IT struggles to close the mobile phone gap

Fixed-mobile convergence not following path many thought it would

For a concept that's remarkably easy to reduce to a sound bite, bridging the gap between mobile phones and enterprise networks ("fixed-mobile convergence") remains stubbornly hard to implement.

The basic idea is a mobile device that can use either a Wi-Fi or cellular connection, and automatically shift between them, to make or take calls, becoming an extension of the enterprise telephony and data networks. It's part of a trend toward the still ill-defined goal of "unified communications."

Even with a flock of products designed for this purpose, from big established players and hard-charging start-ups, and even when pilot deployments are successful, enterprise IT executives refrain from taking the FMC plunge. And some of them are looking at either alternatives or interim steps to gain some of the benefits promised by FMC.

"Don't think of this as an all-or-nothing proposition," says Jack Gold, principle of J. Gold Associates, a technology analysis consultancy. "You don't have to do everything, or deploy everything to everyone in your organization....Ask yourself, 'how does mobile voice communications help me?'"

It worked but we can't use it

An FMC pilot using Agito Networks' equipment "proved everything we thought it would," says Patrick Tisdale, CIO for Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, a major US law firm where for lawyers keeping in touch with clients anywhere, anytime is essential.

The pilot deployment showed, Tisdale says, that Agito was an effective alternative to expensive cellular signal amplification in Orrick offices; that it would cut to one the various handhelds some lawyers juggled; and that it kept them connected without requiring end users to do anything. But the law firm is holding off on a production deployment for now. The main reason is Agito doesn't yet support Research in Motion's BlackBerry line, the dominant handheld for Orrick attorneys.

The benefits Tisdale confirmed, and the kind of stumbling block to implementation he ran into, are both typical of enterprise experience with voice convergence. "You have to compromise on which handsets you can use, on which PBX systems are supported or not supported, you can't mix and match Wi-Fi gear, or the Wi-Fi vendor hasn't implemented the 802.11r fast-roaming standard, or the phone features the vendor supports aren't the ones you specifically need," says Stan Schatt, vice president with ABI Research, reciting what is clearly a familiar litany of problems.

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