Mitel Goes Deep on Mobility

 In News

The importance of mobility in unified communications has been widely recognized, however few vendors have really built a significant lead. While the big vendors have been making the biggest noise, the most interesting developments seem to be coming out of the smaller vendors. A good case in point is Mitel, which has a mobility line up that is as deep as the majors and includes some capabilities that really separate them from the pack.

Mitel has been moving forward with mobility on a number of fronts including their Dynamic Extension, Unified Communicator Advanced, integration with BlackBerry Mobile Voice System (MVS) 5.1, as well as a unique capability to leverage cell phone location with presence. They also offer both voice over wireless LAN (VoWLAN) and DECT solutions for in-building mobility.

The most basic form of mobile integration capability is Dynamic Extension, which merges wired and wireless access to ensure continuous access at a single enterprise number and single voicemail. With Dynamic Extension, a user can assign up to 8-devices in a personal ring group, and those numbers can include any mix of wired and wireless stations. Users can direct calls to any of those numbers on demand or based on a schedule so they can be continuously accessible, whether they are in the office, on the road, or working from home. The user gets a single enterprise number and single voicemail and can transfer in-progress calls between the mobile and the desk set so they don’t have to terminate a call if they need to leave the office.

The next step up is Unified Communicator Advanced (UC Advanced), the name Mitel uses for its line up of mobile clients. With a UC Advanced Mobile client, , users get a range of UC features extended to the mobile device. Among those features would be the ability to view the corporate directory, see other users’ presence status, and visual voice mail.

With UC Advanced, inbound and outbound mobile calls are routed through Mitel Communications Director (MCD). This configuration allows the user to have a single business number (their desk number), a single voicemail, and their mobile number is not displayed on outbound calls; MCD replaces the mobile number with the user’s desk number. With that capability users can keep their personal mobile phone (i.e. “Bring Your Own Device”) and still use it for business calls. UC Advanced currently supports handsets from BlackBerry and Android and soon to be released is support for iOS, which will add iPhones and iPads to the list.

For those who would prefer to work without a client on the handset, Mitel offers the UC Advanced Web / Mobile Portal. This is a server that is accessed through the browser on the mobile device. Like the client-based version, users can access the corporate directory, see presence status, and click to place calls. When the mobile user originates a call, MCD calls out to the user’s mobile number and then rings the called party. This is particularly advantageous in areas that use the calling party pays billing model, as the PBX will be placing the call to the user’s mobile and hence there are no airtime charges.

While UC Advanced Mobile clients and UC Advanced Mobile Portal are supported on a variety of handsets, Mitel has developed a deeper integration with the BlackBerry MVS 5.1. MVS is a fixed mobile convergence solution that is fully integrated with the BlackBerry line of smartphones. In this configuration, an MVS server is connected to MCD; the MVS in turn interfaces to the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES). When a call is placed to the user’s desk number, the MVS rings the user’s smartphone and their desk set simultaneously; the user can answer on either device. As with the UC Advanced, outbound business calls from the BlackBerry are routed through the MCD so the user’s mobile number is hidden on business calls; personal calls can be placed directly from the mobile.

Mitel has integrated with the most advanced configuration of the MVS. In earlier implementations, the PBX connected to the MVS with a series of tie lines, and voice connections were passed through the MVS; that pass-through configuration limited the number of simultaneous connections the MVS could support. With MVS 5.0 and 5.1, the MVS connects to MCD with a SIP-based back-to-back-user-agent (B2BUA) interface. That means only SIP signaling messages are exchanged between the MVS and MCD, greatly increasing the number of simultaneous calls supported.

The other major development with MVS 5.0 and 5.1 was the support for voice over Wi-Fi or voice over wireless LAN (VoWLAN) calling. When the user is out, their calls are sent over the cellular service, but when they are in the office, their calls can be carried over the Wi-Fi network greatly reducing cellular charges. By some estimates 40 to 60% of cellular usage is in the office, so shifting those calls to Wi-Fi can spell major savings. The most recent release, MVS 5.1, will actually automatically transfer in-progress calls from Wi-Fi to cellular when the user leaves the WLAN coverage area.

The other major feature of the Mitel/MVS integration is that the user gets to use the native interface on the BlackBerry device. When the MVS is implemented, a special client is downloaded to the BlackBerry smartphone that interfaces with the MVS server. The user continues to make and receive calls on the BlackBerry just as they did before, the only difference being that there will be a few extra menu items that can be used to force calls one way or the other.

Probably the most interesting UC element in the Mitel integration with BlackBerry is location-based presence in the BlackBerry environment. I’ve been talking about using location to adjust presence status for some time, but this is one of the first products I’ve seen that actually puts it into practice. Using either the GPS or Bluetooth capabilities, the user can record locations that they visit regularly (e.g. office, home, Chicago office, etc.). When the user stores a location, they can then define their presence status for that location (e.g. in-office, home office, LA office, etc.) and specify their calling preference (e.g. in the office, mobile, home office phone, etc.) and those will be set automatically any time they return to that location.

Along with the wide area capabilities, Mitel also offers two solutions for local mobility. First they offer the Polycom/SpectraLink Wi-Fi handsets to support voice over wireless LAN (VoWLAN) deployments. While VoWLAN has been the primary local voice solution in the US and Canada, Mitel also offers business-grade DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Telephony) handsets and base stations. The advantage of VoWLAN is that mobile voice devices can share the Wi-Fi infrastructure with data devices. For voice-only requirements (or for users whose Wi-Fi networks are near capacity with data traffic), DECT offers a circuit switched option operating in a separate frequency band that does not interfere with a Wi-Fi deployment.

Mitel does seem to have as full a complement of mobility wares as anyone out there, but the bar has been set pretty low. Given the low uptake we’ve seen with mobile UC solutions, no one seems to have found the combination that really appeals to mobile users. While there has been some evidence that interest in mobile UC is picking up, Dynamic Extension (or similar features like call forwarding or simultaneous ring) remains the users’ primary choice for integrating mobility with their wired UC environment. Beyond that, users seems to be looking to mobile handset vendors and app stores to fill their requirements, and Mitel has tapped into that through their association with RIM. However, even RIM’s prospects are being questioned in some quarters in light of the rapid rise of Android and iPhone. In any event, if your requirement involves a heavy mobility element, Mitel is certainly someone you should be looking at.

This article is sponsored by Mitel.