F/MC Watch: Toshiba, Varaha Partner to Mobilize Office Phone

In what is becoming one of the hotter trends in the VoIP world, Toshiba America Information Systems (TAIS) yesterday made a joint announcement with Texas-based Varaha Systems, to the effect that Varaha’s uMobility technology has been certified as interoperable with Toshiba’s flagship Strata CIX family of IP phone systems, and that Toshiba’s will dealer network will be selling uMobility to the entire Strata CIX customer base.

uMobility, a technology that we covered in its infancy (here), is a fixed/mobile convergence (F/MC) application that manages handoff between different kinds of wireless networks, allowing dual-mode mobile phones to make and take calls over Wi-Fi (or other WLAN technology) networks as well as GSM and CDMA cellular networks, even jumping from WLAN to cellular, or vice versa, in mid call.

Among other things, this means that uMobililty transforms dual-mode smartphones into extensions of the enterprise IP phone system, allowing workers to be reached at one phone number regardless of their whereabouts, and consolidating business voicemail into a single mailbox. Private/personal calls to a user’s cell number remain private.

Furthermore, F/MC can cut down significantly on per-minute cellular charges, and lets international and other long distance calls to be routed through the PBX, rather than over cellular access networks, for big savings.

” Mobility applications are a very important part of our strategy,” Jon Nelson, product marketing manager for Toshiba Telecommunication Systems Division, told Enterprise VoIPplanet. “We’ve had a lot of demand for this type of capability that’s grown over the last year or two, as we go beyond just very simple mobile capabilities that we had—things like simultaneous ringing of your desk phone and your cell phone.” A sophisticated F/MC application that had “a lot of money saving potential to it,” was another attractive idea, Nelson added.

“We wanted to take the best of breed approach and partner with somebody who really understood this technology and was already in the business and knew what they were doing rather than trying to build this ourselves,” Nelson explained. “We really couldn’t have duplicated this kind of capability, left to our own devices. So our best move was to seek out and find Varaha and then have them bring this technology to the Stratus CIX.”

“We’re very pleased to be associated with a company that has the strength that Toshiba does—both in terms of product as well as support,” said Ed Cox, Varaha’s vice president of marketing and carrier sales.

Cox then touched briefly on how the partnership or ‘division of labor’ between the IP PBX and the uMobility components works:

“We let the IP PBX to do all the heavy lifting with the trunking assignments to the public network cloud, to the SS7 works, understanding and working with the North American numbering plan, international dialing, and those sorts of things. We do the heavy lifting of delivering those features and capabilities to the mobile handset.”

Among other things, this architectural approach allows uMobility to connect to a wide variety of wireless LAN types—including Wi-Fi, WiMAX, GSM, and CDMA—and to function equally well in the enterprise and carrier spaces, which is quite a recent development for F/MC solutions.

Further, the uMobility system supports a wide variety of smartphones, including most devices running the Windows Mobile and Symbian operating systems—from such vendors as Nokia, Samsung, and HTC. Cox told VoIPplanet that support for the iPhone and the BlackBerry would be forthcoming before year’s end.

But there is yet another dimension to uMobility technology: “The vision of [Varaha] is that F/MC has been horribly undersold as a voice-only application,”Cox asserted, “whereas, in fact, fixed/mobile convergence should be taking advantage of the smartphone’s capabilities for voice, but also the smart capabilities and the fact that it is a computing device. So, the definition we have of fixed/mobile convergence is rather the wireless handoff of sessions with the sessions being able to be voice, data, and video.”

This strongly suggests data-application and multimedia integrations going forward, but Cox did not supply details.

Starting immediately, Varaha’s uMobility technology will be available through TAIS’s extensive dealer network. It will be available to the entire Strata CIX family and will be an easy retrofit for existing systems.

Jon Nelson doesn’t foresee mobility as being a tough sell, even under the current economic circumstances.

“The good thing about this type of application is that you sell it through an RoI. You go in and show a customer that the money they’re going to save from the cellular charges they’re experiencing now, with all their mobile users outside of the office .  .  . is going to add up to some pretty solid savings in a short period of time,”—not to mention additional savings from cellphone calls made within the campus. “That’s how you sell applications in an economy like this: No RoI, no sale,” Nelson said.

“Then the icing on the cake is the productivity gains that you can get from delivering an F/MC solution over a quality IP PBX,” Cox chimed in—”because nowadays you’ve got fewer people doing more work, so the productivity story isn’t a bad message to be carrying in these times either.”

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