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Monday, January 23, 2006

Enterprise VoWLAN and SMS

Hope to catch up today & tomorrow on a couple of things outstanding from last week. I chaired a day of Informa's Multimode Handset conference in London on Weds / Thurs and saw a lot of presentations about combining WLAN, cellular & other stuff (mobile TV, GPS etc etc) into phones.

A few things stood out in my mind.

First off, a very interesting presentation from Cisco about its view of dual-mode devices & how they might work in the enterprise. Although I regularly meet with Cisco, the profile of enterprise telephony tends to be pretty low in many cellular industry suppliers, who prefer to deal with markets with number of users in 9 or 10 digits, as they're selling software or chips for a few cents or dollars apiece. Enterprise mobile is "low volume, high value" - great if you're an operator or integrator, but mostly just icing on the cake for a chipset supplier.

Cisco's speaker came from the company's IP Communications division, and continued the last few months' tradition of drip-feeding information about the upcoming Cisco dual-mode solution, based around Motorola and (especially) Nokia dual-mode phones. (See my earlier post on the E-Series) . All good stuff, and I'm expecting to hear more noise still over the next month or so. My betting is on some major integrators and fixed/mobile operators (probably existing Cisco distribution partners) to be in the vanguard of shipping things.

But one thing stood out - and this also applies to the Avaya / Nokia solution as well. In general, the idea seems to be to tie all corporate comms back via the enterprise-adminstered IP-PBX, and to encourage employees to use the fixed-line # rather than their "native" mobile number where possible. This makes sense for a few reasons, but depending on how it's implemented, has one major potential flaw - poor integration with SMS, and possibly other cellular applications.

Particularly in Europe, business people SMS each other as well as email. "Running late", "At airport, in lounge", "Can't spk now, in boring mgmt mtg, boss droning on".

SMS needs to work "nicely" when the dual-mode device is in VoWLAN/IP-PBX mode. This is especially true if the solution aims to "cloak" the phone; mobile number and pass off the call as a purely PBX-based call with a fixed-line #, tie in with conferencing systems etc etc. But if the employee texts his client, then caller ID will reveal the "real" mobile number - which the client / supplier / colleague will then just enter in his or her mobile's address book and use by default.

It's not especially complex to fix this in theory, but the messaging functions on IP-PBXs tend to be very voicemail/email/IM-centric, with poor (if any) SMS integration.

So. A suggestion to Cisco, Avaya, Ericsson, Nortel, Alcatel, Siemens & assorted other IP-PBX and VoWLAN people - sort your SMS integration ASAP, and don't let your North American R&D & product marketing people tell you it's a low priority.

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