The Tricky Road to Mobile VoIP for Business


On June 22, I wrote a post about the growing competition to BlackBerry in the enterprise smartphone sector. In passing, I noted that Agito Networks, which offers a way to use cellular and wireless in the same device, has announced support for Research in Motion's BlackBerry family. More details on that announcement are available from VoIP Planet.


This begs the larger question of mobile VoIP for business. Last week, Processor took a hard look at what needs to happen for this to become a widespread reality. Most of the commentary is provided by Akshay Sharma, a research director for Gartner. The bottom line is that a meaningful enterprise mobile VoIP business is five to 10 years down the road. Sharma says that cellular carriers don't have the motivation to offer mobile VoIP, and service providers that would be interested in providing these services lack a robust infrastructure on which to draw. Once favorable conditions exist, however, the rollout will be rapid.


That doesn't mean that nothing is happening today. Like most fundamental offerings, mobile VoIP (and, by extension, unified communications) for business is emerging in a piecemeal fashion, and not all of the offerings are expressly aimed at enterprises. Using them entails "borrowing" from the consumer sector. The Agito/RIM announcement was one example. There are others. This week, British firm OnRelay made its Unified MBX platform available. The platform enables an enterprise's mobile phones to switch agilely between cellular and wireless networks. The press release says that it is a software-based approach that combines the OnRelay's cellular FMC software with an open source IP PBX. It can be hosted at the enterprise or positioned as a software-as-a-service offering.


Clever workarounds also are taking root. One is offered by Nimbuzz. The company announced this week that it has chosen Voxbone to provide local access numbers for callers out of 3G and Wi-Fi range. The software recognizes when connectivity to both is missing, and requests permission to use a local access number. If granted, the call is then routed over the Internet. The only potential charges are for the local tolls.


Mobile VoIP for enterprises is inevitable, and it's happening. At the same time, however, it is a very tricky wicket, both from the technology and business points of view. It will take the industry a good deal of time to move it to stable and standardized platforms. But, in the final analysis, those platforms will arrive.