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2007: A Good Year for Enterprise Fixed-Mobile Convergence

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June 13, 2008

2007: A Good Year for Enterprise Fixed-Mobile Convergence

By Michael Stanford

(This article originally appeared in the December 2007 issue of Internet Telephony magazine.)
2007 has set the stage for 2008 to be a break-out year for enterprise fixed-mobile convergence. An October 2007 survey by SearchMobileComputing found that 29% of respondents had already implemented mobile VoIP, and 18% planned to do so within 18 months. These numbers sound high to me, but they are still indicative.

Three major building blocks have fallen into place in 2007 that will support rapid adoption of enterprise FMC. They are enterprise grade mobility controllers that handle the switching between VoWiFi and cellular; VoIP-grade WiFi networks that support many clients per access point and hand off sessions between access points rapidly enough; and dual-mode phones (cell phones with built-in WiFi) with adequate battery life, processing power and manageability.
The first generation of Enterprise FMC solutions (which many would argue isn't real FMC) uses Mobility Gateways to connect cell phones to PBXs. Incoming calls to the PBX are sent back out through the PSTN to a cell phone as needed, and client software on the cell phone uses the cellular data channel to provide PBX features on the cell phone. All the main PBX vendors have now delivered mobility gateways for their systems. Some manufacturers developed them in-house, some acquired companies for the technology, and some worked with third party companies to deliver the solutions. Ericsson and Siemens developed their own solutions; Cisco acquired Orative; Avaya acquired Traverse; Nortel and NEC (News - Alert) worked with Firsthand Technologies.
The second generation of Enterprise FMC solutions uses dual-mode phones to replace desk phones, delivering calls by VoWLAN when users are in the office, and cellular when they are not. Vendors specializing in this flavor of FMC include DiVitas and the new company Agito, which both offer PBX-agnostic mobility controllers. This type of FMC switches between cellular and WLAN automatically in mid-call, in a similar way to consumer-oriented UMA phones.
RIM pioneered in creating a new category of cell phone, the Enterprise Cell Phone. Nokia noted the emergence of this new category early on, announcing the Eseries of phones at the end of 2005. The Eseries had WiFi, and for enterprise grade manageability, OMA-DM support. The Eseries broke out in February 2007 with the announcement of the E65 and the E61i phones. These phones have a built-in SIP client for VoWLAN, and customized support for Cisco and Alcatel PBXs. RIM responded in July 2007 with the 8820 dual-mode phone, which switches seamlessly between WiFi and cellular connections using technology that RIM got when it acquired Ascendent at the end of 2006. Like DiVitas and Agito, the RIM mobility controller is PBX agnostic. Windows Mobile-based smartphones also play in the enterprise dual-mode space. The leading manufacturer of these is HTC (News - Alert).
The most significant dual-mode phone delivered in 2007 was the Apple (News - Alert) iPhone. Although the iPhone is better than any other smartphone, it has some flaws. It is currently useless for enterprise FMC because the WiFi connection can't be used for voice, and the iPhone is locked to third party applications. Apple's October announcement of a forthcoming SDK for the iPhone gives hope that this defect will be remedied.
WiFi in phones is rapidly improving in speed and power conservation. The chip makers are learning fast how to optimize WiFi for handsets. Atheros announced in October a new chip that delivers performance superior to current chips while cutting overall power consumption by 70%.
October also saw a Unified Communications announcement from Microsoft. For enterprise FMC an interesting part of this was Ericsson's (News - Alert) support of Microsoft's SIP platform with the Ericsson Enterprise Mobility Gateway.
Mobile network operators have neglected the enterprise market; carrier-based FMC solutions have so far been consumer oriented, like T-Mobile's Hot-Spot@Home. But in February 2007, Sotto Wireless opened for business with production delivery of its all-in-one wireless and office phone communications service, which includes support for dual-mode phones.
So 2007 has been a hotbed of activity for enterprise FMC. The building blocks are now all in place. This column has dwelt mainly on mobility controllers and handsets, but real-world deployments of enterprise dual-mode FMC systems face issues of security, hand-off latency, network QoS and manageability. Fortunately 2007 also saw major steps forward in all these areas.
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 (News - Alert) Magazine 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”.

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