Convergence - Steps Closer to Adoption
If you had to guess which single application enterprises spend the most money on, what would it be? If you answered voice applications, you'd be correct. Up to 25 percent of IT budgets are funneled into voice applications, which is more than e-mail or any other expenditure. As many handsets are already equipped with two radios (cellular and Bluetooth), the addition of a third (Wi-Fi) brings with it opportunities to do more.
"There are really two types of dual-mode play in the market. Cellular handsets with Wi-Fi for data and a solution for seamless mobility," says Lisa Barclay, senior manager of enterprise media relations with Motorola. "Most major mobile device makers provide Wi-Fi capability for data." Motorola and Nokia are the first to pioneer complete solutions for enterprise voice and data over Wi-Fi and cellular with a high quality of service, security, long-battery life and the seamless handoff of calls between networks.
Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) is one such technology that provides access to GSM and GPRS mobile services over unlicensed spectrum technologies, including 802.11 and Bluetooth. According to the UMAtechnology.org Web site, "By deploying UMA technology, service providers can enable subscribers to roam and handover between cellular networks and public and private unlicensed wireless networks using dual-mode mobile handsets. With UMA, subscribers receive a consistent user experience for their mobile voice and data services as they transition between networks."
For a real-world example, consider the following. Say you receive an important phone call on your way to work. You park your car in the lot and cringe because you know the cellular signal strength is poor inside your building and it's likely you'll lose the call. With UMA technology, however, rather than be dropped your call would be handed off to your corporate Wi-Fi network once you arrive inside. On top of that, once the call is handed off to the WLAN, it's no longer using the cellular network and so isn't counted against the plan for that phone, saving minutes and money.
The market is definitely gaining traction; enterprises are beginning to understand the value a dual-mode offering can bring to their business in terms of increasing user mobility and productivity. Interest is definitely on the rise. "Wi-Fi and true wireless VoIP are going to be an important enabler for further enhancing mobile communications," says Jaakko Olkkinen, general manager of Nokia Enterprise Voice Solutions. "The WLAN is going to enhance mobile use for the enterprise." The greatest value is clearly cost savings.
While interest in this type of converged VoIP technology is increasing among enterprise CIOs, implementation will evolve gradually because service provider support of these solutions is a critical factor to their success. Nokia has created the first such relationship with Orange, based in France, which will roll out a branded service later this year. "The way it kind of differentiates from other technologies, is that it's an approach to voice over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth that is optimized from a network operator perspective," says Janne Linkola, director of business development at Nokia Customer Market Operations. "These services will be rolled out by [the carriers] and supported by Nokia UMA products. What UMA delivers is GSM service that works in the macro network and delivers the same service over Wi-Fi. And it does that seamlessly. UMA supports handovers from network to network in both directions.
"Though it remains to be seen what the market adoption is," Linkola continues, "there is certainly customer interest." Nokia is the first handset manufacturer to offer a UMA-capable handset, the 6136, which will be available globally later this year.
Motorola is taking a different approach to convergence. Motorola touts its technology, Enterprise Seamless Mobility, as providing mobile workers with secure, one-number accessibility and the functionality of their enterprise desk phone wherever they go using a single mobile device. "By integrating wireless technologies and fixed line networks, the solution helps enterprise CIOs to improve cost efficiencies by leveraging the best available network inside and outside of enterprise walls, to increase worker productivity and to improve customer service through reliable and uninterrupted access to their mobile workforce," says Motorola's Barclay.
The solution includes a secure WLAN infrastructure that enables fast roaming between access points, strong over-the-air QoS, robust power management and simplified implementation. Though Motorola hasn't announced specific products or availability, it is committed to bringing the technology to market.
"We will continue to invest significant dollars and resources to bring the most innovative, next-generation technologies to market to help enterprise customers achieve truly seamless communications," says Barclay. "The Motorola/Avaya/Proxim enterprise seamless mobility solution defined the market for what can be achieved through fixed mobile convergence. Throughout the development process, Motorola has made significant contributions to IEEE 802.11 standards work groups that will continue to propel VoIP technology forward. Key elements of our next-generation FMC solutions will include multi-tiered offerings and innovative value propositions for enterprises, service providers and other members of our solutions ecosystem."
The benefits to converged handsets and wireless services are clear: Better indoor coverage, reduced network traffic, reduced cellular minutes and the use of unlicensed--and free--spectrum. "Reducing minutes and making use of the networks in a more affordable and cost-effective way," concurs Linklola, "these are the main benefits."