Joanie Wexler @ Death to the Desk Phone?

February 18, 2013

Unlikely till Mobile UC Grows Seamless

There’s been talk for years about the imminent demise of corporate desk phones. They could simply fade into oblivion through attrition as users acquire smart phones. Or enterprises could make bold decisions to unplug them and immediately save money on telecom gear. Many residential phone users are giving up their landlines in favor of cellular phones; why not at work, too?

There are several issues that need resolving before desk phone annihilation can sweep enterprise telecom strategies. And a few niggling ones indicate that some wired phones are likely to remain indefinitely. For example, there are certain users who don’t really need to be mobile; their jobs require that they sit at a desk for most of their day (think admins, receptionists). For these folks, a tried-and-true wired phone that consistently works with high quality and reliable dial tone suits their needs best.

In addition, many of the enterprises I talk to express a desire to keep at least a few landlines around for the sake of backup in the case of power or cellular network outages.  In other words, wireless devices can be backups to landlines, and landlines can be backups to mobile phones. So perhaps, there will always be some wired phones kicking around.

Doing away with the majority of desk phones, however, is in the cards. But the biggest challenge to doing so, is the inability to create the same enterprise telephony and unified communications (UC) experience on mobile devices that exists on traditional desk phone-to-PBX setups.  Most PBX vendors transitioned into IP telephony a decade ago, and from there entered the UC business, focusing on wired network infrastructures. There are also specialty software UC vendors and UC cloud providers. Interoperability across platforms and features among all these players is far from nailed up. This situation causes mobile users running any variety of operating systems to either do unnatural acts to get features to work, or to just discard the apps in disgust.

Most enterprises have historically had an Avaya, Cisco, Mitel, Nortel, ShoreTel or other PBX maker delivering switched phone calls to user desks, and from user desks out over the WAN. These vendors have taken it upon themselves to extend their IP telephony service to include integrated message boxes, calendaring, contact info, presence (location-based) services, chat, screen sharing, conferencing and other capabilities that contribute to the ability for employees, colleagues, partners and customers to collaborate.

These solutions have worked pretty well inside the enterprise in the wired environment. That’s because each client/server ecosystem has generally been created by one vendor, that has optimized all the components to work together. There have also been some strides toward extending certain features from the PBX to both the corresponding desk phone, and a mobile phone, such that both phones ring (a function called “twinning”). This is handy when the user is away. Some also allow the user to push a button to transfer the call from a mobile to a desk phone and vice versa.

At issue, however, is the diversity of mobile devices and their mobile OSs that are springing up in bring-your-own-device (BYOD) enterprise environments. UC was initially engineered for the wired workplace, and employees find that they have to modify their behavior to use mobile telephony and UC services, and they don’t like it.

Users have decided to dig in their heels. If something doesn’t work intuitively without training, and within just a few seconds, users tend to abandon the capabilities altogether. For better or for worse, the attention span and patience to learn new techniques for doing the “same old things” is nearly nil.

Consider telephony in its most basic form. There’s the corporate wired plan. There are pools of shared voice minutes for cellular, usually with one carrier or, for international companies, with one carrier per country. Employees want to make phone calls the same way regardless of what plan is at work in the background, and whether they are on a landline or mobile phone.

Enter BYOD: the enterprise is no longer in control of the mobile operators in use, or the devices. Unsupported devices can completely derail enterprise hopes and plans for UC deployments. Just how is all this interoperability, and getting a simple automated dial plan to users supposed to happen?

It’s getting to be time for the public and private mobile networks to merge in a way that masks all that complexity from users. In the way that the old Ma Bell phone network didn’t differentiate among the devices that connected to it (admittedly, because it built them all and made them all consistent), let’s envision a world in which the mobile network is the hub where dial plans, UC capabilities and mobile apps reside and are able to work consistently, regardless of the peculiarities of each user’s device. The magic would be ecosystem cooperation at the back end.

Sounds like an impossible dream, but it is something that could be rolled out, enterprise by enterprise, via in-building cellular equipment used to deliver mobile WAN signal. If we could get back to a telephony/UC network that requires no special software client on individual devices to deliver functions, but instead hosts the plans, apps and features in the cloud that work the same everywhere, we’d be a big step ahead toward user acceptance and happiness – and the ability to ditch the majority of clunky old desk phones for good.

– Joanie Wexler, Guest Blogger


Joanie Wexler @ Mobile Enterprise IT: Considering ‘Mobility as a Service’

December 12, 2012

7 Questions for IT Managers to Ask

Your enterprise is likely going mobile. But if RF matters aren’t your IT department’s forte, and you need to deliver dense cellular coverage and capacity throughout your facility, perhaps you should consider a managed mobility service. But from whom?

The entity perhaps best equipped to help you bring 3G/4G infrastructure indoors – at least on paper – is a mobile network operator. The simple reason is 3G and 4G services use licensed wireless spectrum, and mobile operators have exclusive rights to the spectrum they have licensed. So whatever road you take to get strong cellular signals throughout your building and campus, you must do so with the operator’s blessing, or you face the possibility of paying a fine or being shut down.

All kinds of managed network services from carriers have been around for a long time, from managed router services to network-based firewall services. Why not managed in-building/on-campus cellular services?

Changing Mobility Landscape

Historically, the mobile network operators have tended to focus on consumers, leaving business-class managed network service issues to their wired counterparts. Increasingly, though, as usage trends create greater requirements to bring mobile WAN signal and increased capacity to your premise, new service models are emerging. Many of the mobile operators already offer managed Wi-Fi services. Yet to date, business-specific cell coverage assistance from operators has largely been limited to very large enterprises with deep pockets serving tens of thousands of paying customers that cost-justify the operator’s attention.

Smaller businesses – and even smaller locations of large businesses – haven’t had many options. It’s time to take the operator to task on this matter: there are now more affordable down-scale infrastructure options creating new business model opportunities for carriers that could benefit your company.

Should you look into having a mobile operator assume your on-premises mobility installation and management? When considering outsourcing, in general, most IT departments ask: Do we have capex budget, or prefer to move capex into opex? Do we have the necessary in-house expertise? How will running things ourselves affect the bottom line?

These questions still apply. In addition, here are some must-ask questions about managing your mobile enterprise:

1)    Do we need to deliver better cellular signals in a building or elsewhere on campus? This is a fundamental “needs” question, and part of your answer depends on your policy for supporting mobile WAN users at work. If you do intend to support them, how is your coverage now?

If you’re located near a macro cell tower and have a building made of penetrable materials, you might already have pretty strong coverage. But if you have weak in-building penetration and/or you see your number of mobile WAN users and applications growing, you might want to plan ahead to increase capacity and coverage on your premises.

2)    Do you have a bring-your-own device (BYOD) policy? You might not support certain BYODs on your internal network and/or you might have a mobile app sandboxing strategy to deliver limited access to unmanaged BYODs. So some users will stay on the mobile WAN because they prefer to use the device of their choice, even if it means giving up some access.  Still others will stay on the mobile WAN because some features on certain mobile devices simply don’t work behind the corporate firewall. Either way, you now have a mobile challenge on your hands.

3)    Are you looking to phase out wired desk phones? Robust mobile network coverage and capacity everywhere are necessary for strategies that replace legacy wired phones with devices using mobile WAN, and/or Wi-Fi, as their transport.

4)    Do you have revenue-generating workers, such as a sales force, that insist on using smartphones or tablets, and expect them to work inside your offices? Of course you do. As AT&T has recently reported, up to 80% of all voice and data connections on its network are initiated from inside buildings. Do you want to be the mobile operator inside your enterprise?

5)    Do you have customers or guests who come to your offices or stores expecting wireless access? Your company might even supply mobile applications that these guests use when in your store. If you fit this profile, you need in-building mobile WAN coverage.

6)    What are the comparative costs of enhancing mobile coverage and capacity indoors yourself, versus seeking a managed mobility service solution? This is a biggie, and the answer depends on what you are trying to accomplish. Your goals will drive your equipment and service choices. The primary in-building service choices are traditional distributed antenna systems (DASs), and small-cell technologies such as femtocells and enterprise radio-access networks (E-RANs).

      • DASs are optimized for fairly large facilities. Traditional DAS setups usually run about $2.50 to $5.00 per square foot in capex and labor, depending on your environment and the number of carriers you need to support. The biggest downside of DASs is the lack of signal reuse to support the denser capacities required, as more users (and apps) go mobile.
      • Small-cell technologies are DAS alternatives for smaller locations that address both the affordability issue and the need to accommodate higher densities of users. They reuse the signal repeatedly throughout buildings for greater, more consistent throughput everywhere.
        • Femtocells are the least expensive (about $100 to $200 each). To date, they are limited in the number of users they can support, and have management and roaming limitations when more than one or two are deployed. With more  femtocells, interference occurs and seamless voice mobility is not supported.
        • An E-RAN is a self-organizing network of small access points. It  leverages the existing wired Ethernet network for local backhaul and switching, and the Internet access connection for WAN backhaul. Each node reuses licensed spectrum to create consistent, dense capacity throughout the coverage area. The sweet spot here are buildings with about 50,000 to 500,000  square feet. The cost of the E-RAN alternative averages 25 cents per square-foot – but that’s the capex cost to the mobile operator. You don’t pay for the equipment; just a monthly service fee (opex).

7)    Do you trust your mobile operator to partner with you for mobility, and later, cloud-based applications and services? This is probably the biggest question. It has been traditionally difficult for organizations to get operators’ attention for coverage in 50,000 – 500,000 square-foot buildings. Why trust them now? Well, the onus is on the operator to offer you an in-building system and services in a financially sensible manner. The best way to answer this question is to start asking your operator about the availability of such services, the terms, and the capabilities.

Where Does Wi-Fi Fit?

In the meantime, though, you probably have some Wi-Fi in place. Do the internal Wi-Fi and 3G/4G networks dovetail? How do you stitch the disparate networks together into a cohesive mobile network?

If you have a self-organizing system for mobility indoor cellular services, there might be an advantage to asking the operator – once it has proven itself with cellular – to flip on one extra switch and support your Wi-Fi, too. Carriers are increasingly turning to Wi-Fi offload strategies to alleviate congestion on mobile WANs, and are also starting to integrate their cellular and Wi-Fi network cores at the subscription management and data plane levels. Eventually, your operator could take over the worry of seamlessly transferring your users on and off the “best” available (and least-cost) network service as traffic loads ebb and flow.

On the other hand, the business-class Wi-Fi vendors have spent a decade honing their systems with advanced RF planning, management and security tools. Ask your mobile operator whether those capabilities would be available to help you control your Wi-Fi network the way you prefer, or whether you would have to give some of that up.

Consider, for example, migration strategies from 802.11n to 802.11ac. You’re going to want to eventually dump the 2.4GHz band for exclusive use of the 5GHz band to make use of emerging 802.11ac equipment, which can reach speeds of 1Gbps. Will your mobile network operator have the expertise to help you “band-steer” 5GHz-capable clients into the band, or are you better off turning to established Wi-Fi specialists known to have such capabilities?

Finally, what’s your strategy for indoor mobile voice calls? Do you keep folks on the cellular network? Should you build out your Wi-Fi network for voice support? This can be a costly endeavor: You need very dense coverage and full QoS support on what is an unlicensed network, accessed on a contention basis. Merging your mobile WAN and Wi-Fi networks to operate as a unified system, with the best infrastructure, seamlessly accommodating traffic at any given moment based on conditions, is one approach. The other is to optimize your in-building mobile WAN for voice, while keeping Wi-Fi deployments in place for “free”, and/or overflow data transmissions.

Users Weigh In

The user community has many questions about mobility as a service – that is, trusting a mobile network operator to install and manage on-premises cellular equipment to deliver dense mobile WAN signals and capacity. A partner in a cellular optimization company said he would be more open to mobility as a service from mobile operators for in-building coverage, and for Wi-Fi as well, if the terms were reasonable.

“I would trust them to extend their coverage into our building, provided we had…no additional long-term commitment,” he said. “Many times the carriers ask for a three to five year commitment. Two, I can live with. It would be good to have some form of SLA to ensure compliance.”

The partner continued: “Wi-Fi would be much harder to trust them with. For example…what security can we administer, and what will be [the operator’s] responsibility? Are there service, speed and uptime guarantees? It is appealing to have one less thing to take care of, and scary at the same time. [My] first thought is that the benefits outweigh the risks, provided [there are] acceptable terms and answers to our questions.”

There are also misconceptions to clear up.

One enterprise public safety manager said he would like to understand how extending the cellular signal into a building would impact Phase I and Phase II wireless location discovery for 911 calls. “If they are ‘extending’ an existing antenna that is down the street, your callers may show up as ‘down the street’ if they dial 911. Not good,” he said.

Actually, in-building small cells don’t extend an existing macro network “antenna”; they create new spectrum using small, self-contained base stations and antennas traffic-engineered throughout the building. If managed cohesively by operators as one segment of the overall macro network, as in the case of the E-RAN, the extended coverage and capacity should actually bode well for enhancing 911 location discovery, compared to having spotty in-building coverage, or none at all.

Upshot

Most mobile WAN voice and data calls are initiated indoors. If you need to support mobile WAN users anywhere on your campus, new options are making it possible for carriers to offer you affordable, managed mobility services that require no capex investments on your part. Scalable small cell systems, for reliable indoor coverage and capacity, are available today that were not available just a year ago. Should you trust the mobile operator – who ultimately decides what equipment is allowed to run in its licensed spectrum anyway? The only way to find out is to start asking questions, and test the equipment and the relationship.

– Joanie Wexler, Guest Blogger


Joanie Wexler @ 2020 Mobile Enterprise

October 25, 2012

IT, Network Expertise Headed Off-Premises, Particularly in Mid-Market Companies

Getting a bead on the future of IT is far from an exact science. But an examination of today’s trends and economics indicates that, soon, many personnel in corporate IT departments will migrate off the enterprise premises and into positions located on the supplier side of the network.

Cost and expertise-refresh struggles are the main reasons many IT and network administrators of the future will end up working for large vendor and network service provider companies. These companies deliver IT and networking as managed, hosted, and “x-as-a-service” cloud services. The usage-based, pay-as-you-go economic model of cloud services is far friendlier to enterprise IT budgets than maintaining in-house expertise. So resources are likely to move away from the premises and into a big IT and network resource “pot” located in the wired and unwired Internet.

The Pervasive Budget Dilemma

IT budgets remain constrained even though businesses expect more from information technology. Gartner Research Vice President, Laura McLellan, predicted early this year, for example, that by 2017, chief marketing officers (CMOs) will spend more on IT than chief information officers (CIOs)[1]. In general, enterprise IT budgets are flat or declining in North America and Europe, according to Gartner[2]. So enterprises continue to remain challenged with figuring out how to do more with less.

How can the enterprise IT function keep up? For mid-market companies without the deep pockets of the Fortune 1000, offloading the complexity of data center platforms and wired and mobile networks into highly skilled IT and networking specialist companies starts looking attractive. These companies have a large-scale back-end focus and, by virtue of volume, are highly efficient in their operations. They could be large integrators, large network service providers, and cloud providers offering economies of scale to all but the very largest or most tightly regulated organizations.

Just as homeowners have long purchased gas and electricity as services from a large utility company with thousands of technicians rather than individually buying, maintaining, and operating their own generators, businesses will begin to follow the same path for many IT and networking resources, given that so many of them have now become commodities, too.

Industry Power Shifts

The movement is poised to happen as the decision-making power increasingly moves into the hands of the end-user, at least at the front end of the network. In this climate, it becomes impractical for a centralized corporate IT department to try to keep up with the fast pace of client-side change.

The mobile computing devices used by so many have gone mainstream. Most employees no longer rely on their employers’ IT departments to learn how to use their computers and applications. Computing tools and networks increasingly require little or no training and are expected to be intuitive to use out of the gate. In fact, users increasingly prefer to choose their own, in a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) model causing management, security and expense headaches for IT departments everywhere. Mobile devices have already outpaced PCs as the primary method of Internet and intranet access, according to researcher IDC (see figure).

There are other drivers behind the imminent shift of IT and networking human resources into the cyber sphere:

  • Back-end complexity. While the front-end user experience appears simplified to users, the back end is actually growing in complexity to deliver that streamlined, intuitive, and automated experience. High IT turnover rates and the high cost of world-class IT talent are likely to motivate leaner companies that are less competitive in salary and benefits to buy IT and network expertise in the form of a service rather than attempting to sustain it in house. The much larger service provider companies are the ones that will require – and will be able to afford to hire – fresh new talent and employ the breadth of expertise and platform knowledge that will be required in increasingly consumer-driven and heterogeneous environments.
  • Growing acceptance and adoption of cloud and managed services. Gartner expects the cloud service market to grow by 20% in 2012 to $109 billion worldwide[3]. Getting better visibility into those services – particularly as it pertains to unauthorized use and other security issues – will be the final hurdle to overcome before cloud adoption goes mainstream, according to recent research conducted by IDG Research Services.
  • The pervasiveness of Web software. Most software is designed for use in a browser environment, whether it is hosted off site in the cloud, or on a private server. Gartner forecasts that worldwide software as a service (SaaS) revenue – the off site, hosted cloud model referenced earlier – will reach $14.5 billion in 2012, nearly an 18 percent increase from 2011 revenue of $12.3 billion[4]. SaaS-based delivery will experience healthy growth through 2015, when worldwide revenue is projected to reach $22.1 billion, according to the researcher.

These are among the reasons that enterprises are likely to switch to purchasing IT services on an as-needed basis as a strategy to get lower costs, have consistent access to a higher level of expertise, and get 24/7 IT and network coverage and support.

Who Will Stay?

Most of the IT staff remaining on enterprise sites will become infrastructure architects. They’ll focus on business issues and applications and turn back-end complexity and network plumbing over to a large third-party provider. They will likely function as project managers, and many are likely to be distributed out into a company’s various business units and departments. The hat they wear will be that of a business analyst who helps make technology decisions based on business and digital marketing goals, and these folks will also likely serve as liaison between the enterprise department and the technology and network services suppliers. Some infrastructure functions, of course, will remain centralized to prevent fragmentation, achieve economies of scale, and enable streamlined management and operations.

Who Will Go?

The largest number of IT jobs to move will likely be in the development area, as SaaS and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) cloud offering gain steam, and enterprise expectations grow for Web-based applications that “just work.”

It makes sense for applications to be built in the Internet or in the cloud, given that, increasingly, applications will need to be able to run on a multitude of mobile OSs, have location capabilities, and be network and cloud-aware. Corporations these days are having a difficult enough time maintaining “top down” control over many computing and network platforms as their employees embrace BYOD work models. The front end changes so rapidly with different hardware platforms, software platforms, and versions that it eventually will become impractical and cost-prohibitive to attempt to manage and secure all of them internally.

At the End of the Day

Even the sharpest minds wouldn’t have predicted during the Y2K scare and subsequent dot-com bust years, that a mere dozen years later, computing technology would become consumerized, users would no longer rely on their employers’ IT departments for computer and application training, or even that Apple come to enjoy a significant client-side presence in enterprises.

The arrival of the Internet age was really a precursor to eventually putting data, applications, and content out in the Internet or cloud for access from nearly anywhere, and the explosion of mobility has made it a done deal. It follows that, eventually, most of the resources will reside there, and that businesses and consumers will select a majority of their IT and network services from a menu plan the way they do so many other types of services already.

– Joanie Wexler, Guest Blogger