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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Hosted Mobile PBXs. Yawn.

I'm staggered by the amount of blather I hear around the concept of hosted "mobile PBXs". Loads of operators are talking up the proposition, and Broadsoft, Speakanet & assorted others extolling the virtues to me in meetings & conference calls.

"Ditch your lump of Avaya or Nortel tin, and just use your normal mobile phones with some clever gimmickry in the network to set up call groups, easier hold & transfer, and if you're really lucky, cheaper on-net calls to your fellow employees"

My take? It's a niche of a niche.

Fixed variants of hosted PBX, IP Centrex, whatever you want to call it, is sort-of picking up in popularity, albeit from a very low base. Some companies like the idea of outsourcing their phone system to a carrier, with various types & levels of management. OK, fair enough, I can see the point for 10-20% of users at companies who don't want to hire another telecom administrator, or who have lots of remote sites for which PBX installation & management would be a pain.

But how many of these outsource absolutely everything? Not many. Most (especially large enterprises) will keep a lot of their telephony systems in-house, especially if they have call centres, or if they're integrating VoIP with enterprise applications like SAP or Siebel. Again, fair enough if you're using a carrier that has some IT systems integration expertise, perhaps BT's Global Solutions Division, or AT&T.

But a mobile operator, offering mobile centrex? Do you really expect them to support incremental migration from PBX to hosted mobile-based service over a couple of years? Do they have an PBX experts to help with this, or the various bits of IT integration? How will they deal with bits that have to be kept fixed (like call centre agents)? Will they be able to route calls over your shiny new IP-VPN to reduce international call charges? I don't think so.

OK, I can see the argument if you're a startup software company in Helsinki with 11 employees & no legacy PBX or key system. Or perhaps a chunk of your mobile sales force. But anything else? Maybe 1-4% of the overall enterprise marketplace (ie 10-20% of the 10-20% mentioned above).

Oh, and I'd like to see how these services work indoors in large buildings, especially if they use 3G.....

Last point. Any mobile operators out there that can honestly say they run their entire business on mobile? Including their customer service agents, their legal department's fax machines and their reception desks in local offices around the world?


wifi2wimax said...

Mobile PBX is certainly a niche but considering the proliferation of Telecommuters, remote offices, death-of-cubicles and Knowledeg workers trying to us ebest available network to log on to corportae networks, internet,applications; this niche may become more commonn place is few years time.

Disatsets ushc as katrina,earthquakes have taught Enterprise CIOs how essential it is to have multimode, multitechnolgy access avialbale to all and not only toexcutives.

I am not sure if you are thrashing the idea of Mobile Hosted PBX or are unaware of how FMC can play a role in take off this proposition in netrprise market.

ivo said...

This is for sure too narrow view of the Mobile PBX concept and too wide implications. I agree with you in general, but technology can do much more. Add to your concept terminal portability (same number- any terminal) and PBX functionality in hosted environment (Centrex or IP Centrex). Could be difficult to accomplish in "good-old" TDM world, but easier with IP. Out of the office use existing 2G-3G handsets, inside office IP phones with the same mobile number. Forget the dual mode WiFi/mobile handsets- still some time and development is needed to make them tools, not toys. In the office fly with full PBX functionality with limited mobility, out of office- partial funcionality with full mobility.
For sure, some partnering with existing IT companies will be good for the help with IP networking, VoIP phone installation and provisioning. All the rest could be handled by the company administrator itself using web based MobileIPCentrex selfcare.