Mobile UC Transforms UK College Communications

Eco-technology was sabotaging telecoms technology on Hertford College's newly outfitted campus. Agito's RoamAnywhere system resolved the problem.

By Adam Stone | Posted Sep 24, 2009
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We’ve written before in this space about Agito Networks, a Santa Clara, Calif. company whose mission is to build a bridge between fixed-line enterprise communications applications and the mobile ecosystem.

With a recent university installation, Agito has shown just how far its technology has come as it reaches toward a seamless fixed/mobile experience.

Based just north of London, Hertford Regional College (HRC) enrolls 12,000 students and employs 900 staff. As it put the finishing touches on a $140 million facilities overhaul, the college unveiled a new four-story building that covers half a city block.

It's all state-of-the-art stuff—except when it comes to working or communicating on the go.

"We’ve just spent all this money on buildings and they are great, they have all kinds of great new infrastructure, but they are rubbish for mobility," said Daniel T. Hidlebaugh, Network Services Manager.

The trouble lies in the new buildings’ insulation, whose foil lining "just acts like a big reflector. You can have five bars outside and when you step inside, it goes to nothing," Hidlebaugh said.

The situation was especially challenging for IT managers, with engineers, network service personnel, and various other key players in constant motion. "It’s difficult when I have to send a tech guy out to locate one of my main engineers and it takes him three hours to find the guy," Hidlebaugh said. "On a scale of 1 to 10 the frustration level was a 10."

At first the IT team conjectured that a change of carriers might resolve the issue. They tried T-Mobile, Orange, O2, and Vodafone. When none of those worked any better, Hidlebaugh knew he had to choose between putting up a pricy repeater on campus or finding another solution. He found Agito.

Systems integrator Convergis Ltd. steered HRC to the Agito RoamAnywhere Mobility Router. The network appliance brings together enterprise wireless LANs, carrier cellular networks, IP telephony, and location technology as it makes available both voice and data applications in the mobile environment.

Campus personnel are equipped with various models of dual-mode Nokia phones, which operate over a campus-wide Cisco-based Wi-Fi network. "That Cisco wireless network is pretty dense within the campus, so we have extremely good coverage, right out into our parking lot," Hidlebaugh said.

That’s not hyperbole: Hidlebaugh’s ability to call (via Wi-Fi connection) from the parking lot speaks to the heart of the system’s capabilities. With Agito enabling his call to be recognized as part of the college’s landline network, Hidlebaugh saves half the cost of what might have been a mobile-to-mobile call.

Economics like that mean a lot to an IT manager looking to justify a new implementation, and Hidlebaugh says Agito has given him numbers he can comfortably take to the powers-that-be.

In the three months since going live with RoamAnywhere, the college has cut its mobility bill dramatically—from $6,000 a month to $3,000 a month. "That’s an awful lot of [expense] to get cut. Realistically, the Agito box will pay for itself in a year or two."

In seeking a solution to the college’s mobility challenge, Hidlebaugh looked at a number of systems but said he found a market that had not yet reached a point of sufficient maturation.

"There’s other stuff out there but it all seemed to be patchy-patch-patch," he said.

"Do you remember when Wi-Fi first came out? The people who wrote the software were always different from the radio set," he said. In that case the market really began to take shape when strong vendors with multiple in-house capabilities began to introduce product that had been integrated from the get-go.

It was the same with word processing, Hidlebaugh said. It took Microsoft Word to unify software and platform, bringing an integrated whole to the marketplace.

In the world of fixed/mobile convergence, Agito has hit that same mark, Hidlebaugh said. "They are telephone people and they are wireless people. They have all the specialties in house and that has made a huge difference for me."

In terms of implementation, Hidlebaugh’s experience was trivial. "It takes all of 30 seconds to register a phone with the phone manager and it takes another five seconds to download the software, so in less than a minute the thing is working."

All that being said, only one point remains. Remember the foil in the insulation? That particular specification is becoming increasingly common in new construction throughout Europe, Hidlebaugh said. The prospect of new signal-resistant fortresses rising here and there about the landscape will likely have Agito—and any other contenders—laying out their battle plans in the coming months.

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