(This article originally appeared in the October 2007 issue of Internet Telephony magazine.)
Enterprises have private voice networks and private data networks. Cell phones don’t currently fit into this model, because the voice connection is directly to the service provider rather than through the PBX (News - Alert). In this way the growing use of cell phones in enterprises is like an epidemic of employees signing up for DSL
Internet service in their cubicles rather than using the corporate LAN. And it’s quite an epidemic. According to Tango Networks, 28% of employees use their mobile phone as their primary business phone. Partly as a result of this, enterprises typically spend a third of their IT budget on mobility. These numbers are growing.
Internal calls made through the PBX
are effectively free. Each one that migrates to a cell phone instead costs money. But employees find mobile phones and Blackberries so useful that it is futile to resist their advance.
The expense drain caused by the growing use of cell phones for internal calls may become the clinching motivation for enterprises to deploy FMC (Fixed-Mobile Convergence (News - Alert)). Things like seamless roaming between cellular and WiFi
networks are not so important compared with getting these calls back onto the private voice network. This requires a dual-mode (cellular plus WiFi (News - Alert)) phone.
Not all of the products claiming enterprise FMC have dual-mode phone support, and not all of the FMC solutions with dual-mode phone support offer unbilled WiFi calls.
Naturally the type of FMC that appeals to the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) is the type that allows them to bill for every call. The type that appeals to enterprises is the type that lets them manage the device and all its traffic while it is on their premises, so internal calls become free again.
Once an enterprise has made the decision to go to a dual-mode phone solution, a second huge benefit accrues: the IT department now controls the traffic, clients and servers, so it can implement solutions exactly the way it wants them, and it can tweak them to the company’s needs. For example, internal calls can use wideband codecs, improving the audio experience. Other FMC benefits, like a single phone number for fixed and mobile, a single voice mailbox, PBX features on cellular calls and the ability to move calls between the desk phone and the cell phone can be achieved without dual-mode phones. But for most enterprises these are secondary benefits compared to cost reduction.
The market is in its infancy, and the technical challenges to VoIP over WiFi remain significant. Fortunately, the challenges associated with making on-network calls are the ones that are best understood. Enterprise VoWLAN has been available for several years; it is no longer rocket science to achieve adequate signal coverage and QoS
in a building. Next year’s crop of WiFi chips for handsets will slash their power consumption; as 802.11n rolls out, the coverage and QoS will improve further, as will the density of handsets per access point. But even currently available dual-mode phones give a good experience. Nokia has put a lot of work into its eSeries phones to make them enterprise friendly, and it has worked with PBX vendors like Cisco (News - Alert) and Alcatel-Lucent to make these phones work seamlessly in the enterprise voice network.
The challenges associated with making WiFi calls from hot-spots and other locations off the enterprise network, and the challenges associated with handing off calls in progress between cellular and private networks are still sufficiently difficult so that startups can differentiate on their ability to solve them.
The good news is that functional solutions exist right now to move a significant chunk of that 28% and growing number of business calls made with cell phones from billed minutes to free minutes. IT
Michael Stanford has been an entrepreneur and strategist in Voice-over-IP for over a decade. His strengths are technical depth, business analytic skills and the ability to communicate clearly. In his current consulting practice, Michael specializes in VoIP wireless networks, both WiFi and WiMAX. Internet Telephony Magazine (News - Alert) recognized him as one of “The Top 100 Voices of IP Communications” and VoIP News named him one of “The 50 Most Influential People in VoIP”.