Every year, more and more people need to move around as part of their jobs. Market research firm IDC estimates that as of 2010 just over 30% of the world's workers are mobile. The number is even higher for the United States--70%, according to IDC.
This moving about is a source of complexity. When workers are outside the office, they can't benefit from the communication services they have within company walls. They can't transfer a call to a co-worker, and they can't join a conference in the same way they would at their desks. Because they each have two phone numbers, people may have to ring them twice to reach them.
Fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) solves these problems and more. Enabling a smartphone to send commands to the private branch exchange (PBX), and thereby provide users the same services they would have in the office, saves a lot of time. In addition to simplifying the lives of mobile workers, FMC helps companies cut costs. Some solutions find cheaper routes for cell phone calls, and some make it easier to enforce policies that cut down on expensive communications.
There are different flavors of FMC: some transfer calls between Wi-Fi and cellular networks, and some transfer both voice and data connections. But all versions allow users to have just one phone number and include services approaching those they would get in the office.
A variety of vendors compete in this market from different angles. PBX manufacturers provide software to allow cell phones to send the proper commands to the PBX, allowing access to services away from the office. Some handset vendors also provide solutions. And finally, there are a slew of new companies coming to play with packages that are independent from products already in place in the enterprise.
Are you ready to implement FMC in your company? Here are seven tips to help you go shopping:
1. SELECT YOUR FEATURES
> Look for the features you need.
The most basic service is single-number reach (SNR). Users can hand out a single identity and be reached on the appropriate phone. With SNR outgoing, the caller ID received reflects the single number, regardless of the device used.
Extension dialing is another popular feature. Users can call (or transfer a call to) colleagues using only their extension.
It's also useful to transfer calls from a handset to a fixed phone, and vice-versa. When users are on a call and walking into the office, they can push a button to have the connection handed off to their office phones. Likewise, they can move the fixed call to the cell phone when they need to get up and go.
Still another useful service is the single voicemail box. If a user doesn't answer the phone, whether it be a cell phone or an office phone, the message gets stored in a common mail box.
Beware: You won't get every feature you get in the office. Make sure you understand which ones you get.
> Favor an intuitive interface.
All FMC solutions require users to enter commands on their cell phones. Make sure this is easy to use. Remember some of your people will be operating in hands-free mode and might not be in situations where they can press buttons on the handset during a call. Make sure the software doesn't interfere with other data applications that might be running when the FMC program pops up.
Beware: If the application requires a complicated installation, you'll turn off your users very quickly. A program that can be deployed over the air with little or no user intervention is the best way to go.
2. CONFIRM COMPATIBILITY
> Find a solution that's compatible with your handsets.
Make sure the FMC software runs on the phones you use. Even if it operates on the right hardware, the interface might not be good enough on all of your form factors.
Beware: If you're counting on handing off GSM calls to Wi-Fi, remember this only works on dual-mode phones--that is, phones equipped with both Wi-Fi and cellular radio.
> Check for compatibility with your PBX.
All FMC solutions involve new server software running in the enterprise. Pay close attention to make sure it interfaces with your PBX. Is what you use Internet protocol-(IP-) or time division multiplexing-(TDM-) based? The answer to that question will make a difference in which FMC you choose.
Beware: PBX handoffs might not include data communications--certainly not if it's TDM- based. If you're running an application, doing e-mail, chatting on IM, or browsing the Web, your data session may not be handed off with your voice call.
3. SECURE AND ENFORCE
> Be mindful of security.
Remember that handsets can be lost or stolen. You don't want somebody to access your PBX and make a bunch of international calls with you footing the bill. To remedy this, most FMC solutions require user authentification.
Beware: If you can avoid it, don't make your user manage several identities. What distinguishes some solutions is the ability to use a single logon for data applications and FMC.
> Consider policy enforcement.
The consolidation provided by FMC makes it easier to log calls or block undesired behavior. You can allow or prevent international or pay-for-use calls and have that policy enforced on both your mobile and fixed phones.
Beware: Some policies don't have the same meaning on fixed and mobile phones. If the user is in another city, you certainly don't want to block calls to that area.
4. CUT COSTS
> Don't forget about cost reduction.
By routing calls through your PBX and across the lowest-cost fixed line networks, you can save money. Because you consolidate communication through FMC, you might also study call behavior and negotiate better rates based on what your users actually do.
Beware: If you're considering an FMC solution as a way of saving money by passing calls from cellular to Wi-Fi, be cautious. This requires cooperation from your cellular provider. Also, before going down this path, take a close look at your business service with your network provider. You might be able to negotiate a better plan.