Fixed-mobile convergence at the enterprise level is suddenly on the lips of major Wi-Fi systems providers.
FMC has been a subject of intense focus for several years, primarily in the context of service provider backbones. In its initial iteration, FMC has been seen as a way for carriers to integrate voice-centric landline and mobile Web services using Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and other standards.
The carriers are still building their FMC infrastructures and services packaging and billing strategies. In the meantime, though, enterprise equipment makers are making noises about premises-based offerings that enterprises can use to integrate Wi-Fi, cellular, and wired VoIP services themselves.
In recent weeks, the likes of Siemens, NEC Wireless, and Aruba Wireless Networks have announced plans and products for helping enterprises unify their various communications needs across disparate network types. During the same time period, Cisco announced its intent to acquire start-up Orative, which makes unified messaging applications and servers centred around the cell phone as a bona fide business phone.
The stories are all a little different, but have a common underlying theme: Equipment-makers are looking to help enterprises converge their IP voice, data, and video communications themselves, either as an interim step to FMC carrier service offerings or as a flat-out alternative to them. Some are focused largely on enabling a seamless handoff between Wi-Fi and cellular networks, while others also emphasise an important first step in enterprise-enabling dual-mode user mobility: Prepping the enterprise Wi-Fi infrastructure for voice-readiness with dense coverage and QoS technologies.
Here come the products Products to support this are starting to emerge. Start-up DiVitas Networks announced in April that it would provide Wi-Fi-to-cellular infrastructure gear for dual-mode roaming late this year. At the Mobile Business Expo conference in Chicago early this month, DiVitas CEO Vivek Khuller said the company would announce commercial shipment of its products - an enterprise appliance that handles wireless signal handoff and client software - “within the next one to two months.”
Dual-mode handsets that support voice over cellular and Wi-Fi networks are due to ship this quarter and next from companies such as Fujitsu-Siemens, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, and UTStarcom. Mobile phones with dual-mode Wi-Fi and cellular voice capabilities could help users gain a single business phone number that works wherever they are without having to reinitiate calls when they cross network borders.
While the industry awaits converged network service offerings from mobile carriers, the following announcements are aimed at enterprises.
- Aruba Wireless Networks The company said last week it would enter the enterprise FMC market in phases. The current phase aims at readying the Aruba WLAN environment for latency-sensitive voice traffic with call admission control and battery power-saving features. The company said it would add Wi-Fi-to-cellular handoff to its mobility controllers in the first half of 2007, would supply open APIs for IP PBX integration, and is working with several European carriers to integrate its FMC components with the carriers’ Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) FMC offerings.
- Cisco Infrastructure companies like Cisco, Avaya, Nortel, and others have traditionally tried to add cellular to PBX systems. They treat the PBX phone number as the user’s business number and integrate it with existing corporate directories in multimedia communications servers, which also house users’ cellular numbers for simultaneous ringing or handoff. Cisco's recent purchase Orative, on the other hand, has focused on making the cell phone and cell number the primary business communications tool. Currently, Orative runs its own directory in its own multimedia communications server, so interesting integration efforts with corporate directories will be in order here.
- NEC Wireless In January, NEC plans to offer a SIP presence server for enterprises. Tom Grady, product line manager, NEC Unified Solutions, explains that when the server senses that the user is leaving the Wi-Fi network, because the AP-to-handset signal is weakening, it alerts the IP PBX to set up a network call to the cellular number. The session won’t drop, he said, but the caller will be on hold for a couple of seconds while the transition takes place.
- Siemens Enterprise Communications The company announced a Wi-Fi-to-cellular appliance, Mobility Manager, which it demonstrated in prototype form at the CeBit show earlier this year. It manages dual-mode Wi-Fi-to-cellular without session disruption using a single phone number, says Luc Roy, vice president of product planning. He adds that the company has put corresponding client software on HTC dual-mode handsets and is “agnostic” to the cellular network technology (CDMA- vs. GSM-based) in the mobile WAN.