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Now Colleges and More Businesses Are Cutting The Cord-Where's the Mobile PBX?

A few days ago, USA Today ran a story that describes how more and more universities, and companies, as well as local governments are cutting the cord, ditching the land line and going mobile.

The trend is nothing unexpected, as cellular calling rates, bundle plans, rollover minutes and newer handsets every few years outweigh outmoded the PBX and desk phone approach of the landline. With more and more telework also occurring, this also means the so called "off premise extension" has been eliminated, as well as the FXO (foreign exchange) two big money makers for the landline telco that with the way cellular plans are set up in the USA no longer relevant.

But, with the cutting of the cord and the move to cellular, we have also seen something happen in business. No one can transfer a call from a mobile to another mobile phone, meaning if Party A calls Party B and Party B deems Party A is better off talking to Party C, at best Party B can do is give Party A the area code and phone number for Party C.

Mobile lacks a PBX environment because of the nature of the way the cellular network is established. The call, which originates at point A and goes to point be is a linear, straight line connection going only through the mobile operators switch. There's no way to hit the so called switch hook and simply "transfer the call" to the person who can help the calling party.

The closest thing to this I've been able to find is Broadsoft's Mobile PBX however it seems this is geared more for the enterprise than SMB, and despite it being in their line of offers, I've yet to see it being offered via any of the USA carriers, let alone any carriers around the globe so while what is needed is technically possible, how many companies and their employees actually have it available to them to use?

Then a quick search of TMC' extensive story library gave me a better picture, thanks to a Rich Tehrani penned story about OnRelay and their capabilities. But unfortunately while the service looks like it's exactly what the market needs, they don't support either the RIM Blackberry or the Apple iPhone, both of which have pretty much become the business executives handset of choice in the USA. As a matter of fact I've even watched the steady migration of some very serious long time executives migrate from a regular handset to the Berry, and now to the iPhone because of one reason unrelated to business. Their kids. Moms and Dads text with their kids (and their kids friends too) it seems and both devices let them do that quickly and easily.

But the issue with both the OnRelay and Broadsoft services are not in their capabilities, design or intent. It's in the distribution side of the house. Who sells it? Where can I get it? How can I put a company on it that doesn't have a full-time IT manager/phone manager to keep it up and running? Better yet, show me someone who has it running that matters, a point pal Dean Bubley made earlier this year. Additional digging led me to VoIP2Air, another company offering a hosted model of a Mobile PBX for users of Nokia N and E series phones or a Windows Mobile device, with what looks to be a UK market area, but their suite of services seems to be what the doctor is ordering, I just don't see a USA operator offering anything similar today though, and the dependence on 3G connectivity or WiFi also has me concerned a tad.

For a Mobile PBX to work right, it has to function where the customer won't have any real concerns. That means it will need to live within the carriers network (ala Centrex) at first simply to make the Enterprise or SMB IT folks happy, not be an over the top, early adopter play. Ergo why Verizon is doing what they are offering. Sure the solution from VoIP2Air will likely work, and work well most of the time, but the real test as Dean Bubley pointed out, is when the carriers/mobile operators themselves deploy their own version of Mobile PBX and start using it. Then, it will be ready for carriers prime time. For those of us who are daring, it means the over the top solutions will improve and improve, begin to gain some traction and act more and more like our mobile switchboard.....sort of like a GrandCentral station for calls.....

My guess is this. When Cisco, RIM, Apple, Nokia, Microsoft and a few others join hands with a few large mobile operators, form a standards cooperative of what a Mobile PBX is, then, we'll really see this. Until that happens, in the mobile world we'll have the FMC oriented Over the Top plays alive and kicking, and smart business operators finding them to use.

Comments

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Michael Picher

I would agree that this needs to be more Mobile Centrex. But people run from the term Centrex because of the contracts they got locked into back in the day (heck, we still see it and curse at it in our SME market)... so let's not use that term :-)

I agree that to make all this work right, the handset players need to come together, as you pointed out, because development of apps for each phone type (don't expect execs to remember * codes) would be daunting.

Certainly, some of the traditional PBX players are adding this capability to their PBXs. I'm not so sure that larger institutions will want to give up their PBX either... they still need major answering/operator points, ACD queues, etc.

That being said, the providers will need some sort of link back to the institution's PBX to make everything seamless. And all those PBX vendors all adhere to the standards all the time right? (ha).

So now, we're not only looking at handset vendors working together but also PBX vendors. I'm not holding my breath. :-)

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