Can Mitel Break the "Curse of Mobile UC?"
The company's unique approach to mobility could lead to new business opportunities as well as a new direction for mobile UC.
It is no secret that UC vendors have struggled to come up with mobile clients that enterprise users want any part of, yet they persist. Mitel, however, is taking an interesting tack on mobility that has placed the company on my short list of vendors to watch at Enterprise Connect 2016, taking place next week in Orlando, Fla.
In its new mobile UC gambit, Mitel is leveraging an earlier move and could potentially open a whole new set of options going forward. If successful, this could lead to a new business for Mitel, as well as a new direction for mobile UC.
Outside the Box
The story starts back in 2010, when Mitel opened Mitel Mobile, its mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) operation reselling Sprint network services. That was clearly an out-of-the-box move, as premises equipment suppliers have generally steered clear of providing network services, particularly mobile network services.
The bigger surprise came in early 2015, when Mitel announced it would purchase Mavenir Systems, a supplier of central office systems for mobile operators looking to support voice over LTE (VoLTE) and voice over WiFi (VoWiFi), IP Multimedia Subsystem, and rich communication services (RCS). The combined cash and stock deal, valued at $560 million, closed in April.
For those who don't follow the mobile industry too closely, RCS was an idea for enhanced mobile services that came out of the GSMA in 2007. Apparently inspired by UC, RCS would allow carriers to offer a presence-enhanced address book, live video calling, group chat, and text delivery notification -- with the exception of presence, this is essentially stuff that comes standard on your iPhone today. T-Mobile announced the first RCS-based service in the U.S. under the name "Advanced Messaging" last July.
The bigger part of the story is VoLTE/VoWiFi. While these technologies represent a tiny portion of the traffic on mobile networks today, they are what the carriers are looking at to move their existing 2G/3G circuit-switched voice services to all-IP solutions. Today, Mavenir reports that it is supplying this technology to 15 of the top 20 mobile operators worldwide.
As mobile operators transition to VoLTE/VoWiFi, they'll be able to deliver substantially improved voice quality through the use of broadband voice technology. Further, offloading voice traffic to WiFi will increase network capacity, reduce cost, and help address the perennial problem of indoor mobile network coverage (without the cost of deploying distributed antenna systems). All four of the Tier 1 mobile operators in the U.S. are adopting VoWiFi.
A Step Ahead
In the meantime, Mitel has made other advances on the mobile front. At the company's Mitel Next event in January, it announced plans to offer FieldAware's mobile field service management system. The secret sauce here is FieldAware will be integrating Mitel's real-time communications capability within its mobile app. Of course, as part of their mobile app solutions sets, the mobile operators all offer similar capabilities from a variety of partners.
Since all of this is essentially a completely different business from Mitel's traditional premises- and cloud-based telephony/UC offerings, the big question becomes, how does this play out for Mitel as a whole? While the two businesses could simply run in parallel, the most interesting outcome would be if Mitel were to find some meaningful synergy.
Just how that integration would take shape is unclear. Mitel is in the mobile carrier business, but as an MVNO (read "reseller") and not full-fledged "carrier," and Mavenir's technology installs in the carrier's infrastructure. Fortunately for Mitel, it is reselling network service from Sprint, one of the more aggressive Tier 1 mobile operators in deploying new technologies. In particular I would point to Sprint Mobile Integration, a network-based capability that integrates mobile devices on Sprint's network to premises or cloud-based PBX/UC systems.
It's important to note that Mitel's gambit is not without potential pitfalls. Mavenir is a rather small player in a field dominated by giants like Nokia, Alcatel Lucent, Ericsson, and Huawei. Could these giants potentially build the same functionality Mavenir is supplying into their existing systems? Or could one of them acquire Mitel to get access to the Mavenir technology, and then spin off the PBX/UC business?
Mitel, which is one of the sponsors of the Mobility track at Enterprise Connect, is giving us a lot to mull over about mobility. As I said, it's one of the companies I'll be looking into next week -- and happy to have Josh Haslett, general manager of Mitel Accelerator, on the Mobility Summit panel discussion on Monday, March 7, at 1:00 p.m. I doubt Josh will be "opening the kimono" the whole way, but I do hope he shares a bit more on what the company has up its sleeve for mobility.