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August 2008 | Volume 11/ Number 8
Packet Voice Over Wireless

Sell It or Smell It!

The big hurdle any IT initiative must clear in order to get to deployment is ROI (Return on Investment). That even applies to glamorous, trendy technologies like Mobile Unified Communications (News - Alert) (formerly known as FMC — Fixed-Mobile Convergence). So when Chris Nowak, CIO at Anthony Marano, said “that’ll make us money,” I immediately took notice.

He was talking about the Blackberry MVS (Mobile Voice System) Client — software for the Blackberry that extends PBX (News - Alert) functionality to the mobile phone. Chris knows whereof he speaks. He’s tried different FMC solutions and still uses many in a production environment. The nature of Anthony Marano’s business (produce distribution) is such that it benefits from FMC to an unusual extent. Inventory must move quickly (“if you don’t sell it you smell it”); their salespeople and buyers must be instantly available for deal-making, even while roaming their ten-acre warehouse with customers. But as Chris pointed out, speedy transactions and agile communications are becoming requirements for every business that wants to stay in business. Marano is a bellwether.

Marano began years back with a Roameo system from AG Communications. When AT&T dropped Roameo support in 2005, Marano migrated to the Avaya/Motorola (News - Alert)/Proxim Seamless Mobility Solution. This worked well after some tweaking, but suffered from latency problems when handing over from one access point to another. It was OK while you were on a call, but if you were walking fast, or riding a pallet jack, incoming calls would sometimes go to voicemail instead of ringing your phone. Plus, it only worked with one handset model. Marano still has 30 people on this system, but it has been superseded.

The next system Marano installed was Ascendent’s (News - Alert) Mobile Voice System for Blackberry, combined with T-Mobile’s UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access) service. The MVS provided PBX integration, the UMA provided handoffs between WiFi (News - Alert) and cellular both on and off premises. It’s still in use, but is limited in the number of phones it supports, and users say it feels slow, so Marano tried yet another FMC solution, the Agito Mobility Router, which works with the Nokia (News - Alert) Eseries and Nseries phones. That’s not the end, though. Soon Marano will also have deployed Nokia’s Intellisync solution.

There were also problems making the WiFi coverage seamless. Marano solved this with an Extricomm “blanket” network running on a single WiFi channel across the whole warehouse. Its price was right, but it didn’t scale up to the 70 access points demanded by Marano’s 10 acres of seamless coverage in and out of half-acre coolers. So Chris went with a Meru single-channel network instead, which he says is expensive, but scalable and redundant. However, Chris has banned Bluetooth for now, owing to interference problems. He awaits future 5 GHz WiFi phones immune to Bluetooth interference.

So Marano’s perfect FMC solution would be one with wide phone support (including Blackberries), running in the 5GHz waveband, with off-premises WiFi support as good as T-Mobile’s (News - Alert) UMA and network handovers as snappy as Agito’s. IT

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

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