Mobile calls can be expensive. Still, in business environments it’s common to see people on their mobile phones, standing next to a (very low cost) corporate IP phone. It makes you want to merge those two: to bring together the convenience of mobile phones with the low cost of a corporate phone network. Dual mode phones do just that. But, as Cisco IT is finding out, it’s not an easy job to get the best of both worlds.
Dual mode phones are phones that connect to your office phone network via Wireless LAN and connect to a mobile service provider when away from Wireless LAN coverage. Traditionally this is a solution, which was very much about bringing Voice over IP to the Smartphone platform, but today it’s becoming a more feature-rich solution. Recently we’ve seen with Cisco Mobile 8.0 on the iPhone that we now get many more powerful features such as Visual Voicemail, Enterprise Directory Lookup and Voice Dialing with Speech Connect. Also, Single Number Reach on the IP phone network sends callers to your mobile when you’re not at your desk, and that makes your mobile phone a lot more useful as a business tool. The future holds some exciting times for this technology both in terms of platform support and feature capability.
Over the next six to twelve months Cisco IT is looking to introduce support for additional platforms which will mean we have availability on Blackberry (our biggest user base), iPhone, Android and Nokia. The big challenge here is how we can bring feature parity to users who subscribe to these different platforms as the different mobile phone platforms, devices and providers today all have different features. This makes integration more difficult. Still, despite these problems we expect to see in the next year a core set of features around Voice over WLAN, Visual Voicemail, Cisco Unified Communications Manager call control integration, and secure wireless VPN access when away from the Cisco WLAN infrastructure. Additionally we’re working on integration with other Cisco collaboration functionality such as instant messaging, Presence information and WebEx conferencing to provide a comprehensive Unified Communications and Collaboration experience for our mobile user base.
One big part of the solution that still needs to play out is extending this solution out to Wi-Fi hotspot or 3G / 4G cellular networks. We’d like to be able to connect our employees to our IP phone network from any location, using a secure VPN tunnel. Today this can be achieved with Wi-Fi hotspot on most platforms using native VPN technology on the devices and this solution works well but the challenge here is how to make this:
(a) A seamless experience for a user
(b) A widely scaled automated deployment solution for IT, but at the same time
(c) Meeting the required authentication and security guidelines to protect access into the corporate network and also
(d) Be able to protect and wipe any content should the device be lost or stolen
Voice over 3G / 4G networks is an altogether more tricky proposition. Only some platforms support it today, and some that do support it don’t provide a simple seamless experience. When you couple this with the recent news that some of the major carriers are moving away from unlimited cellular data plans, voice over 3G / 4G may become less attractive from a cost savings perspective. Time will tell on this one and it is something we at Cisco IT continue to watch carefully.
Meeting all these requirements simultaneously on all mobile platforms and devices, or even a good subset of them, is a challenge. Today we’re seeing that we can meet these requirements on some platforms ahead of others, which isn’t ideal, as we want to give our users the freedom to select from that platform that makes them the most effective. With a geographically diverse workforce we’re seeing strong demand for solutions that keep users in touch and give them a cost effective means to communicate, often outside of work hours, and see Unified Communications integration as one of the key components taking the Smart Phone experience to the next level.