Ascendent acquisition extends desk phone to BlackBerry

A week after paying out $612.5 million to end a patent infringement suit, BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. acquired Ascendent Systems to make the desk phone mobile.

Just a week after shelling out more than half a billion dollars to make a vexing patent infringement suit disappear,

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM) didn't waste any time getting back to business.

The mobile e-mail powerhouse on Friday announced its purchase of Ascendent Systems, an enterprise voice mobility vendor and member of the BlackBerry ISV Alliance Program. Ascendent is best known for making the Ascendent Voice Mobility Suite, a standards-based software that enables existing PBX, IP PBX and heterogeneous telephony systems to push voice calls and extend corporate desk phone capabilities to mobile users on any wireless handset or wirelined phone.

The terms of the agreement were not released. However, according to Ascendent, the deal makes San Jose, Calif.-based Ascendent a wholly-owned subsidiary of RIM instead of just a partner.

For the BlackBerry enterprise, the purchase means users can be reached on their BlackBerry when someone calls their desk phone, completely transparent to the caller, said Debbie Miller, a vice president at RIM and former CEO of Ascendent. And in a world where research estimates seven out of 10 calls go to voice-mail, that will boost both accessibility and productivity.

"This liberates anyone who uses it from worrying about being able to be reached," she said.

One practical use, Miller said, is in health care where a patient can call a doctor's office phone and connect to him anywhere, without the doctor having to give out his cell phone number.

"BlackBerry has a very strong vision of really delivering mobility and ease of use on a data front," Miller said. "This makes that happen for both data and voice."

For more information

Read more about RIM's patent infringement battle

Check out a chapter from Mobile Guide to BlackBerry

Ascendent Voice Mobility Suite provides single-number reach, consolidation and access to a single voice-mail box. It extends the functionality of a desk phone, such as a PBX dial tone, call transfer and hold, four or five digit dialing and conferencing calling. It is also session initiated protocol (SIP)-enabled for VoIP and supports BlackBerry WLAN deployments. Ascendent's system differs from standard call forwarding in that it brings all of the functionality of a desk phone to a mobile device instead of simply relaying incoming calls. Missed calls go directly to the desk phone's voice-mail box instead of to the device calls are forwarded to.

Along with those new features, a BlackBerry integrated with Ascendent will keep all the familiar BlackBerry functions such as push e-mail, messaging and calendaring.

"It's a remarkable amount of functionality," Miller said.

Ascendent's ability to function in heterogeneous environments also makes it easy for IT to deploy the software to its BlackBerry user base.

According to Miller, IT won't have to replace old legacy equipment or add an additional PBX or IP PBX to roll it out.

In a statement posted on RIM's Web site, RIM Co-CEO, Jim Balsillie, said, "The Ascendent Voice Mobility Suite is a perfect complement to the BlackBerry enterprise solution. This deal allows us to further extend and enhance the use of wireless communications in the enterprise by offering a voice mobility solution that helps customers align their mobile voice and data strategies."

In the future, Miller said, the services will be bundled together, so an enterprise planning a BlackBerry deployment can get Ascendent functionality bundled in.

"Ultimately, it will be very easy for a user to buy this as a package deal," she said, adding the vision is to have Ascendent come bundled with the BlackBerry Enterprise Server.

Exactly a week before purchasing Ascendent, RIM paid Virginia-based NTP Inc. $612.5 million dollars to settle a nearly five-year-old patent infringement suit, which, at one point, nearly resulted in a shutdown of BlackBerry sales and services in the U.S. NTP claimed RIM stole its patents to create the widely popular BlackBerry. As part of the settlement agreement, both RIM and its partners are allowed to use mobile push e-mail technology without fear of any future claims from NTP.

Despite the settlement, many experts said RIM's attention to the lawsuit may have cost it a competitive edge in the mobile e-mail market. Several said the settlement paved the way for RIM to focus more on advancing its technologies.

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