BlackBerry VoIP finally makes its debut thanks to Agito's creating a dual-mode phone client for Research In Motion (RIM)'s ubiquitous device. The new technology will let BlackBerry users quickly access a host of fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) features.
While T-Mobile's consumer service HotSpot@Home has allowed its BlackBerry consumers to make calls over their Wi-Fi connections, there's been no such capabilities available for the enteprise, and no options that have allowed the type of PBX feature integration of Agito's offering.
The advance will also allow enterprises to deploy FMC features like 4-digit extension dialing to the mobile device without the long pauses that plague other solutions, such as RIM's own Ascendant Systems, whose call-back mechanism causes brief delays.
"On the scale of the offerings that are out there, Agito's being certainly innovative and is the first out there ... in supporting the BlackBerry," said Phillip Redman, a research vice president at Gartner. "Saving money isn't guaranteed because there are costs associated with building up your wireless LAN network, but what it does offer that nobody else does is better indoor coverage."
Now, users can have crystal-clear call quality on a dual-mode BlackBerry phone wherever they have access to the corporate wireless LAN.
Agito has offered dual-mode FMC technology for years, but only on more open platforms like Nokia Symbian and Windows Mobile devices. Bringing the technology to BlackBerry was stymied even as RIM vowed greater developer openness. Pej Roshan, Agito Network Inc.'s vice president of marketing, said he believed RIM gave Agito the access it needed only because the handset giant did not believe Agito could actually put VoIP on the BlackBerry.
Mobile VoIP has been a particularly sensitive issue for RIM as the company has tried to balance the demands of service providers (who don't want to lose cellular minutes) and customers. For now, RIM has found that balance by restricting VoIP on the BlackBerry to Wi-Fi networks and blocking its use on 3G cellular networks, Roshan said.
"3G can certainly sustain VoIP," he said. "The reason we don't do it, and you're not going to see us do it for this release, is that every major mobile operator bans that as part of their terms of service."
Current customers, at least, seem to be embracing the news with more open arms than the carriers.
Chris Nowak, CTO of Chicago-based produce supplier Anthony Marano Company, said the company currently has about 50 Agito-enabled phones (primarily Symbian devices) deployed in-house, and the ability to route calls over Wi-Fi has allowed the company to replace many users' desk phones with them, offering both the convenience of mobility and the reduced cost of VoIP.
But about a dozen workers have been unwilling to give up their BlackBerry devices because of the superior email support, Nowak said, and he is eager to get the Agito solution implemented to support these users.
He said he had tried RIM's Ascendant solution, but the performance just wasn't good enough for the fast-moving company's needs.
"It just wasn't very fast for our in-building and PBX dependencies because [Ascendant] is always going to the carrier first and then the PBX," Nowak said. That means taking four or five rings to reach someone instead of one or two.
The BlackBerry VoIP support is available immediately, but Agito said it hopes to offer a more extensive unified communications feature set by the end of the third quarter of this year. This will put the BlackBerry client on par with Agito's Nokia and Windows Mobile clients, which have features like rich presence.
Given Agito's history of hitting deadlines, Redman expects these expanded features to be ready, giving the company a strong lead in the FMC market.
"Those that understand the value of mobility will definitely be interested in this, but this market is still emerging and people are discovering what's available," Redman said. "I think others have certainly had this on their goals and development cycles, but nobody's delivered yet."