The following blog is by guest blogger, Lisa Pierce. Pierce is president of Strategic Networks Group, an independent analyst firm specializing in emerging business-class network services.
In reading August 12th’s UC Communications News article on mobility and UC, I was struck by how some architectures are better suited to certain types of calling patterns (vs. others). The article begins by discussing a business whose FMC functionality depends on employees to update their presence status and preferred connectivity profile on an ongoing basis. The article then goes on to provide several examples of recent improvements in FMC solutions like the Blackberry MVS and Agito’s Roam Anywhere UC client to use GPS triangulation to improve automating location-based rules.
Examining Pros and Cons
There’s no question that these enhancements provide for an improved customer experience. But they still pose significant limitations because they treat mobile devices like dumb phones, in which the intelligence, like presence and location (coupled with routing), is derived from the customer’s specialized server or router. Remember, we are talking about mobility—a capability that inherently is unassociated with, and unconstrained from, premises-based architectures. Let’s look at some of the limitations such assumptions impose:
Special equipment. Both systems obviously require that customers purchase special gear (like the Blackberry MVS server or Agito Mobility Router), so they could have problems being cost effective in circumstances in which business customers want to support a minority of employees. The same problem exists for smaller companies.
Weak signals. Both will encounter real-world limitations like weak cellular signals or lack of WiFi availability.
Device limitations. Both limit the types of handsets one can use (compared to RIM, Agito supports a wider universe of smartphones).
Routing inflexibility. Both require that users provide call routing instructions in advance—they aren’t extremely flexible in allowing users to modify routing instructions in real time.
Lack of strong business continuity. Both won’t know about incoming landline calls that can’t terminate to the PBX if the PBX or the carrier access lines aren’t working properly. The FMC server can be working fine, as can mobile devices. But the FMC server can’t relay call routing instructions if it is unaware of the existence of an incoming call.
But on the plus side, since these are premises-based solutions, they are carrier agnostic (although all require 3G services and smartphones).
Sprint SMI Benefits
I’m familiar with Sprint’s Mobile Integration service (SMI). Compared to premises based solutions like the two above, its strengths include:
SaaS-based model. Companies decide how many employees they want to equip, and they pay for this as a monthly service. SMI requires a minimum of only 50 subscribers. This price model can make FMC more affordable for smaller companies, or for companies that want to support a relatively small group of employees.
No applications-specific premises equipment. Sprint uses network-centric intelligence (driven by IMS) to track presence information and coordinate call handling with SMI/SIP Trunk certified gear for every subscribed phone.
Wider device choice. SMI doesn’t require smartphones (and associated 3G services). Since the signaling intelligence is shared between the network and customer premises, feature phones work just fine.
Wider equipment choice. Sprint has certified some popular makes and models of IP PBX for use with SMI and SIP Trunks. But SMI doesn’t require an IP PBX. Thus, other types of customer premises equipment, like some IAD, gateway and SBC makes/models have also been certified. This allows customers with TDM PBXs to enjoy the benefits of SMI today. The certification process is ongoing—depending on the functionality of the CPE, it can take advantage of some advanced SMI features (see Business Continuity discussion below).
Business Continuity. SMI uses SIP Trunks to communicate readiness status, call control functions, etc. between the SMI-compatible customer premises equipment and the IMS feature server. Customers have the option of using a SMI feature to automatically route incoming calls to the mobile device. This is especially useful in the event the SMI-compatible customer equipment or the SIP Trunk is not functioning properly.
Sprint SMI Requirements:
Customer use of Sprint’s SIP Trunk service and SIP/SMI-compatible CPE. TDM or PRI connections won’t cut it. Most companies that are knowledgeable about UC recognize the value of SIP in supporting collaboration on a multi-site or even multi-enterprise basis, and are in the process of migrating to SIP. Moving to SIP is a question of “when”, not “if”. Features like SMI provide customers with another reason to move now.
Customer use of Sprint MPLS. One MPLS port is required at the site where the SIP/SMI-capable CPE is housed. Deploying Sprint’s MPLS service isn’t required companywide. Many MPLS customers prefer to use two providers, so those that aren’t using Sprint now have another reason to consider Sprint – SMI.
Customer use of Sprint cellular services. Two points:
• It’s true that SMI only needs 2G service, but it must be available. If the signal is weak, SMI suffers from the same limitations as the premises-based solutions discussed above.
• Since 3G can be used to route important signaling information, in theory customers could employ a multi-carrier architecture. I’m not aware of anyone who has. Thus realistically, SMI-equipped employees would be using Sprint.
Recommendations: Weigh Each Solution’s Functionality vs. Pros and Cons
In considering FMC solutions, customers should become familiar with all the available alternatives, and weigh pros and cons accordingly. Those who expect to find a perfect solution, without compromise, will be waiting a long time. Companies who see great values in deploying FMC in the near to mid-term can determine which alternatives provide the most acceptable trade-offs by (1) identifying which employees will use FMC, and (2) understanding the circumstances under which they will be using these features. By all means, do your homework, because you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised by the functionality you can deploy to boost employee and business productivity today.
-Lisa Pierce is Founder and President of Strategic Networks Group and an expert on emerging business-class network services, including unified communications, VoIP, FMC, MPLS, Ethernet, and 4G. She was formerly Vice President of Telecommunications Research at Forrester Research.