F/MC Watch: A Cisco-Centric Approach
We've been chronicling the emergence of fixed/mobile convergence for going on three years now, as the first real-world implementations of the concept began appearing in mid-2005.
The pioneers of F/MC created solutions designed to be deployed in service provider (carrier) networks. Though technically viable, the carriers have, for the most part, not adopted these solutions, and many of the companies that produced them have disappeared.
The more challenging problem of devising an F/MC solution that could be deployed in an enterprise networkwhere the benefit is more clearly demonstrablewas tackled by companies like FirstHand, DiVitas, Siemens, and Varaha. These products, now fairly mature, have tended to be comprehensive, all-in-one solutions, offering not only handovers of voice calls between cellular and Wi-Fi networks, but mobilizing PBX features, directory access, presence, and other communications functionality in a single package.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Pejman Roshan, cofounder and vice president of marketing for Sunnyvale, Calif.-based startup Agito Networks, which styles itself as a fourth-generation F/MCor second-generation eF/MC (as in 'enterprise' F/MC) vendor.
According to Roshan, Agito was founded by a group of technologists that came out of Cisco Systems, where they'd worked in the Wi-Fi and IP telephony (CallManager) divisions.
Why? "We saw the emergence of real dual mode phones coming," Roshan told Enterprise VoIPplanet.com. "And once we saw the first incarnation, we saw that there was something missing: how dual mode phones would be integrated into enterprise applications like VoIP and UC."
Agito Networks was formed specifically to supply that missing piece. "We found that what was needed was a product that fell between the Wi-Fi team and the UC team. That's a hard kind of thing to do at Cisco. We knew if we wanted to see fruition, we'd have to do it ourselves."
But one significant difference between Agito's solution and those of the enterprise-focused F/MC providers mentioned above, is that Agito is supplying only that missing piece, not a complete solution. A look at the nature of the large-enterprise market, where companies may have millions of dollars invested in Cisco or Avaya IP telephony makes perfect sense of this.
"When we architected our solution, we made sure it was enterprise ready," Roshan explained, "meaning it would play well with the infrastructure that was already there. That's harder to do because your ecosystem of partners becomes a lot bigger and you have more people to deal withmore moving parts."
The heart of Agito's solution is a hardware appliance, the RoamAnywhere Mobility Router, that sits in the enterprise network, and "fuses together Wi-Fi, IP telephony, UC, and cellular with location technology," according to Roshan. "We take location and implement it in a very unique way to make our handover function extremely well."
Although Agito's handover algorithms do factor in signal strength/quality, network traffic, and other variables (which Roshan terms "stress metrics"), the overriding factor is physical location. "What we've done is develop a metric that would be 'deterministic,' that would allow a handover before things become problematic," he told VoIPplanet.
"We realized that the only time you're going from inside to outsideor outside to insideis when you're going through a door," Roshan explained. So, the system administrator actually calibrates the system by marking the physical locations of the doorsa one-time operation. "Every time a user walks through that 'route point,' as we like to call it, we get a location match and that will trigger the handover."
Among other advantages Roshan cited, the deterministic, location-based handover techniques allows for cleaner, quicker ('sub-100-millisecond') handovers.
Getting back to the fundamental architecture of the solution, Roshan remarked "We've gone to great pains not to replicate partner functionality. We don't embed a PBX into the solution, and that has some key benefits. One, we don't have to mess with route plans," he said. "Nor do we have to tamper with desk phones"as in disconnecting them from the existing PBX and reconnecting them to a new one.
But there's another ramification to Agito's architecture: separation of control from the data path. "What that means," Roshan explained, "is that there's no audio flowing into our appliance, just SIP call control traffic." That is, the Mobility Router sends SIP signaling to the phones, but they contact each other directly"endpoint to endpoint."
This means that, should the router go down, calls in progress are not interrupted, as they would be if the PBX and the appliance were one and the same device. Furthermore, the open architecture allows a redundant Mobility Router to be added to the network for more or less instant failoverthus creating a high-availability solution.
Agito is working to ensure compatibility with a host of enterprise PBXs. "We have native integration for Cisco, Nortel, Avaya, Microsoft OCS, name your favorite PBX vendor, either we have support or it's coming in the fall release," Roshan said.
The relationship to Cisco technology remains a special one, as the Agito product also integrates with the recently announced Mobility Services Engine, via its Mobile Intelligent Roaming API, making use of data gathered within the wireless network to supplement its location-based handoff technology. Cisco has named Agito a Gold Partner.
On the client side, Agito supports Nokia's E and N series dual-mode phones, and a gaggle of Wi-Fi equipped Windows Mobile devices. "With iPhone (knock on wood) we should have support by the end of this year. And we are the only F/MC developer in the RIM developer program,: Roshan said.
The RoamAnywhere Mobility Router is available in configurations that support between 10 and 1,000 simultaneous calls. Pricing for the Series 2000 model, supporting 100 simultaneous calls, starts at around $10,000.