Chance for Enterprise Mobility, at Last
Hope that we'll finally see mobile offerings of real value for enterprise users is coming from different corners of communications universe.
The enterprise customer has long been the red-haired stepchild of the mobile business, but at long last that might be starting to change.
As I have often pointed out, the mobile business traditionally has been almost exclusively consumer-focused (enterprise customers really don't care how many megapixels we've got in our phone camera, except for personal use). But as evidenced in a few announcements of late, the mobile industry might finally be looking to deliver services that have real value for enterprise users. While this pivot toward enterprise is really still early in development, signs are encouraging.
Whether this newfound interest in the enterprise is a result of the oversaturation of the consumer mobile market (with more mobile phones than people in the U.S. now) or the realization that a strategy of pursuing underserved markets is workable. Regardless, a number of vendors are making moves into this space.
The trend began with Mitel's acquisition of mobile operator software vendor Mavenir in March 2015, and has been picking up in recent weeks. While the Mitel-Mavenir deal did not overawe me when announced, over time I have come to appreciate the logic of what Mitel is trying to do. In particular, Mitel is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) reselling Sprint services, and could potentially use Mavenir's technology to offer enterprise-focused services operating transparently over Sprint's vastly improved data capabilities.
We saw a similar sort of move last week from Sonus Networks, which announced the purchase of wired and mobile infrastructure vendor Taqua for an initial cash payment of $20 million (additional cash payments may follow "if certain annual revenue thresholds are exceeded," Sonus stated in the acquisition announcement). Taqua, founded in 1998 and with roughly 80 employees today, netted total revenues of $16.8 million for the trailing 12 months ended June 30. The company offers both fixed and a mobile IP communications product lines, Sonus CTO Kevin Riley told me.
Taqua's core fixed-line product is the T7000, a Class 5 replacement switch for migrating legacy networks to IP. However, Sonus is far more interested in Taqua's mobile products, Riley said. These include the Virtual Mobile Core (VMC), which is a virtualized IMS services core, and a Voice over Wi-Fi (VoWiFi) client for Android devices (VoWiFi capability is available natively in Apple's iOS).
Unlike big mobile players like Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent, Taqua targets smaller operators and MVNOs looking to introduce VoLTE and messaging services without investing heavily in an IMS core. The VMC offers that capability either as a greenfield installation or as an overlay on existing 2G or 3G cellular networks.
Sonus had encountered Taqua on a number of installations, and the company provided an excellent complement to its session border controllers, Riley said. Where Sonus has been positioned at the edge of the operator's network, Taqua gives it entry into the core. Further, the Taqua offering fits nicely with Sonus's infrastructure focus.
Another related piece of the enterprise mobility story came by way of Verizon and news of its One Talk service, which provides one number for use on mobile and desktop devices. One Talk is the first meaningful deliverable in the enterprise mobility space, but I'm not as enthused about the service as TalkingPointz analyst Dave Michels, who wrote about it in a No Jitter post a couple of weeks back. (Brent Kelly, principal of KelCore, also wrote about One Talk in his piece on BroadSoft, whose BroadWorks platform powers the service.)
The big advance with One Talk is that it can integrate with the native dialer; however, that capability is only available on Android devices. Calls to that mobile number also can ring on an associated desk set. That is a truly unique offering, but suitable only for certain use cases.
For iOS or BYOD deployments, the user will have separate mobile and One Talk numbers -- and that implementation requires the same type of mobile app that has been the death knell for every mobile UC offering that has preceded it. To put iOS support on par with Android, BroadSoft would need to develop a native dialer based on the recently released Apple CallKit API that allows native dialer functionality on iPhones. Still, the mobile app would still be required for BYOD implementations, which unfortunately represent a major portion of the SMB segment at which the offer is targeted.
To circle back to a previous point, it's important to note that BroadSoft is one of Taqua's " strategic fixed solutions providers." As Riley described, Sonus and Taqua focus on the core infrastructure elements while BroadSoft can address the higher-level telephony features.
I have seen too many failures in enterprise mobility and mobile UC to be overly enthused about a sudden change of direction, but the fact that real interest is being shown on the part of operators is a positive sign no matter how you slice it. The legacy of failure in mobile UC likely stems from the fact that the ideas that have been tried came from people with backgrounds in wired telephony. To these folks, "owning" a cellphone equated to understanding the new requirements created by the shift to mobile.
A lot of these plans have included proven nonstarters because they depend on non-integrated mobile apps -- but at least we now have Apple's CallKit API to address that difficulty on the iPhone. And Android has long provided access to the native dialer, though mobile UC apps on that platform have had no more success than what we have seen in iOS. I expect we will continue to see missteps on the road to a meaningful enterprise mobility offering (more if UC vendors continue entrusting projects to the legacy PBX guys), but at least they're starting to steer this boat in the right direction.