LTE and Ubiquitous Public Wi-Fi: Fast Track to Mobile UC&C?
Higher capacity wireless services could offer a new model of UC&C that defines a new type of mobile UC and skirts the obstacles faced in the current model.
There have been a few announcements on the wireless front in the past few weeks that testify to the continuing growth of high-capacity wireless services in the U.S. First, the Justice Department approved Verizon's $3.9 billion deal to acquire Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum from Spectrumco, a consortium of cable TV companies that included Comcast Corp. (CMCSA), Time Warner Cable Inc. (TWC), and Bright House Networks LLC; that deal had been announced last December. Then last week Verizon Wireless also introduced its 4G LTE service in 34 markets and now claims to cover 75% of the U.S. population. In tests conducted by PC Magazine last year, Verizon's LTE was delivering average download speeds around 10 Mbps with peaks over 35 Mbps.
On another wireless front, we reported back in May on an agreement among several of the cablecos (Cox, Time Warner, Comcast, Bright House, and Cablevision) to pool their public Wi-Fi networks in an offering called CableWiFi. Those public Wi-Fi networks are offered for free to any of the companies' cable modem customers, and soon a subscriber to any of those companies' services will be able to get free access when they are traveling to any of those companies' 50,000+ hotspots.
In the meantime, AT&T is continuing to push forward on its Wi-Fi offloading plan, and MVNO Metro PCS is using software from a company called Devicescape that allows their subscribers to jump onto a "network" of more than 8 million wireless routers in coffee shops, public areas, libraries, and other entities that provide open access to the public (or simply haven't gotten around to putting a passwords on their networks).
So by hook or by crook, high-capacity wireless data alternatives are advancing, with the result that the infrastructure to support high data rate mobile UC&C capabilities is quickly coming together. That fatter pipe could support wideband voice, video, and richer collaboration -- virtually anything you could do at a desktop. The question is, does this mean that users will finally warm to these mobile UC&C offerings?
It is no secret that the mobile clients offered by the UC&C vendors have been a flat-out disappointment. Whether it's the versions that loop cellular calls through the PBX or the more elegant dual-mode versions that do that and automatically switch the call onto the company's Wi-Fi network when the user comes within range, what they all have in common is: They don't get downloaded, supported, or used!
What does sell today in mobile UC&C is call forwarding. Whether in the old sense where the user manually forwards his or her desk phone to their mobile number or the enhanced version where a call to the desk phone is simultaneously, sequentially, or by preference selection forwarded to the user's mobile, we're talking about forwarding telephone calls--in other words call forwarding. So if call forwarding is what we mean by "mobile UC&C," I guess we're on target.
Of course that's not what they're talking about in the keynotes at Enterprise Connect. There we see presence-enabled directory access, click-to-call/email/text, and, in some cases, video and visual voicemail, along with the full range of collaboration capabilities. In the meantime what sells is call forwarding! Of course we do get click-to-call from an email or text and click to join a meeting, but that's because it's part of the native software on the device, not a mobile UC&C client.
It's not just the UC&C vendors who are falling short in delivering on enterprise mobility. The lament at every one of the mobile-oriented conferences I attend is, "Why can't we deliver enterprise apps that are even half as good as what's available on the consumer side?" The simple answer is that the developer "talent" is being drawn to the larger markets, either consumer markets or the ISVs (e.g. SAP, Oracle, Salesforce.com, etc.) who have an established base of customers using their products and can pay for professionally developed apps.
However, it's also a matter of understanding what the mobile user wants, and focusing on things that can be delivered within the controlled conditions defined by the app development environment. Doing what those mobile UC&C clients try to do (e.g., integrate business calling with the native operation of the handset) is "outside the lines" with regard to what that development environment will support.
With the expected growth in collaborative workspaces, some vendors may be better positioned to capitalize on this. A recent InformationWeek Survey on Enterprise Social Networking found that Microsoft's SharePoint was far and away the leader in what respondents identified as "social networking systems" with 63% citing its use; Google came in second with 19%. For my money, SharePoint is still a little light on the "social" aspects, but Microsoft's acquisition of Yammer may address that. However, with people shifting more of their screen time from Outlook to SharePoint, the embedding Lync capabilities may yield a workable mobile UC&C solution.
Higher capacity wireless services do hold the promise of offering a new model of UC&C that capitalizes on the importance of collaborative work and defines a new type of mobile UC that skirts the obstacles faced in the current model. However, the vendors will still need to deliver capabilities that resonate with users.