Two vendors are separately releasing products that let enterprise networks do something even the carrier networks aren’t yet doing: bridge the gap between corporate wireless LANs and cellular nets.
Both Siemens Communications and startup DiVitas Networks can switch voice calls between cellular and Wi-Fi nets, without dropping the call. The goal in both cases is keep enterprise users tied into corporate VoIP services — both fixed and mobile — and data services, and let users both make and take calls over either wireless net.
Both products use a behind-the-firewall appliance, usually working via a Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) connection with a corporate PBX, and client software running on a handset, such as a so-called dual-mode phone, which has both cellular and Wi-Fi adapters.
There are differences. DiVitas says its customers can use a Wi-Fi hot spot, such as a Starbuck’s coffee shop WLAN, for connectivity. Siemens doesn’t support that initially but plans to in the future by certifying VPN clients on the handsets. DiVitas has a built-in open-source Asterix IP PBX, Siemens relies on an existing enterprise IP PBX.
This product class, often referred to as fixed-mobile convergence, is still in its infancy, though some analysts estimate as many as two dozen companies, from newly minted startups to network giants, are building products to bridge the cellular/Wi-Fi divide. The driving forces: productivity gains from having employees always reachable, and extending enterprise management and security to smartphones loaded with sensitive corporate data.
Avaya in cooperation with Motorola offers a product package to handle a similar cellular/Wi-Fi handoff via an Avaya PBX. Cisco and Nokia have done something similar for Nokia handsets and Cisco VoIP nets. Other vendors such as Alcatel-Lucent are working on gear that will enable carriers make the handoff within their nets.
Both the Siemens and DiVitas products free enterprises from reliance on the carriers for such services.
The Siemens HiPath Mobile Connect Appliance continuously monitors the mobile users handset, via the companion client application loaded on a dual-mode phone. The appliance keeps a SIP registry of all client handsets, such as dual-mode phones or Wi-Fi VoIP handsets, and it tracks the presence of the handsets. A built-in SIP server links the appliance with a SIP-based PBX. The PBX maintains its function as the clearinghouse for all incoming and outgoing enterprise calls.
The arrangement lets users have one phone number, one voicemail, and access to range of PBX features, says Luc Roy, vice-president, product marketing, Siemens Communications. Outside users, such as customers or employees on the road, can place a cellular call to you at the enterprise, and the HiPath software will bridge this call to the corporate WLAN and use the Wi-Fi connection to ring your dual-mode phone.
The appliance can also switch you from a Wi-Fi connection, as you exit the building into a parking lot for example, to your cellular carrier’s net. The client software detects when the Wi-Fi signal is weakening, as you walk out of range. Then the appliance calls your cellular number through the PBX, conferences the Wi-Fi and cellular voice sessions, and then drops the Wi-Fi call.
Calls made or taken over either wireless nets, as long as they go through the corporate PBX, are able to make use of PBX features such as voicemail, call forwarding, and so on.
Siemens has certified Mobile Connect for its HiPath 8000 communications server, the HiPath WLAN product line, and initially for the Nokia E60 and Fujuitsu-Siemens Pocket LOOX dual-mode handsets. The appliance will be available in April, in 3 models, supporting 10, 20, or 150 users. The price for the appliance itself ranges from US$3,950 to $39,500; the licence costs range between about $2,600 for 10 users to about $18,000 for 150.
DiVitas unveiled the outline of its Mobile Convergence Appliance about a year ago. The product is now shipping.
The DiVitas Mobile Convergence Appliance is available now. The MCA 1000 with a 10-user licence starts at US$5,495.