Mobile unified communications (UC) has become more than just voice over Wi-Fi. Enterprises can improve communication and collaboration by investing in other mobile UC applications, such as presence and IM, that can integrate with smartphones, whether enterprises rely on their cellular data networks or fixed-mobile convergence to do so.
"There's still [a cost], but when you think about the productivity it can bring to your employees, that's even more valuable," said Vanessa Alvarez, a unified communications analyst at Frost & Sullivan. "When you think about C-level executives, the last [place] you want them to be is behind a desk. You want them on the move, but at the same time you want them connected as if they were in the office."
Consumer use of presence applications has grown around social media, Alvarez said. But for enterprises to find mobile UC worth their investment, use of presence and IM will have to be savvier than broadcasting, "I'm on 4th Street in San Francisco."
"As [presence] evolves it'll state what you're doing and the best way to reach you," Alvarez said. "Probably not so much, 'I'm going to IM you and have a conversation,' but really to identify where you are: 'I'm at client so-and-so's office.' Then the salesperson sees that in their IM client in the office and they can say, 'Oh, good. You're with my client. Let me give you some background on them.'"
The use of presence broadens once employees go mobile, answering not just the question "Are you free?" but also: "What are you doing? Where are you? What's the best to reach you?" Presence integrated into fixed-mobile convergence technology can also answer the question of whether users are on a cellular or Wi-Fi network, said Vivek Khuller, CEO of DiVitas Networks, a mobile UC startup company based in Mountain View, Calif.
"[Presence] creates ambient information, which is information that is around you that you are in touch with in a very innocuous and constant manner," Vivek said. "Therefore, it reduces the amount of transactional communication you need to engage in," such as answering questions like, "Are you busy?" or "Should we chat in IM or by phone?"
Pej Roshan, chief marketing officer and co-founder of Agito, said because most people keep their contact lists on their cell phones, integrating those lists with UC tools is a natural fit.
"When you want to reach someone now, you call their desk phone. You call their cell phone. You send them an email. You just kind of carpet bomb the person," Roshan said. "I may look at a presence screen and show a phone call is not the best way. I may send an IM."
Fixed mobile convergence carries mobile UC to Wi-Fi
Vendors such as DiVitas, Agito and Siemens Enterprise Communications have married their mobile UC products with fixed mobile convergence (FMC), enabling smartphones to default to a wireless network for voice and data applications instead of cellular networks.
Their mobile presence and IM systems can show whether the caller is on a cellular or Wi-Fi network, in addition to broadcasting location and status. Knowing all this can help enterprises save on international and roaming rates, these vendors say.
Employees traveling abroad may not answer their cell phone to avoid getting whacked with steep international rates if they're on a cellular network, but they may be more likely to respond to an email, text message or IM on their smartphones. Conversely, if they are on a Wi-Fi network, a mobile presence application that indicates as such could let colleagues know it's OK to pick up the phone.
Santiago Chico, CEO of Mexico-based virtual service provider VSYS, uses Agito Networks' dual-mode FMC software for Voice over Wi-Fi for BlackBerry devices he and most of his 10 employees use daily, cutting costs for the business calls they make to Latin America and Europe.
Agito has not yet released the software upgrade to include presence and IM for BlackBerry, but Chico said he is eager to try it so employees working out of the office can continue to communicate without breaking the bank.
"We use [presence and IM] on our softphones currently. Our computers have those functionalities and people use it a lot, so it would be very convenient for us to see [on smartphones] if the other guy is busy or not," said Chico. "I don't have to be thinking about which is the most cost-effective way to communicate."
Presence and instant messaging systems don't depend on FMC
But before enterprises invest in an FMC solution for unified communications, they should weigh the necessity of a fixed-mobile convergence component, said Paul DeBeasi, a senior analyst at Burton Group.
"Most people don't have Wi-Fi in their phones, and most enterprises aren't using Wi-Fi for voice," DeBeasi said. "I think what [FMC vendors are] offering is a very nice solution … but in terms of the big picture, most enterprises aren't using these dual-mode solutions. Most enterprises are just struggling to get better cell coverage."
Mobile phones are likely to at least partially replace the desk phone in a few years as they incorporate more UC features, DeBeasi said, but he noted a mobile unified communications strategy doesn't depend on FMC. For many enterprises, the cost of upgrading their in-house wireless LAN to support it may outweigh the return on investment.
"We're going to see more and more people using their [cell] phone for data networks, instant messaging and Facebook," he said. "The [cell] phone is becoming the dominant communication tool, but not necessarily in the way that DiVitas and Agito are talking about it. Mobile UC in its purest form doesn't require Wi-Fi -- just using a mobile phone and integrating unified communications on there."
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer