It's hard enough to train users to consistently update their presence, status and call routing preferences on a unified communications (UC) desktop client, so asking them to do the same on a smartphone while in transit or barbecuing in the backyard is impractical. Location-based applications that automate the process with Wi-Fi, cellular signals and GPS are making mobile UC mindlessly easy for users and smoothing the path to adoption.
Jeff Rose, director of information systems for the Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC), a municipal electric and water utility owned by residents of Orlando, Fla., has found that getting his 1,600 users to be diligent about updating status and presence even on the desktop is a bit of a "cultural" issue. Doing so via smartphones is not likely to be successful at this point, he said.
"It's a habit that you have to learn to say, 'I'm leaving the office. I want to set my presence or preferred device accordingly to that,'" Rose said. "[We hope] people begin to realize that you wouldn't necessarily know where that person was [without status] when you're talking to them -- it looks like they're in the office, but they might be at the golf course. They might be at home and they might be at Aunt Matilda's."
Because many of his diehard BlackBerry users regularly travel between OUC's five regional offices, mobile UC has potential in Rose's organization, he said -- but not if he has to rely on users to update their presence and status manually.
"Certainly, anything that can do things without human input and do it correctly is a good thing," said Rose, who recently deployed the OpenScape platform from Siemens Enterprise Communications. "If there was a way for [the mobile UC client] to always know where you were, what you were doing, set your status and forward calls appropriately, that would be a good thing."
Mitel recently expanded its mobile UC offering to include location-based functions in its new BlackBerry application, available from BlackBerry App World. Unlike its Web interface for mobile devices, Mitel's mobile UC client can use a BlackBerry device's native Bluetooth and global positioning system capabilities to adjust presence and status based on a user's location, said Arnaud Bellens, head of business development and strategic alliances at Mitel.
Users can program the BlackBerry client to recognize specific locations -- including home and office -- and program presence and call routing accordingly, Bellens said. The client can also recognize via GPS when the user is mobile and apply those policies as well, he said.
"You no longer have to remind yourself about changing your status when you leave the office before the weekend," Bellens said. "The application will do it directly for you."
Since its launch in 2007, Agito Networks' RoamAnywhere mobile UC client has been able to use GPS, Wi-Fi and cellular triangulation for its location-based applications, including automatic presence updates, call handover and call routing policies, according to Pejman Roshan, chief marketing officer and co-founder of Agito.
Pejman RoshanCMO and co-founder, Agito Networks
Reading broadcasts from nearby cell towers, the Agito client can also determine whether the user has traveled and is subject to roaming charges, Roshan said. The client will then apply any policies the administrator has set for international calls.
Users have a dramatically higher tolerance for doing tasks manually on a PC than on a mobile device, he said. Building these capabilities into the product didn't strike Agito's co-founders as "hugely innovative [but] because customers wouldn't buy it otherwise," he added.
"Outside of Silicon Valley or the Foursquare users who are willing to click where they are every two hours, most enterprise users are picky about this," Roshan said. "The [mobile UC] user experience has to be so much more automated and simple. I hate to use the term 'idiot-proof,' but it has to be that way -- and the only reason I can think of is [that] people are lazy."
Even with location-based applications, mobile UC has its limits
Although GPS can provide timely location information for automating mobile UC application updates, the system tends to misfire while indoors or in bad weather. GPS is also often slower than Wi-Fi or cellular signal due to the latency inherent in the roundtrip between Earth and its orbiting satellites.
On Agito's RoamAnywhere client, the software automatically defaults to wireless LAN connections, if available, because they provide the most precise and consistent location accuracy, Roshan said.
Wireless access points (APs) can determine location within 100 to 300 feet, while cell towers can provide about a three-mile radius, he said. GPS's accuracy can vary greatly by external conditions but typically triangulates within 10 to 100 meters, or about 33 to 330 feet.
GPS can also be a battery hog on smartphones. Cellular and Wi-Fi connections are already active on a smartphone, enabling Agito to recycle that information for its client, Roshan said.
"We can get a lot of information for 'free' -- information already flowing to your phone, even when it's not in use -- just by accessing the existing updates that are coming 10 times a second from the wireless access point or cell tower," he said. "So, we'll always prefer the 'free' stuff first that doesn't require us to burn extra battery … [and] engage GPS as needed."
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer
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