NetMotion Brings Cross-Network Support to Wireless VoIP

Based in Seattle, Wash., software company NetMotion, Inc. has established a place for itself in the wireless world by giving users the ability to move through multiple network connections (from Wi-Fi to wide-area cellular, for example) without risk of interruption to their data stream.

With the release this month of version 8.0 of its Mobility XE product, the company claims the ability to deliver real-time applications, including VoIP, reliably across diverse network connections.

While many NetMotion clients don’t yet have VoIP in play, “all of [our large and enterprise-size customers] have pilots, or plan to have them in the next 12 months,” said John Knopf, director of product management at NetMotion. “We felt very strongly that we needed to have our offering on the table so that our solution would be the preferred solution.”

The company’s clients—with user bases ranging from 100 to upwards of 20,000—include Cox Communications, ConEdison, and Atlanta Gas & Light—as well as a range of companies in the healthcare arena. Mobility XE costs between $55 to $150 per seat.

For most VoIP users, continuity through multiple network connections cannot be taken for granted. “You meet up with very different bandwidths, latency, and other connection characteristics that can become very adverse to conducting that voice call. The physics of the network changes as the network changes,” Knopf said.

On the data side, NetMotion has already proven its ability to overcome such issues. In Milpitas, Calif. for example the company put in place a solution that would allow fire fighters to receive data from dispatchers even when moving between Wi-Fi hotspots and wide-area networks.

With VoIP, time trumps integrity

With its latest version the company tackles not just voice but other real-time media including streaming video, web conferencing, and instant messaging. Crafting a continuity solution for these applications required a somewhat different approach from that used on the data side, Knopf said.

In securing data connections, the key success metric is packet integrity: Don’t lose data. That’s less important in a VoIP environment.

“What we needed to do was to create a new infrastructure in which, instead of treating data integrity as the most important thing, we would look at time as being the most important thing,” he said.

“With data applications we always made sure we were filling up every frame, making the absolute best use of the bandwidth. With real-time applications this is much less important than simply sending the packet as soon as possible, regardless of what else is happening.”

Drop a packet or two on a voice call and chances are no one will notice. Slow down that packet stream for the sake of ensuring absolute data integrity, and users will not be happy with the experience.

Unexpected dividends

In tackling VoIP continuity, NetMotion is partly taking a cue from its own users, some of whom have already used Mobility XE as a way to make the most of their existing VoIP capabilities.

When the sheriff’s office in St. James Parish, La. implemented Mobility XE within its wide area network, managers found they had more bandwidth available to dedicate to VoIP. This allowed the office to install laptops on patrol cars, in turn allowing deputies to communicate with home base, according to Toby Sandifer, IT manager and administrator for the parish.

In approaching the VoIP market directly, NetMotion is counting on support from the big carriers with whom it has close ties. AT&T sells NetMotion solutions and bills on behalf of the software company. Sprint and Verizon engage in joint marketing efforts with the company.

Carriers look to companies like NetMotion as enablers. By complementing existing telephony solutions, software providers allow the carriers to offer more complete packages to their own clients, Knopf said.

Even with carrier partners—friends in high places, as it were—widespread adoption of NetMotion’s latest offering will take some time, Knopf predicted. “Within a large carrier sales organization, it takes a while for things to filter down to the field level. We will take the next several months to do a regular briefing process, and it still will take a while for this to trickle down. There needs to be a constant communications effort.”

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