Cellular/Wi-Fi convergence wins over some early users

FMC customers say battery issues, quality of WLAN worth watching.

The law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe has been trying out Agito's product at its four-building campus for several months with a handful of lawyers and IT staff. The technology could give the firm's 1,000 lawyers a single phone number, on a single phone, with PBX features on their mobile handsets, and better in-building wireless coverage (via a WLAN), says Patrick Tisdale, the firm's CIO.

"We don't see this as a money-saving opportunity," Tisdale says. "We're not sure that actually happens." The value lies in being able to get calls to and from the firm's lawyers wherever they might be in the firm's buildings, all via a single device.

The Agito server coordinates with a Cisco Call Manager, and the client phones (Nokia N95s) are visible to Call Manager via Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). With the Wi-Fi interface, attorneys find they can connect wirelessly to their broadband router at home, and make a four-digit call to any extension in any of the firm's offices nationwide, says Nellis Freeman, information services manager for the Menlo Park campus.

The University of California San Francisco Medical Center is considering a wider deployment of dual-mode handsets with the DiVitas server, but the pace will depend on the gradual upgrade of the Cisco 802.11b WLAN to 802.11a/b/g, says Davd Sproul, manager of emerging technologies and IT capital projects for the center.

"We went with DiVitas to get seamless roaming [from cellular to WLAN] for doctors' voice calls," Sproul says. "They wanted the call to not drop when they walked into or out of the building." The hospital now does expect to save money on cell plans but isn't sure how much, he says. A study of cell phone use found that about 60 per cent of the mobile calls were between medical center staff within the campus. Shifting these to run over the WLAN will save those cellular minutes.

The hospital recently added 25 handsets, in three Nokia models, to the eight previously being used, and users are clamoring for the new phones, Sproul says. The wider deployment will let the IT group get more experience in supporting and running the system, especially on the client side. Sproul says the DeVitas beta server ran for more than 18 months with no problems.

The biggest complaint has been battery life. Initially, the dual-mode phones barely got eight hours, a problem when nursing shifts are 12 hours. Nokia has made some tweaks at the handset level, and the phones now get about 10 hours from the battery.

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