LongBoard Cares for Wireline Carriers

By Eric Griffith

March 09, 2005

The software company says the wireless phone companies are set, and plans to let its platform turn traditional wired phone companies into providers of 802.11 telephony in the enterprise.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based LongBoard says the wireline phone carriers are losing out to the cellular guys, citing an In-Stat study showing 14.4 percent of total usage moving to mobile phones. But it doesn't think that has to be the case when it comes to mobile Wi-Fi-based phones.

This week at the VON show, the company is unveiling its Open Mobile Enterprise (OME) software, built to turn wireline carriers into providers of mobility services. OME is based on Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), the protocol powering much of today's VoIP/VoWiFi phones. It is meant to work with most third party 802.11 phones.

LongBoard believes the cost of handsets today—still $250 to $300 for Wi-Fi only, and double that when dual-mode Wi-Fi/cellular phones really hit—means the market for OME is in still in the enterprise. Having a managed network in business takes care of things like quality of service (QoS) and security that still have to be ironed out in home networks. "It's not a consumer market yet... enterprises present a strong value proposition," says director of marketing David Schwartz.

"It's about lowering their monthly phone bills," he continues, saying that inside an office, 30 percent of the calls received are on company-provided cell phones—which are usually within six feet of a wireline phone.

Without a solution like OME, Shwartz says, wireline carriers are in danger of becoming a "dumb pipe... [and] could be squeezed out altogether as people use things like WiMax for transport."

OME software will let the wireline carriers offer fixed mobile convergence (FMC) applications delivered by the company's SIP server. Applications include not only the OME-WiFi to get services such as caller ID, conference calls and more onto Wi-Fi phones, laptops and PDAs (with softphones), but also OME-Cellular, to provide the same services when a mobile worker moves beyond the local wireless network. OME-Cellular will work with any standard cell phone, according to LongBoard.

Each phone user would be given an umbrella phone number. "We can route calls to any existing cellular provider; we don't change that network," says Schwartz. "We can get a signal when their phone isn't in range, and we'll route the call to their number... default, we'd send to a desk phone or Wi-Fi phone, but we can do all the phones if they want. If they don't answer one, we route the call to another. They never miss a call."

OME-WiFi has been tested to work with products like Symbol Technologies' MC50 Enterprise Digital Assistant, UTStarcom's F1000 Wi-Fi handset, Xten's X-Pro SIP softphone, and Hitachi Cable's WirelessIP-5000 phone.

The application has been installed by at least one announced partner: Fusion Communications of Japan is using it in the Hyatt Regency Osaka—the same hotel that is now sporting a Meru Wi-Fi infrastructure. The OME application is hosted by Fusion. Hotel staff are using Hitachi's Wi-Fi phone to stay in contact throughout the building. Schwartz says the hotel will also offer a Wi-Fi phone to guests as they check in. Guests can stay in touch when in a conference room or even while roaming outside the hotel (if they stay in range of the Wi-Fi network).

While some of what LongBoard is doing sounds similar to the convergence plans of Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA), Schwartz says UMA is more cellular-centric, and thus more attractive to cellular providers. He says traditional wireline carriers "have the most to gain with our SIP-based approach." However, at this time the company has not announced any major carriers that have signed up to use OME.

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