RIM Proves They’re Serious About Their Brand of Mobile UC
At the Wireless Enterprise Symposium (WES) in Orlando this week, RIM announced some important enhancements for their BlackBerry Mobile Voice System (MVS). MVS 5.0 adds voice over Wi-Fi (VoWi-Fi) capability and better integration with the PBX for fixed mobile convergence (FMC) and mobile UC in the BlackBerry world. The clear message that comes through is that RIM is serious about enterprise mobile UC and they are providing a mobility solution that will work in parallel with the IP PBX and UC platforms.
MVS was added to the BlackBerry product line with the acquisition of Ascendent Systems. It has been marketed primarily through the mobile operators, though a number of IP PBX vendors resell it as well. The MVS is essentially an FMC appliance that can connect to any IP or TDM PBX and provides simultaneous ring and other FMC features for BlackBerry users. Given RIM’s excellent positioning with the mobility buyers, MVS has received great exposure, but it has left PBX buyers scratching their heads and asking: if my PBX can do simultaneous ring, what do I need this thing for?
Besides being tied into the mobility buying process (as the IP PBX vendors typically are not), the big advantage of the MVS is that it integrates seamlessly with the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) and the full range of BlackBerry smartphones. Most importantly, where other mobile UC solutions typically required a different (read “foreign”) client on the smartphone, MVS works transparently with the native BlackBerry interface. So MVS gave BlackBerry users some important capabilities like simultaneous ring and mobile number protection, and did not require any change in the user’s ingrained methods of making and receiving calls.
In its original configuration, the MVS connected to the PBX via a trunk interface. When a call is placed to the user’s desk set, the PBX was directed to deliver it to the MVS, which would then place a call to the desk set and simultaneously place a call over the cellular network to ring the BlackBerry mobile. The MVS also passed a message through the BES that was delivered to the mobile over the cellular data service that included the caller’s name and number. Outbound mobile originated calls would be routed through the PBX/MVS so that the user’s desk number rather than their mobile number would be delivered on the Caller ID (i.e. mobile number protection).
MVS 5.0 adds two important new capabilities: Voice over Wi-Fi (VoWi-Fi) support and a development platform that builds on a SIP back-to-back user agent (B2BUA) interface between the MVS and the call manager. Wi-Fi support is the most visible development, and a major about-face for RIM. While they have supported Wi-Fi on a number of BlackBerry devices, the only VoWi-Fi capability they offered was for been in a carrier-provided Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA). With that, those dual mode BlackBerries could then support UMA services like T-Mobile’s Unlimited Hot Spot Calling or Roger’s TalkSpot. However, they consistently refused to deliver a traditional VoWi-Fi client.
In the consumer environment, that VoIP over Wi-Fi capability would allow BlackBerry support for services like iCall or Truephone, while in the enterprise space that would be a major enabler for dual mode Wi-Fi/cellular FMC solutions like those from DiVitas, Agito, and Varaha. Over time, Agito and Varaha were able to develop a Vo Wi-Fi capability on BlackBerry, as was Aastra in their new dual mode solution. Siemens will likely join that list as the supplier of the mobile client for their dual mode Mobile Connect solution, fg microtec, announced a VoIP on BlackBerry development kit capability last week.
Interestingly, the MVS VoWi-Fi capability does not include the automatic Wi-Fi/cellular handoff DiVitas and Agito were so proud of. The Wi-Fi agent in the BlackBerry will automatically register with the MVS when the user comes within Wi-Fi range so the MVS can deliver mobile calls over the Wi-Fi network. However, if the user moves out of Wi-Fi range, the call simply disconnects. For outgoing calls, the network administrator can select whether the mobile originated calls should be sent over the Wi-Fi or the cellular network, but with no handoff, cellular will be the likely choice.
I think that RIM got 90% of what they needed in terms of VoWi-Fi support, as I have long held that the automatic handoff capability was little more than a “parlor trick”. However, they lack what is probably the most important capability, the ability to move a call from a desk set to the mobile; they can however move a call from the mobile to the desk set. Clearly, MVS is a work in progress.
The other important element in the MVS 5.0 announcement is the mobile voice development platform, which will allow PBX and application developers to make use of a SIP B2BUA capability to integrate the MVS with their products. In that implementation, the call is anchored in the PBX and only SIP signaling messages are exchanged over the interface between the MVS and the call manager. That provides far greater system capacity and better integration with PBX features.
In 2009, RIM introduced aversion of MVS that supported a B2BUA interface to work with the Cisco Unified Call Manager and Call Manager Express; for the moment they are the only vendor to interface with MVS at that level. The development platform opens that level of integration to all PBX and “application developers”, which seems to indicate that Microsoft OCS and IBM Sametime could be potential MVS integrators as well.
The new version of MVS is a key development for BlackBerry, on a number of levels. First, RIM is clearly establishing BlackBerry and MVS as total mobile UC solution. The BES can federate presence with Microsoft OCS and IBM Sametime. That presence is displayed in the BlackBerry Messenger screen and integrated with the address book and other applications on the BlackBerry smartphone. From an architectural standpoint, the BES is interfacing directly with the OCS or Sametime presence server regardless of what PBX the customer is using. So while the low-level voice call handoff involves the PBX interacting with the MVS, the high-level UC integration is between the BES and the OCS or Sametime server.
There is one catch however: MVS only works with BlackBerry smartphones. Clearly, RIM is developing a great (well, maybe not “great”, but better than anything else we’re seeing) mobile UC capability based entirely on BlackBerry devices. I work with lots of large cell phone users, and there are very few who are BlackBerry-only installations. So while RIM is doing an excellent job at “enhancing the BlackBerry experience”, it still leaves the user with a solution to only part of their problem. For now, RIM can capitalize on their unique position in the enterprise smartphone market, but that type of all-or-nothing posture can come back to haunt you.
If the mobility market has shown us anything, it's that user preferences are key: some users go for the QWERTY device while others are enamored of the touch screen. I don’t see too many iPhone users flocking to the RIM’s touch screen Storm. And at some point we will have to address the 85% of cell phone users who don’t have smartphones, but still need to be tied into the UC environment. RIM does have the best solution for BlackBerry users, but there’s still a significant opportunity for someone who can come up with a mobile UC solution that addresses the customer’s whole mobility requirement.