F/MC Watch: The Enterprise Strikes Back

By Ted Stevenson | Mar 1, 2007 | Print this Page
http://www.enterprisenetworkingplanet.com/unified_communications/FMC-Watch-The-Enterprise-Strikes-Back-3662986.htm

By now—especially for readers of VoIPplanet.com—the benefits of convergence between fixed and mobile phone networks should be pretty well understood: fewer phone numbers and message repositories, increased availability or "reachability" of personnel, and some cost savings when calls are routed over IP-based data networks instead of mobile operators' access networks.

The fly in the ointment, from the enterprise point of view at least, is that the availability, of such F/MC solutions—to the extent that they are available at all in the real world—has pretty much depended on their adoption by the mobile carriers. This is true because most of the developers of the various required technology components—switching/control devices, dual-mode phones, and client software—have looked to those service providers as their natural path to market.

Turning this situation on its head, Siemens Corp. this week announced the release of HiPath MobileConnect—a standards-based Fixed/Mobile "Convenience" solution (to use Siemens' marketing speak), designed to work in harmony with any SIP-based PBX and any dual-mode cellular/Wi-Fi handset.

Luc Roy, Siemens' vice president of product planning, told VoIPplanet.com in an exclusive briefing that MobileConnect is the only F/MC solution that delivers all the key benefits. "A lot of vendors give you one part but not the other," he said. "For example, some deliver seamless roaming [between cellular and VoIP networks], but don't deliver single number or single voicemail. And vice versa: Some competitors offer a single phone number, but they're not doing seamless roaming. In fact, we are the first ones to deliver everything," he stressed.

In our view—setting aside the phone number and mailbox issues—far and away the most important facet of this solution is that it places the switching/handoff technology squarely within the enterprise network. Why is this key? Because, it gives organizations the option of implementing F/MC now, without reference to their phone service provider. They don't have to wait and hope.

HiPath MobileConnect solution consists of two parts: an appliance and client software that sits on the dual mode device. "Each of these products—because they're standards-based—can be run independently of each other," Roy explained—and, independent of Siemens' other networking and telephony gear, he added—at least in the future.

As of announcement time, MobileConnect is certified only with Siemens HiPath 8000 communications server and with Symbian-based handsets in the Nokia E60 series, and the Fujitsu-Siemens Pocket LOOX, a Windows Mobile-based handheld PDA device.

"We're working with everybody, though," Roy told VoIPplanet. "There are about a dozen [devices] being certified right now. We want to ensure that the user experience for our enterprise customers is going to be what we want it to be; that's why we go through the certification process."

The switching appliance comes in three configurations: up to 50 users, up to 250 users, and up to 1,500 users. "The way we organize it is, you've got the client and then you buy licenses for the users," Roy explained. "But you only buy licenses for users that actually require the dual-mode ability—for seamless roaming."

The appliance can be located anywhere in the network, since it is SIP-based. The only reason to add appliances is scale: if you need more than 1,500 seats.

How does MobileConnect-based F/MC work? Here's Luc Roy's explanation:

"When our client software 'sees' a wireless LAN, it tries to authenticate against the WLAN. If it can authenticate, it then does a SIP registration. If the SIP registration is successful, that means it is connected to the MobileConnect appliance. At that point, the MC appliance knows that any calls for this person—or any outgoing calls that user might want to make—can be handled over the wireless LAN . . . and therefore not consume any cellular minutes."

"If you're not on the WLAN," Roy continued, "or if you're not registered via SIP—because you could be connected via VPN, for example—then the system knows that any calls for you should go via the cellular network."

Roy went on to point out that handoff between cellular and Wi-Fi networks will be handled in real time, whenever "best connection" status changes. That is, if you're connected over the cellular network and you enter a Wi-Fi coverage area, the call will be switched to the IP network (by means of a very brief three-way conference connection involving the device and both networks). Naturally, it works the other way as well: Walk out of a Wi-Fi area and the call is switched to the cell network.

In any case, whatever the initiating or continuing connection, the caller ID associated with the call will be the user's enterprise PBX number—the number on his/her desk phone—and all messages will go to a single mail box.

In case VoIPplanet needed convincing that converged phone service is significant (we didn't, really), Roy offered an example of an early adopting customer—a European clothing manufacturer and retailer.

It seems the rag trade is so competitive these days that so called "spot" buyers will just flip down through a list of potential suppliers, giving each sales contact a brief opportunity to answer their phone and take an order. "After a couple of rings—or if they have to call a different number—they usually lose patience and simply go on to the next manufacturer."

"I didn't believe them, when I first heard this," Roy told VoIPplanet. "But I've since found out that in a number of retail businesses, that's the way it actually works."

And the garment manufacturer in question claims to have seen marked revenue increases since implementing the Siemens Mobile Connect solution.