How to slash mobile phone costs

New router designed to help companies with WLANs save on mobile phone calls

A router announced this week by Agito Networks is designed to help companies with wireless local-area networks (WLANs) save money on mobile phone calls.

Agito is shipping the RoamAnywhere Mobility Router, a fixed-mobile convergence appliance available in two models. It routes calls from mobile phones on to the company's private branch exchange, using the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.11 standard, also known as Wi-Fi, to connect to users wireless handsets.

This way, employees who use their mobile phones at the office would have their calls routed through voice over wireless LAN (VoWLAN), if they have Wi-Fi coverage. Otherwise, the call would go through the cellular network.

If a worker makes a call over the cellular network and then moves to within range of the company's Wi-Fi network, the call would be handed over without making the caller hang up and then call again.

"This solution definitely makes sense because you could save lot of money by redirecting some of those calls that would have gone through cellular network through the Wi-Fi network," said Ronald Gruia, principal analyst for emerging communications at Frost & Sullivan, a market research firm.

Agito says RoamAnywhere works with handsets from all GSM and CDMA carriers. Though its site only lists American providers AT&T, Cingular, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon, an executive says it should work with Canadian wireless carriers.

"In general it has worked across CDMA and GSM, which is what you'd see with Telus and Rogers and Bell Canada," said Pejman Roshan, Agito's vice-president of marketing.

It works on Windows Mobile 6 devices, plus seven different E and N-series handsets from Nokia.

Agito also plans to make it available for Research in Motion's BlackBerry smart phones, once an application programming interface is available, Roshan added.

"We're the only developer in this space in the BlackBerry developer program, but we're really waiting for RIM to release the APIs to support voice."

Agito claims the calls are handed over in less than a second, and the router uses radio-frequency location detection to determine where the handset is located. This in turn allows administrators or users to set up policies.

Administrators can define rules, based on time zone, time of day, day of the week, date or a user's presence information. The rules can dictate that calls are routed to a user's mobile phone, desk phone or sent automatically to voicemail.

Administrators can let users set their own rules, and the policies can be enforced either on the devices or the handsets.

"You can have a policy that applies when you're in the office versus when you're at home or when you're on the road," Roshan said. "There's a portal so that I as a user can go in and tailor my experience personally and that's something the administrator can override and oversee, but at least I have a way to configure my own settings."

The router is available in two models. The 2000 Series can accommodate up to 100 simultaneous users and prices start at US$9,995 for 25 users. The 4000 Series accommodate up to 1,000 users and pricing starts at US$25,000 for 100 users.

It is certified to operate with Internet Protocol private branch exchanges from Cisco Systems Inc. (Unified Call Manager 5.0 or higher), Ayava Inc. (Communications Manage 3.0 or higher) and from Nortel Networks. It also works with Microsoft's Office Communications Server.

Roshan said Agito is working on certifying the router to work with other IP-PBXs with session initiation protocol (SIP) technology, which lets telephony equipment from different vendors share signals.

Gruia said anyone wanting to buy a product like RoamAnywhere should make sure their Wi-Fi network will support voice.

"Doing site inspection and figuring out where to put (access points) is important because 802.11 networks operate on 2.4 GHz frequency," he said. "You always have to worry about interference from microwave ovens et cetera."

Roshan said he has been visiting some customers and finds most already have decent Wi-Fi coverage, only requiring minor upgrades.

"Hospitals that have been doing voice over Wi-Fi for some time, they need to do nothing," he said. "The networks are ready to go."

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Greg Meckbach

ComputerWorld Canada

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