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Campus mobile telephony -- The argument for Wi-Fi

Dan Taylor examines Wi-Fi telephony in the enterprise and the prospects of Wi-Fi as a way to improve on-campus mobile telephone performance.

Every corporate campus has a "dead spot," a place where the cellular network just doesn't penetrate. There are other places closer to the windows where people tend to congregate, pacing back and forth as they make calls on their mobile telephones. We know the harried moment when we tell the caller to wait a moment while we run to the spot where we have four bars of coverage.

That's the way things are today, but they don't necessarily have to be that way tomorrow. Workers use their mobile telephones because it's convenient, and after a certain point, everyone we know just starts calling our cellular number because they know it's the best way to reach us.

And as the saying goes, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" -- good advice for any IT department tasked with delivering telephony to workers. Since workers expect mobile telephony, the question is how to deliver it to them on campus and in other corporate offices. This series will discuss the options for Wi-Fi telephony, PBX integration and in-building signal improvement, culminating in an evaluation of the alternatives, deployment scenarios and ongoing management and support. Since corporate Wi-Fi is a big topic today, we'll start there.

While you're at it
In almost every project, small or large, it's easy to get a case of the "might as wells" – as in "while we're re-doing all the cabling anyway, we might as well upgrade to the latest wireless LAN (WLAN) switching equipment."

The current "while you're at it" investment is in IP telephony over an enterprise Wi-Fi network. In the progression of corporate wireless, many companies started out with consumer-oriented Wi-Fi equipment, then hit the limits of that infrastructure and re-invested in a more sophisticated platform. Today, many companies are looking to upgrade their Wi-Fi once again in order to simplify user sign-on, improve RF performance across the campus, and possibly support telephony.

At least, that's what the vendors tell us. When a company upgrades a Wi-Fi network, IT management should consider supporting IP telephony on that network.

The question: Diminishing returns
Is there really something that's too much of a good thing? We know from experience that it's easy to hit a point of diminishing returns where we over-invest and see decreasing improvements in performance or quality with each additional dollar spent. The jury is out on the real-world numbers from Wi-Fi telephony, but new devices and services are hitting the market right now, and it's worth further investigation.

The pros of Wi-Fi telephony
Wi-Fi telephony (or VoWi-Fi) has some compelling benefits, namely the on-campus signal improvement and potential for lower-cost calling. The recently announced (and long-awaited) BT Fusion Wi-Fi service is an example of a dual-mode handset offering these kinds of benefits:

  • Improved in-building signal -- by using an enterprise Wi-Fi network, it is possible to improve in-building Wi-Fi performance and to eliminate dead spots on campus.

  • Lower-cost mobile telephony -- the Wi-Fi calls are less expensive than calls made using the cellular network. So even though the carrier bills per minute for calls made using the enterprise Wi-Fi network, the rate is significantly less expensive. The argument is even more compelling in places where the calling party pays for all outbound calls – an enterprise Wi-Fi tariff would provide significant incentive for users to make outbound calls on their mobiles while in the office and on Wi-Fi hot spots.

  • Integration with Corporate PBX -- services like call routing, directories and voicemail provide strong incentives for integration between a Wi-Fi telephony service and the corporate PBX. In many companies, workers have at least two telephone numbers – office and mobile. PBX integration would reduce that to a single number.

  • Improved work-life balance -- we talk a lot about improving the balance between "work" and "personal" applications, yet 40% of all business-related mobile telephone calls are taken in the home. A Wi-Fi telephony service would lower the cost of those calls as well and, coupled with a SIM-based application, could enable the worker to have both a personal and a business telephone number ringing to a single mobile device. The ultimate benefit would be for the worker to keep business calls separate from personal ones, with the business number routing to voicemail during off hours while the personal number would remain active.

There are several good reasons to consider Wi-Fi telephony in the enterprise. With services such as BT Fusion Wi-Fi and dual-mode phones appearing on the market, IT departments have a growing number of choices for how to handle on- and off-campus mobile telephony.

In the second part of this series, we'll identify the sticking points for Wi-Fi telephony. Part III will talk about PBX Integration, and Part IV will discuss on-campus signal improvement for carrier mobile networks. The remaining two segments at the end of the series will evaluate the decision criteria and the difficult choices ahead for IT departments.

Continue to Part 2: Campus mobile telephony -- Wi-Fi sticking points

Daniel Taylor
About the author: Daniel Taylor is managing director for the Mobile Enterprise Alliance, Inc. (MEA), and he is responsible for global alliance development, programs, marketing and member relations. He brings over fourteen years of high technology experience and is well known as a subject matter expert on many of the aspects of mobility, including wireless data networking, security, enterprise applications and communications services. Prior to the MEA, Dan held a number of product marketing and development positions in the communications industry.

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