Suddenly It's Raining Enterprise Mobility Solutions

We have gone for years without a fresh idea in enterprise mobility, and all of a sudden it appears that everyone -- or at least Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and T-Mobile -- is launching one.

In August, Verizon Wireless introduced One Talk, a fixed-mobile enterprise voice service powered by BroadSoft's BroadWorks platform. Last week T-Mobile announced Digits, a service that will either allow a single number to make and receive calls and texts on up to five devices or a personal and a business number to make and receive calls on a single device (see related post, "What's a T-Mobile Digit?"). And last October, AT&T announced NumberSync, a voice and text service geared primarily for newer Apple devices.

While having choices is nice, it creates the very real problem of having to choose.

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Each one of these carriers is proposing a solution to a particular set of use cases. As UC consultant Marty Parker has been making abundantly clear in his UCStrategies series on UC usage profiles, communications needs and preferences vary by class of user, so we shouldn't expect any one solution to produce the be-all and end-all for our various user profiles. Each one of these solutions supports the provider's particular vision of what mobile users require.

To make things even more challenging, these services are still evolving -- so they may not work the same (or at all) on different mobile platforms.

The shared element we are starting to see in these services is the ability to operate using the mobile device's native interface. We have had countless examples of UC-inspired or other over-the-top (OTT) enterprise mobile services that have depended on the user installing an app and requiring a different process for making business calls. The one thing all of these apps had in common was that nobody used them. Users loved the way their mobile devices worked natively, and they weren't looking for this type of disjointed user experience.

About the only OTT app that has seen any measurable success is Skype (not to be confused with Skype for Business). However, even with Skype the usage is typically in one or two defined profiles, like video chats to the grandparents or international calls. The rest of the time, mobile users rely on the device's native phone dialer.

What has changed is that mobile operators have gotten behind this latest set of offerings and integrated them into their networks. So rather than some OTT kludge that sacrifices the user experience for negligible functional benefits, the carriers have built enterprise features natively into their networks -- at least for some use cases and with some devices. Where they haven't been able to pull that off completely, the mobile operators revert to the "separate app" strategy, too, and we have no reason to believe they will be any more successful with a separate app than any of the 50+ failed attempts that preceded them.

The important thing for users to recognize is that we are now getting some new options, that 1) are different from what preceded them, 2) have addressed the biggest barrier to user adoption of mobile UC, 3) make certain assumptions about what mobile users want and need, and 4) come with a range of "ifs" and "buts" that can reduce our ability to deliver an acceptable solution to some or all of the user population.

Click to the next page for a quick synopsis of what we see in each of these three offerings.

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Verizon One Talk
Verizon One Talk is essentially two different services, both of which depend on BroadSoft's BroadWorks platform integrated into the Verizon Wireless network. The first and more interesting service provides a single business number that can ring on both a mobile device and on an associated desk set; active calls can move back and forth between the two. Through BroadWorks, the service offers business features including simultaneous ring, auto-attendant, six-party conference, mobile call management, hunt groups, and video calling.

The key advantage is that users will be able to make and receive calls on their mobile devices using the native dialer interface. Initially that capability is available only on Android devices, though BroadSoft has an iOS version in beta that will utilize Apple's new CallKit APIs. In the meantime, Apple users will have to use the second implementation of the service described below. When the CallKit version is ready (which should be soon) this will be a powerful capability, though limited to voice calls (i.e., no text integration).

As the mobile number will be a "business" number, the assumption seems to be that these mobile devices will be paid for by the business (i.e., "corporate-liable"). However, Verizon is targeting the initial offering at small and medium-sized businesses at which most mobile devices are BYOD. If we're talking about micro-businesses with a small number of owner-operators, they might buy mobile phones on the business, but you're not getting rich selling three at a time. Corporate-liable still lives in medium to large businesses, and One Talk is going to have to get there to find the customers.

As mentioned, a second One Talk implementation supports two numbers -- presumably one for business (with the features and capabilities described above) and one for personal use. However, that second implementation requires an app on the phone (iOS or Android) and the same disjointed user experience of having different ways of making business and personal calls. That's a non-starter.

Probably the biggest thing One Talk has going for it is that it's powered by BroadWorks, which is a full UC&C offering that also includes the Team-One social collaboration platform and CC-One contact center solution. The trick will be integrating all of the relevant BroadWorks function into the mobile solution.

T-Mobile Digits
T-Mobile Digits is currently in customer beta, and any existing T-Mobile subscriber can sign up for it here. Like One Talk, Digits is actually two different services delivering two completely different user experiences. T-Mobile lays out the Digits capability in a cute video featuring T-Mobile COO Mike Sievert and CTO Neville Ray, who in typical "un-carrier" fashion describe how they will "liberate" your phone number.

The first part of the message involves giving that one number the capability of ringing on multiple devices including PCs, basic cellphones and wearables, or, as they put it, "Any device, any manufacturer, any OS." To access the service from a PC, you log in through a Web portal. You can access call logs, texts, and contacts on any of the devices. They also allude to the ability to make and receive calls through a smartwatch, though it is unclear whether that requires a smartwatch with cellular capability or if a smartphone within Bluetooth low energy range could provide the cellular capability for a smartwatch linked to it.

The second part of the story, and the part that will likely draw more interest from enterprise users, is that Digits will allow you to have two numbers on the same phone, and make or receive calls on either of them using the native interface. That idea of a true dual persona phone has been discussed for years, but up until now it has always had to rely on the "separate app" technique (also known as "the kiss of death"). That's the good news.

The bad news is that the two number-native interface capability is only available on select models of Samsung Note 5 and Galaxy S6 and S7 devices. For iOS and any other Android platforms, we're back to the separate app scenario. And CallKit does not appear to address the problem because it only allows VoIP services to access the native dialer. T-Mobile goes to great lengths to point out that Digits uses real cellular circuit-switched or Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) connections. Too bad the majority of enterprise users favor iOS over Android, the reverse of what we see in the consumer space.

The one part of the story that is not yet entirely clear relates to T-Mobile's claims that you can put other carriers' numbers (it specifically mentions AT&T, Verizon, and "discount carriers") on T-Mobile phones. This appears to be its way of addressing the thorny issue of BYOD. The "how it works" part is still a mystery, but if I had to hazard a guess, I'd bet it will involve the separate app scenario again.

As with One Talk, the key is that the technology is embedded within the carrier's network. T-Mobile says the technology at the base of this capability is covered by a pending patent, and it credits partners Samsung, Ericsson, and Mitel (we presume the Mavenir part) with delivering the capability. In the video, Ray makes specific reference to the Home Location Register and a next-generation IMS core, key components in a cellular network. And, again, the executives stress that calling is a carrier-grade experience using either circuit switching or VoLTE, so we're not talking about QoS-less Wi-Fi or cellular data services traditional OTT services use.

The biggest problem with Digits is that it's essentially a consumer service being offered to business users; it gives you voice and text. With the advent of UC&C, business communications has moved way beyond that. One Talk at least has a few business features and the promise of much more through BroadWorks. T-Mobile is promising to refine the service based on the beta, so hopefully it'll find out business communications has changed quite a bit since the 1990s.

AT&T NumberSync
Probably the most restrictive (and puzzling) of the new offerings is AT&T's NumberSync. In a refreshing change of pace, this offering is aimed squarely at Apple rather than at Android devices. Like T-Mobile's Digits, the big pitch for NumberSync is you can use your iPhone's mobile number on multiple (up to five) compatible devices.

To start, you will need the right AT&T iPhone, which would be a 6, 6 Plus, 7, or 7 Plus running iOS 9.3 or later.

NumberSync-compatible devices include:

You'll probably notice that Windows PCs and Android smartphones don't make the cut. AT&T does list the NumberSync compatible tablets here, though only three of them are Android (four if you count Samsung Galaxy Tab E "New" and "Reconditioned" as separate entries).

The weird thing about the NumberSync offering is why AT&T has it in the first place. Apple has been delivering a similar capability natively on Apple products for years under the name Continuity; that started back with iOS 8. As long as your Apple devices are in close proximity, phone calls, messages, even Facetime sessions can be accessed through any Apple desktop, laptop, tablet, or iPhone logged into the same iCloud account; AT&T's FAQs even address the difference between the two and its answer is, "NumberSync works even if your iPhone is turned off or your Apple devices are on different Wi-Fi networks." So, if I keep my phone turned on, I don't need your service?

Frankly, I can't figure this one out, but my overall feeling would be that if this is already being done natively by Apple (or adds this little additional value), don't bother doing anything.

Conclusion
It is an exciting time to be in enterprise mobility. As growth in the wireless business has slowed in response to market saturation, mobile operators are increasingly turning to the essentially untapped market for enterprise wireless solutions.

As you can see, the providers haven't "hit it on the screws," but at least they are stepping up to the plate. I think what they are going to find out is that the enterprise market has changed dramatically while they have been ignoring it -- and they've been ignoring it for a long time! The current crop of offerings at least shows the carriers' willingness to look beyond the consumer market.

However, coming up with meaningful enterprise mobile services is going to require an understanding of the different usage profiles, the differing needs of BYOD versus corporate-liable lines, and the development of features and capabilities appropriate to enterprise needs. Some of that intelligence (probably a small part) will come from culling through the 300+ features we've developed for enterprise PBXs. However, to craft a successful mobile offering they will eventually have to learn the most important lesson of mobile apps: Do a few things, do the right things, and do them really well.

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