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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The year of enterprise FMC? But what problems lie ahead?

I'm increasingly impressed by the breadth and depth of commitment to corporate fixed-mobile convergence I've been seeing over the past few weeks. Post-3GSM I've spoken to or met with Avaya, Divitas and Siemens, and clearly Cisco and others have also been busy with their propositions.

Yes, there are differences in approach - handsets supported, WiFi-to-cellular roaming/handover, depth of software integration on the device, standalone vs integrated with a specific PBX. In addition, some offer various enhancements like PBX extension onto cellular-only devices, support for single-mode WiFi phones and so on. And there are still some gaps like SMS capability. But overall the number of different solutions that work is a very positive sign, validating the general proposition of dual-mode phones for enterprise users.

So what could go wrong?

Most readers will be familiar with the notion that new technologies often turn into bandwagons, gathering momentum and speed.... until the wheels fall off, everything goes wrong, cynicism sets in.... and then slowly it recovers to become accepted. A famous rival analyst organisation calls this the hype cycle.

Disruptive Analysis' mission is to flatten this cycle. By trying to predict the first (and maybe second) generation of practical problems before they emerge, work on fixing them can start early. So, in the consumer dual-mode world, it was painfully obvious 2-3 years ago that there would be issues around handset UI design, customer support, and configuration/interoperability with users' existing WiFi routers. For UMA, it was obvious as far back as 2004 that the lack of 3G support would be a major issue.

So... what are the issues that will bedevil the corporate dual-mode world as the solutions mature? What will breed disillusionment in 2008, as people realise "it's not as easy as it looks"?

Here are some stumbling blocks that I think Divitas, Siemens, Avaya, Cisco & co will have to deal with:

1) SMS integration - I've talked about this enough before
2) Single/dual number - I'm unconvinced by the "just put your fixed line # on your business card & route all calls through the PBX" rhetoric. Most employees' mobile numbers are already known by clients, suppliers, colleagues & embedded in their own handsets' phonebooks. Plan on dual-number solutions, but make the work well. Multiplicity will win.
3) WiFi coverage. One of the biggest limiting factors for enterprise VoWLAN is that for many organisations, the total proportion of office/campus area with decent WiFi coverage is still low.
4) Channel to market. The number of integrators/distributors that understand all the bits - PBXs, cellular, WiFi, handsets, data networks, security... is small. It will take huge & lengthy efforts to acquire, train and support a properly-effective dual-mode capable channel organisation.
5) Handset software client maintenance. This will be a never-ending exercise. New cellular-only and dual-mode devices will continue to emerge, with a range of both OS choices and, especially, application suites. The FMC vendors' clients will continue to need to evolve in both depth and breadth if they can hope to "own" the employees cellphone experience in a consistent way. This will require huge & ongoing resource to develop, extend and test handset software - a task which is usually 10x more complex than most people expect. Expect to have to support Symbian S60 and UIQ, Windows Mobile, Blackberry OS, a couple of Linux variants and maybe Apple too.
6) Least-cost-routing. Working out how to intelligently use inbound and outbound calls, the corporate fixed VPN, maybe doing callbacks if appropriate, dealing with changing or special tariffs, coping with roaming.... it's not easy. It will almost certainly need to combine intelligence both on the phone and in the enterprise network.
7) Security & provisioning. At NetEvents last week, I was chatting last week to a couple of WiFi security specialists. They were talking about things like policy management for devices attaching to the corporate wireless, identifying them by MAC address and ensuring that they had up-to-date security software and so on. Great for laptops, but they were a bit stumped when I chucked two dual-mode devices at them and challenged them to find the MAC. One was under the battery, the other needed a bizarre #-9-digits-# sequence to be keyed in. Now imagine you're a network manager with a stack of 1000 phones and having to get them provisioned on the WLAN without automation. I'm not a security specialist, but I suspect this is the tip of the iceberg.
8) "Guest" WiFi access for other dual-mode users visting the offices

There are others. But the point is this - listen up, enterprise FMC providers. You've done a great job getting this far, and have obviously been focused on getting the thing actually working. It's now time to look outwards, and second-guess the realworld problems (commercial, technical, usability etc) before they occur in reality. "Anticipatable" problems caused at least a year's delay in consumer dual-mode FMC rollout after the concept was validated. The same will occur in the corporate space, unless these and other problems are fully addressed at an early stage.

1 comment:

Chinese Circus said...

Word in the street is that Divitas is having trouble with their client software and can't get the handset vendor to cooperate with them.

Good luck and don't believe the hype.