Experiencing the Totally Connected Lifestyle

Two long-time VoIPplanet.com staffers recently got the opportunity to do something we don’t normally get to do: try out a sexy, sophisticated enterprise communications application in the real world.

The application in question is DiVitas Networks‘ Mobile Unified Communications system. It arrived in the form of two Nokia E71 dual-mode phones, pre-populated with some contacts at DiVitas, including technical support.

Getting the phone ready for dual-mode use required only entering the Wi-Fi network security passphrase—a matter of a few minutes work. Most of the difficulty was managing the tiny QWERTY keyboard on the Nokia E71.

With that task out of the way, the phone was ready for its first duty: being a phone. The beauty of mobile UC is that you can make calls either over the Wi-Fi network (when one is available) or over the cellular network (when one isn’t).

When you’re moving across network boundaries, the phone automatically switches to the best available connection, in a move known as ‘seamless handover.’ Indeed, we were able to move back and forth between cellular and Wi-Fi networks with no human intervention.

In our relatively brief testing period we noticed a tendency for the phones to favor the cellular network when out and about, but the application isn’t really designed for hotspot use. It turns out the DiVitas application will not connect with a WLAN for which it doesn’t have an SSID or a profile. But if you find yourself at a hotspot or other open Wi-Fi network, you can easily create an ad hoc profile. With known WLANs—at home and at the corporate campus—you shouldn’t have any trouble.

DiVitas client interface
DiVitas Mobile Unified Communications client

The experience of seamless handover isn’t really much different from a normal cell phone conversation—except for the little beep that seems to occur when handover takes place—however the voice quality seemed better over the IP network, which is a plus. But the idea of doing something that only a few years ago was beyond the ability of RF technology, is kind of fun.

Once the novelty wears off, probably the only person who cares about the dual-network capability is the person in accounts payable who pays the cellular carrier’s monthly bill.

Incidentally, with the DiVitas software, the phone functions with ‘dual personalities.’ Calls to your desk phone at work ring your mobile phone, but calls to your personal cellular account do also. When you’re making outbound calls, the application asks you if you want this to be a business call—in which case it uses the Wi-Fi network (if available) and broadcasts your workplace caller ID. If you opt for personal, the call goes over the cellular network and your personal caller ID is used.

So far, so good. The DiVitas application—as unified communications does by definition—also provides instant messaging. For someone, such as your trusty editors, who were unaccustomed to typing on a tiny, phone-size keyboard, it takes a bit of getting used to—but once you begin to develop strategies for using your thumbs, it quickly starts to feel natural, and IM on the move makes a lot of sense.

You can also access voicemail from the DiVitas-equipped mobile phone—both work and personal messages come to your single, unified voice mailbox. Since messages have headers that show the name and title of the caller, the date of the message, and the duration of the call, you can sort through them and prioritize which messages to respond to and in what order.

The other major piece of UC functionality that Mobile Unified Communications brings is presence and availability. In the DiVitas application, there are two aspects to presence: First is a visual icon that indicates your availability and what modes of communication you’re currently able to use (phone and IM, phone only, IM only, and unavailable).

This is supplemented by a short, selectable text message that reads ‘In the office,’ ‘In a meeting,’ ‘Out of the office,’ or ‘On vacation.’ Any of these can be overwritten with an ad hoc personal message that says, ‘On deadline,’ or ‘Working on presentation for Acme Corp. meeting,’ or ‘Stuck in traffic; running 10 minutes late,’ or whatever information you feel will allow your colleagues to understand what’s going on with you at the moment. It adds some nuance to the overall presence information—as well as being an outlet for your personal creativity.

Indeed, folks at DiVitas refer to this feature as the ‘micro-blog.’ It’s easy to imagine posting ‘Stuck at O’Hare for the next two hours,’ and hoping some of your colleagues will IM you something useful or amusing.

After living for a week with this wealth of communications functionality—all neatly contained in a sleek, pocketable, 4.5-ounce mobile phone—it’s going to be hard to pack it up and send it back. We’re guessing that most people who get an opportunity to try out such a system will quickly come to depend on it.

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