and email, DiVitas adds the capabilities required to enable users to stay connected via their usual deskphone extension, anywhere at any time. As an open architecture, DiVitas Mobile UC can work with an organization’s legacy telephony infrastructure, such as PBXs and mobile networks. DiVitas is supported on Alcatel, Avaya, Asterisk, Cisco, Mitel, Nortel, Siemens, ShoreTel (News - Alert), and Zultys PBX systems. And DiVitas claims its solution is unique in that it will work with any mobile operator in the world.
Furthermore, DiVitas’ interesting Dual Persona feature enables you to house both a business number that is completely separate from your personal cellular number which ships native with the phone.
Aside from its traditional enterprise model, DiVitas Mobile UC is now available as a hosted service option that can be deployed by carriers to distinguish themselves from their competitors. Recently, for example, Hartford, Connecticut-based Sawtel, Inc., a VoIP carrier that sells advanced wireless connectivity solutions to institutions and businesses in emerging markets, began using DiVitas as the mobility component to complete its UC services offering. Sawtel chose DiVitas after two years of researching the market.
“Mobile UC is a game-changing technology for our customers,” said Eric Asare, CTO for Sawtel. “It offers new productivity applications and expense-reducing technology — so our customers can work more efficiently and still lower their telecommunications costs. Our initial deployment in a twin 24-story high-rise building in Hartford is just the first step in what will be a global rollout of DiVitas Networks solution.”
Instilling the magic of Mobile UC into an existing mobile smart phone sounds daunting. To make it painless, it should ideally be a software-centric solution. Fortunately, CommuniGate Systems (News - Alert), the masters of Flex / Flash programming and a leader in carrier-class Mobile UC, offers the CommuniGate Pro Mobility Suite, which enables network operators to provide UC as a SaaS (News - Alert) solution for SMBs. The flagship CommuniGate Pro product is a high density solution that’s based upon a multi-tenant and a dynamic clustering architecture. It offers friendly live change management features for SaaS providers, and enables providers to offer business class services with costs that decline as virtualized client volume increases.
Recently, for example, CommuniGate Systems demonstrated how broadband and mobile network operators could bring Mobile UC to the iPhone 3G via simple turnkey package that doesn’t require any premises-based equipment. Two functions enable the new iPhone 3G to synchronize localized data for a wide range of services: firstly, the third generation of wireless communication UMTS (3GSM (News - Alert)) and secondly, the built-in standard of data synchronization called AirSync. TheCommuniGate Pro Mobility Suite delivers native AirSync with full Over the Air push email, calendar and contact information with advanced security features. Business Subscribers can always stay in contact with their office regardless of their location. An admin can simply snap on AirSync without the need to install any software on the iPhone. Business clients can now receive emails, contact and calendar updates onto their iPhone over the air via CommuniGate Pro’s platform. Moreover, users can access this same information simultaneously, whether they’re running on a Mac, a PC or on Linux with the CommuniGate Pronto! flexible Flash-based UC client that will accept third-party plug-ins.
Of course, CommuniGate Pro’s Mobility Suite doesn’t just work with Apple (News - Alert)’s iPhone 3G – it’s compatible with all Windows Mobile-based and ActiveSync-capable devices including Symbian OS-capable mobile phones, DataViz devices that uses RoadSync, the Sony Ericsson (News - Alert) P900, M600 and W950, the Nokia E series, Motorola devices that use MOTOSYNC, the Palm 700 smart phone series, Treo 680, Treo 650, LifeDrive and the Helio (News - Alert) Ocean.
CommuniGate Pro’s Mobility Suite with AirSync offers complete push services as well as a secure synchronization between PIM (Personal Information Management) data, a mobile device and the CommuniGate Pro Unified Communications platform. Access to the mobility features is done via mobile operator networks including 3G and EDGE, and of course at the office or home on WiFi (News - Alert) networks. You can even try CommuniGate Systems’ ingenious Flash-based Web 2.0 client Pronto! (including mobility with AirSync) free of charge at www.TalktoIP.com.
SoftPhone as Mobile Office
It’s not surprising that many Mobile UC clients for phones and laptops have evolved under the familiar and intuitive user interface paradigm of the softphone. CounterPath (News - Alert) Corporation, for example, offers the eyeBeam softphone that’s private-branded by carriers, sold as a standalone package and even distributed for free in a limited-feature version called X-Lite. CounterPath customers include AT&T, Verizon (News - Alert), Cisco, BT, Deutsche Telekom, Mitel and Nortel.
Global Crossing, a world-class IP solutions provider, recently selected a customized version of CounterPath’s eyeBeam softphone as part of its market offering in South America. CounterPath’s IP telephony softphone enables enterprise workers to use their PC to access their full suite of corporate telephony services – including voice, video and Instant Messaging features – from any broadband connection in the world. The eyeBeam softphone even integrates with the Global Crossing (News - Alert) Ready-Access conferencing service, a hosted, on-demand audio and web conferencing solution that targets distributed knowledge workers. While in a Ready-Access conference, the moderator can mute participants, lock the conference, dial-out to additional participants and record the call, all from a visual panel within the softphone.
Whereas the eyeBeam 1.5 softphone uses a familiar-looking dialpad-centric user interface that looks and feels like a regular phone, CounterPath’s newest softphone application – called Bria – features a contact-centric interface which is “address book-centric” and allows for many personal preferences. As we went to press, CounterPath announced that it had added an enterprise- and carrier-grade softphone for Microsoft (News - Alert) Outlook and Outlook Exchange to Bria. Bria is imbued with presence status capability and facilitiates VoIP and video-over-IP calls by allowing users to determine when people on the contact list are available and instant messages can be sent. The Bria Add-In boosts Microsoft Outlook’s capabilities without the auspices of the Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS). The Bria Professional version offers additional business features for the enterprise or business user such as provisioning and LDAP integration. CounterPath will also soon add Quick Conference, an inexpensive meet-me audio conferencing feature, as a client for RIM BlackBerry (News - Alert), Symbian and Windows Mobile devices.
What makes all of this possible is CounterPath’s Network Convergence Gateway (NCG), a carrier-based, core network, FMC server that bridges broadband and mobile networks in both pre-IMS and IMS environments. Using the NCG, service providers can extend single-number mobile voice, text, multimedia messaging and video services to residential, corporate and hotspot locations with broadband access. This is done via SIP on a service provider’s existing networks while they prepare for the upcoming IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem (News - Alert)) common service architecture.
Other operators who don’t want to wait for IMS to achieve some sort of FMC can try Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA), which is the commercial name of the 3GPP Generic Access Network (GAN) standard. GAN can also extend mobile services voice, data and IMS/SIP (Session Initiation Protocol (News - Alert)) over IP access networks as (typically) a dual-mode handset service wherein subscribers seamlessly roam and handover between LANs and WANs using a GSM/WiFi dual-mode mobile phone.
Kineto Wireless (News - Alert) has been the principal innovator and proponent of UMA for mobile operators. Kineto recently announced that Westell Technologies, Inc., a leading vendor of broadband access products, has licensed their UMA/GAN client software for integration into UMA-based terminal adaptors and routers.
Kineto’s software solutions for mobile infrastructure and device vendors can be used to develop products compliant with both the 3GPP UMA/GAN and upcoming HNB standards, including UMA Network Controllers, femto-gateways, dual-mode handsets, femtocells, terminal adaptors and “softmobiles”. Kineto customers and partners include NEC, Motorola, Samsung, LG Electronics, HTC, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, Infineon, ST-NXP, Linksys, Ubiquisys, Netgear (News - Alert) and Westell.
UC Gets Social
NewStep Networks strives to make the UC communications convergence experience not just a matter of “any device, any place, any content” but also as personalized as possible. Their convergence applications are built on their advanced Converged Services Node (CSN) platform, which provides for session management of voice, video, and data communications and which supports a communications experience tailored specifically to every user’s unique persona by leveraging all available presence, location, and behavior information to provide a consistent service across any device, access mechanism, or network.
NewSteps’ solution does this by abstracting the user experience from the underlying network, and provides a consistent layer of service convergence features independent of the underlying access technology. The company covers both consumer and enterprise markets, and they support various deployment models, including service provider hosted, enterprise site-based, and enterprise federated models. Their solutions can be deployed across fixed, mobile, enterprise and broadband networks, and in any environment including IMS, pre-IMS, Softswitch, Centrex, IP Centrex, TDM PBX (News - Alert), and IP PBX. Indeed, NewStep claims that their CSN is the first convergence solution capable of spanning the whole range of FMC access technologies, with support for VCC, Femtocells, WiMAX, and LTE.
In 2008 NewStep Networks (News - Alert) incorporated a social networking communications framework into its CSN platform. Specifically, they developed a Facebook application that enables a converged click-to-call experience, providing user control over one’s identity, social network, and communications channels. Similarly, NewStep’s widgets for Yahoo! (News - Alert)oneConnect and iGoogle bring convergence into a user’s own personalized mobile or web portal, once again leveraging all available information (presence, location, behavior, etc.).
Converged Office, Converged Life
Founded in 2000, Personeta (News - Alert) is able to ease the development and delivery of converged services for both businesses and consumers via its flagship product, TappS NSC, a standards-based service creation and execution platform that can deliver many kinds of segmented converged communication services over legacy and packet-based infrastructures.
On the business side of things, Personeta’s Converged Office is a multi-layered, extensive set of services enabling service providers to offer various business communication solutions. Converged Office services can be offered simultaneously on multiple types of networks (IMS, VoIP and SS7) and on any device. Services can be integrated with existing customer premise equipment, such as PBXs and IP-PBXs, or they can be fully hosted. Personeta’s Converged Office solutions are now in production in all types of networks (mobile, cable, and fixed) and in all types of architecture (legacy, NGN, and IMS). The built-in provisioning tools for both service providers and business users are based on the latest in Web Services technology and include management interfaces such as Web and IVR portals. The platform’s provisioning features integrate readily into existing back-office systems. Business users have access to single sign-on portals that let them carry out most provisioning and configuration tasks.
Interestingly, service providers using Personeta’s platform can adopt a phased migration approach to convergence by selecting only the functionality they need from a comprehensive set of modules, such as the Converged voice VPN module (core features such as a private numbering plan, incoming, outgoing, and mid-call handling, call screening, special charging and changing of the calling line identification, etc.) Unlike conventional voice VPN products, services built using the Personeta solution can include POTS lines, wireless devices, PBX/IP-PBX extensions, and soft phones on a single VPN.
Another module, the Mobility Manager, supports convergence for dual-mode handsets with Voice Call Continuity (VCC) applications. It also supports zone-type convergence where incoming and outgoing calls behave differently according to a designated “user zone”.
On the consumer side, Personeta’s Converged Life communication suite enables service providers to integrate multiple voice services and enhance them with various applications to create a true value-add scenario. With its modular architecture and the latest in Web Services technology, service providers have the flexibility to create multiple service mashups using a single application umbrella.
At the Center of Things
Tango Networks (News - Alert) says they have managed to “meet the needs of all the stakeholders in the mobile ecosystem: the end-user, the enterprise, and the mobile operator”. Indeed they have succeeded in combining the functionality of enterprise PBXs and UC systems with the flexibility mobile phones. Tango’s PBX/UC solution, called Abrazo, replaces all of your phone numbers with a single phone number, and assigns you one voicemail box to check. You also get access to PBX/UC features from your mobile phone — call forwarding, abbreviated dialing, conference calling, etc. IT departments can use Abrazo to manage mobile phones like any other corporate asset, abolishing excess calling costs, productivity inefficiencies, inadequate call security, unavailable content monitoring and unnecessary legal exposure.
Abrazo can deliver as many benefits to carriers as it does to enterprises. Its server-based system connects any mobile phone, through any public wireless network, with any PBX, UC or Centrex system. Abrazo lowers the costs of carriers’ subscriber acquisition, customer service, and management. Moreover, carriers can now essentially partner with their customers by genuinely integrating employees’ mobile phones with their services and the enterprise network. This makes possible enterprise-wide agreements, reduced customer support demands, increased subscriber loyalty, growth in market share and minutes of use. Down the line it can also open the door for the sale of more high-value, high-margin applications.
A Tangled Mobile Web?
In the sometimes bewildering alphabetic soup of FMC, VCC, UC, UMA and SaaS, we can dimly discern that that the desktop environment is being cut loose from the office and is becoming a unified set of mobile applications, and ultimately such applications will be easily accessible on mobile devices via the web. The continued rise of social networking will add a few more applications and a lot more network traffic. In the more prosaic short-term, for companies too small and/or fearful to tackle installation of a cutting-edge UC system involving mobility, service providers are ready, waiting and eager to help and to use service differentiation rather than price as a competitive tool. IT
The following companies were mentioned in this article:
CommuniGate Systems – (www.communigate.com)
CounterPath Corporation – (www.counterpath.com)
DiVitas Networks – (www.divitas.com)
Kineto Wireless – (www.kineto.com)
NewStep Networks – (www.newstep.com)
Personeta – (www.personeta.com)
RIM – (www.rim.com)
Tango Networks – (www.tango-networks.com)
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