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May 2008 | Volume 11/ Number 5
Packet Voice Over Wireless

Mobile Unified Communications

The main unification in Unified Communications (News - Alert) is between the business telephone and the computer. From the telephone world come voice calls, voice mail, voice conferences and faxes; from the computer world come email, instant messaging and session sharing. The goal of the unification is a user experience where these modes of communication complement each other, for example a unified inbox, where your voicemails and faxes appear as emails, or where clicking on an email address offers the option to place a phone call.

Mobile Unified Communications adds a third device, the smart phone. The smart phone is potentially the perfect device for UC because it is both a computer and a phone.

Adding mobile phones into the UC mix is a major undertaking, and it is being done piecemeal. The first step was taken by RIM, adding corporate email to the mobile phone. The next step is to make the mobile phone behave like a corporate desk phone, offering the features of the PBX (News - Alert). A step beyond offering PBX features on cell phones is to use WiFi for voice calls where there is coverage, and to maintain call continuity as the user walks out of WiFi (News - Alert) coverage.

In addition to the usual issue of cost justification, companies considering implementing Mobile Unified Communications face three major types of challenge: security, manageability, and WiFi infrastructure readiness.

Mobile devices face some unique security issues. First, they are easily lost or stolen. Second, they connect to the Internet outside the corporate firewall. Third they are more personal than computers, and more likely to be compromised by user carelessness. A related security risk is the potential vulnerability of the corporate WiFi network.

Device manageability is paramount to corporate IT departments. They want to be able to enforce policies, to provision and track every device on their network. RIM, Microsoft (News - Alert) and Nokia all pitch manageability as a competitive advantage for their enterprise smart phones.

Voice-over-WiFi makes heavy demands on WiFi networks. Few of them can handle a cutover to Voice over WiFi without an upgrade. WiFi networks don’t normally have enough capacity for more than a few simultaneous conversations, and authentication and admission to WiFi access points is often too slow to allow seamless handover from access point to access point. Fortunately WiFi infrastructure vendors can already deliver a range of ingenious solutions to these issues, and they are continuing to make improvements.

The pieces are all in place. Smart phone sales are exploding. You may be doing Mobile Unified Communications sooner than you think. IT

Michael Stanford (News - Alert) has been an entrepreneur and strategist in Voice-over-IP for over a decade.

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