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January 26, 2010

Business Communications- Employee Mobility a Top Priority

By Sandra M. Gustavsen, Analyst, T3i Group LLC

A look back at business applications in 2009 from leading business telephony manufacturers reveals that top applications continue to address business continuity with capabilities that facilitate collaboration and the ability to reach others quickly and efficiently. And, employee mobility is in the forefront. Many manufacturers are designing and pricing more advanced mobile solutions specifically for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs), including the popular ‘mobile extension’ feature (simultaneous ringing of a desk phone and a mobile device) which represents a forward-looking and simplified alternative for mobile workers and which will increasingly become standard functionality for a telephony system.

Employee mobility continues to be a top priority for businesses.  And, manufacturers that develop and market business telephony systems and applications are listening. Throughout 2009, leading telephony system manufacturers introduced mobility solutions, such as their own or third party, that work with their telephony platforms.  Workers on-the-go can now choose from a variety of options beyond traditional cordless handsets and proprietary voice-only wireless equipment.  Mobile extensions, like a twinned with a desktop telephone, Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications, or “DECT,” and IP DECT, Wi-Fi and dual-mode Wi-Fi, and, or cellular fixed mobile convergence, or “FMC,” solutions are quickly becoming popular alternatives, and this trend will surely continue into 2010. Nearly all of the leading business telephony manufacturers tracked by TelecomTactics announced a new mobile device solution in 2009, including new mobile device options from Aastra, Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya, and Nortel, Cisco, eOn, Esna, Iwatsu, Mitel, NEC, Panasonic, Samsung, ShoreTel, Siemens (News - Alert), Toshiba and Zultys.

Mobility, however, actually spans a number of business application categories since it includes the mobile device and equipment solutions noted above like mobile extension, DECT, W-iFi and FMC, but also applications like messaging, and remote access and management of all message types, and presence - the ability to view the presence status of others and whether they are on the phone, away from their desk or available for calling or messaging. Presence information can also indicate the preferred communication device or media - desk phone, cell phone, e-mail, instant messaging, or other media. So, businesses are increasingly deploying a variety of communications technologies which enable a mobile workforce to remain productive by staying in touch with colleagues and customers while on-the-go.  

Most of the messaging solutions introduced in 2009 were focused, at least in part, on the needs of mobile workers. For example, with Toshiba’snew Strategy View Web-based messaging, which is pictured, users can access voice and fax messages via a Web URL from any location. ESI’s Mobile Messaging enables access of voicemail from an e-mail inbox with the flexibility to listen to voicemail on a PC or smartphone. Fonality enhanced its desktop unified communications application, called HUD or Heads Up Display, to support GoogleTalk integration for instant messaging which can be accessed from a variety of devices, including a desktop PC, RIM BlackBerry or Apple iPhone. Also new in 2009 were “mobile” messaging solutions from AVST, Esna, including Mobile UC Client software for Google Android (News - Alert) OS-based devices, Apple iPhone and RIM BlackBerry devices, and Nortel, which is now Avaya, with new Message Forwarding and FindMe/FollowMe features for its Business Communications Manager. Avaya introduced the Avaya one-X Portal for IP Office, a thin client application for control of telephony, conferencing and messaging via a Web URL; this allows users to maintain their enterprise office extension from any location, and the list goes on.

Similarly, presence status information is vital to workers on-the-go, not only to let others know how to reach them, but also for connecting with others quickly and efficiently. Nearly all the telephony system manufacturers highlighted new presence capabilities in 2009. Digium announced some unified communications features, including fax integration, instant messaging and presence status information across networked Switchvox PBXs. Interactive Intelligence developed an integration to Microsoft (News - Alert) Office Communications Server, or “OCS,” 2007 R2 in 2009 to enable users on its Customer Interaction Center, or “CIC,” contact center platform and Enterprise Interaction Center, or “EIC,” IP PBX to more effectively interact through features such as synchronized presence. Nortel, now Avaya, introduced the InTouch application for BCM that integrates with Skype and MSN for instant messaging and presence services. Siemens added unified communications capabilities to its OpenScape Xpressions solution. The list goes on.

Additionally, a number of manufacturers introduced wireless capabilities for desktop telephones in 2009. Panasonic, well-known for its integrated wireless solutions, released new business telephones, the KX-DT300 Series, with support for a Bluetooth-enabled wireless headset. Cisco introduced the Unified IP Phone 9971 with support for Wi-Fi connectivity, 802.11 a/b/g, as an alternative to wired Ethernet; Cisco’s SPA525G desktop IP phone also operates in wired or wireless mode. NEC has a roadmap of new features and functions planned for its DT700 Series phone family, including Bluetooth integration. 

Top Applications 2009

A look back at business applications in 2009 from leading business telephony manufacturers reveals that top applications continue to address business continuity with capabilities that facilitate collaboration and the ability to reach others quickly and efficiently. And, employee mobility is in the forefront. The graphic below illustrates the types and relative frequency of new business applications introduced by leading telephony system manufacturers in 2009, with mobile device solutions, including mobile extension, DECT, Wi-Fi and FMC, topping the list, followed closely by presence and messaging which are often tied to an overall mobility solution. Much of the new functionality crossed several application categories. For example, Alcatel-Lucent updated its OmniTouch Contact Center Premium Edition with support for more mobile device options for agents and enhanced telephony presence information between agents and knowledge experts. 

Business Telephony Systems Target SMBs Again in 2009

Small and mid-sized businesses, or “SMBs,” continue to be a key and growing segment within the enterprise communications market. The T3i Group “InfoTrack for Enterprise Communications 1Q09 Report for North America” revealed that U.S.-based small businesses (those that use between two and 100 telephone lines) were the target market for major telephony system manufacturers. Indeed, in recent years, most of the telephony systems entering the market have been designed for smaller businesses. TelecomTactics research finds that, while telecom manufacturers did not unveil as many new telephony systems in 2009 (about half the number of new systems compared to previous years), nearly all of the new systems were designed for the SMB market. 

The economic downturn may have played a role in the decrease in new system introductions in 2009; however, most of the established telecom manufacturers have now reached a stage in which their portfolios have stabilized, with IP-based systems now available for new sales and successfully replacing earlier circuit-switched systems. So instead of rolling out new platforms, telecom manufacturers have been concentrating on new or enhanced productivity applications for their current line of IP-based systems, or bundling systems and applications for a simplified packaged solution offer, such as the Aastra MX-ONE Compact bundle, NEC UNIVERGE bundles, and the Toshiba Unified Communications (News - Alert) Suite. Avaya’s latest IP Office 5.0 has simplified packaging and licensing, including Productivity Profile Licenses for Mobile Workers, TeleWorkers and Power Users.

Mobility Solutions for SMBs

Many vendors are designing and pricing more advanced mobile solutions with smaller businesses in mind. As outlined above, there are a variety of options for mobile employees, including the popular mobile extension such as a mobile device is twinned with a desktop telephone, DECT and IP DECT, Wi-Fi and dual-mode WiFi (News - Alert)/Cellular FMC solutions. A majority of telephony platforms now support a ‘mobile extension’ feature that allows simultaneous ringing of a desk phone and a mobile device; functionality varies, including the number of devices that may be twinned and the ease of transferring calls between devices, for example.
Also, a growing number of telephony systems support DECT or IP DECT or WiFi handsets, including wireless handsets and equipment from Aastra and Polycom (KIRK and SpectraLink) that operate with most telephony systems. And, FMC is quickly gaining popularity as this solution extends PBX features to dual-mode WiFi/Cellular handsets for seamless roaming within a corporate wireless LAN, but also out over a cellular network. In a 2009 research study by T3i Group, survey respondents indicated that secure mobile device features and functionality both on and off premises was a top priority, and that dual-mode WiFi/Cellular phones are the devices of choice for most companies adopting FMC.

The following graph illustrates the percentage of telephony systems tracked by TelecomTactics that support the various options for mobility. This result is further refined for SMB systems, those with under 250-user capacity and those with under 100-user capacity. One important note is that the mobile extension feature is often included with system software, and though it may be license-activated for an additional fee, it does not require additional equipment as is needed for a DECT, WiFi or FMC solution. So, while there are several viable mobility options, a mobile extension feature represents a forward-looking and simplified alternative for mobile workers and will increasingly become standard functionality for a telephony system.

What’s New?

While there are too many to highlight here, below is a look at just a few of the latest solutions for mobile workers within SMBs.  Visit TelecomTactics for additional mobility solutions and full details.

Aastraoffers a variety of mobility options for SMBs such as DECT over IP with roaming and seamless handover for indoor/outdoor and multi-site communications. In 2009, Aastra introduced a new line of DECT handsets (the 600d Series)) which are now shipping for the Aastra 800 soft switch for SMBs and other Aastra PBX systems, including IntelliGate 150 and 300, NeXspan, OpenCom 100 and 1000 and Aastra 5000 and Aastra’s U.S.-based Clearspan and Pointspan systems; the new DECT handsets can also be used with other vendor’s SIP-based platforms since these are part of Aastra’s SIP DECT solution. Aastra also has a Wi-Fi handset called Aastra 312w, or customers can take advantage of the Aastra Mobile Client running on a mobile device that enables one number access and access to PBX features such as conferencing, forwarding and transfer. In addition, Aastra Mobile Client running on a mobile device is part of a FMC solution with hand-off of calls between a cellular network and the landline device and vice versa. In 2010, Aastra plans to support cellular to WiFi handoff as well. The Aastra Mobile Client application can run on several Nokia mobile phones, some Samsung devices, such as the Symbian S60 third edition, and all RIM BlackBerry models. Aastra plans to introduce Aastra Mobile Client for Symbian fifth edition, touch screen phones, Android, iPhone and Windows Mobile devices.

Mitel addressed the mobility needs of SMBs in 2009 by enhancing its Mitel 5000 Communications Platform with a new productivity application called Dynamic Extension Express, a simple license-activated call control capability for mobile employees. For accessibility and improved customer service, mobile staff can receive calls on any of five defined devices such as a desk phone, a mobile phone, a home phone or the Mitel Unified Communicator, or “UC,” Advanced Softphone as if they are in the office, maintaining their corporate identity, on a single number reach. The mobile phone and desk phone can ring simultaneously or calls can be cascaded so that the desk phone rings first. A hand-off feature key or feature code on the desk phone lets the user move the call from a mobile phone back to the desk phone, or vice versa. Dynamic Extension Express is a version of Mitel’s license-activated mobility application, Dynamic Extension, that was introduced for the enterprise-level MCD platform last spring and which has additional functionality, including up to eight twinned devices, dual-mode, cellular and Wi-Fi, and push/pull. Dynamic Extension adds to several other mobile options already available for Mitel customers, including WiFi handsets, DECT cordless handsets, headsets for the Mitel IP Phones, as well as Mitel’s Mobile Extension, which requires blade or server, Mitel Teleworker and Mitel UC clients. 

Samsung focused on the unified communications experience by updating its OfficeServ 7000 family of IP PBXs with three new built-in mobility features: OfficeServ Connect for simultaneous ringing to five other numbers, MOBEX for assigning an extension to a cell phone, home phone or other phone number outside the OfficeServ System and Hot Desking that allows a user to log into any IP phone with a username and password to enable their own extension and configuration settings. Specifically, OfficeServ Connect (no license required) allows simultaneous ringing of the user’s main desktop station plus up to five other telephone numbers, including internal keysets of any type, such as analog, digital, IP or SIP, but also external devices such as a cell phone or home phone. Mobile staff can make and receive calls from anywhere on any of the five defined devices, as if they are in the office, maintaining their corporate identity and being always accessible to customers and colleagues. All in all, Samsung now offers five options for mobile or remote employees since, in addition to the new built-in features, Samsung customers can also take advantage of the company’s Wi-Fi OfficeServ Wireless system, which is optional, and Samsung IP keysets can be used remotely such as in a home office. 

ShoreTel introduced new features and functionality that enhance an individual’s ability to communicate quickly and effectively, including new Location Based Services, or “LBS,” for the Mobile Call Manager application. Users with a GPS-enabled mobile device running the Mobile Call Manager client can define waypoints that trigger automatic changes to the user’s Call Handling Mode and Office Anywhere settings, based on the location of the mobile phone. For example, the user can specify that calls be forwarded to voicemail when the GPS detects the user has arrived at their home. GPS-enabled mobile devices compatible with the ShoreTel solution include BlackBerry 9000, 8300 and 8800 series and Nokia N95, E90 and E611 devices. With or without the LBS services, mobile users can utilize Mobile Call Manager to conveniently switch their office extension to the mobile device while away from their desk, one phone number and one voice mail account.  In 2009, ShoreTel also added support for the Polycom KIRK Wireless Servers 300 and 6000 DECT solutions and certified the Polycom SpectraLink 8020 and 8030 wireless handsets. 

Toshiba announced three new solutions for mobile workers in 2009, one of which is a FMC solution from partner Varaha Systems that allows mobile employees to use a smartphone device as their business telephone to automatically handoff calls between a cellular network and the enterprise wireless network.  Toshiba explains that regardless of the network that the call is using whether cellular, corporate Wi-Fi, hot spot or any other, it is routed through the Toshiba Strata CIX IP system, then transmitted accordingly using the Caller ID name and number of the user’s office telephone. Mobile workers will have a single phone number wherever they are. In addition, Toshiba introduced two other options in 2009 for mobile workers: Toshiba Stratagy View Web-based messaging and a new DECT cordless phone. These new mobility options add to several other options already available from Toshiba, including the company’s SoftIPT softphone that runs on a wired or wireless laptop or PC or PDA, Polycom SpectraLink wireless phones and the Symbol (Motorola) MC50 Enterprise Digital Assistant.

Zultys announced MXmobile, a UC client for mobile workers in 2009. The new client, initially available for a RIM BlackBerry device, lets users make and receive calls, as if they are at their desk, maintaining their corporate identity and accessibility. Moreover, users can view the presence status and availability of other users within a network of Zultys MX30 or MX250 systems, connected via Zultys MXgroup software. Additionally, MXmobile enables least cost routing, corporate directory access, PBX feature access, voicemail display, call alerts and access to call handling rules. An MXmobile user can receive notification with Caller ID on the BlackBerry when their desk phone is ringing; the user can then answer the call, send call to voicemail, or reject the call. MXmobile for the Apple iPhone is expected in first quarter 2010. Overall, Zultys has several solutions for mobile workers, including Hitachi WiFi phones, Nokia dual-mode phones, wireless DECT handsets twinned with the company’s ZIP 57i SIP device, and now, the MXmobile UC client. 

While the above examples represent some important new options for SMBs, there are many more mobility solutions on the market and many more on product roadmaps for 2010. Employee mobility will certainly continue to be a top priority for businesses and for the manufacturers that develop and market business telephony systems and applications.

Sandra M. Gustavsen, senior analyst for T3i Group, contributes her TelecomTactics column to TMCnet. To read more of Sandra’s articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Kelly McGuire

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