Since 2001, Avaya, a provider of communications systems, applications and services to small businesses, the U.S. government and over 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies, has been providing its Extension to Cellular (EC500) voice solution. The popular solution offers users the ability to manage just one number and one voicemail box by converging the user’s office phone and cellular phone. In a single motion transparent to the caller, Avaya’s MultiVantage Software routes all (office phone–directed) calls received by the Avaya Communications Server directly to the designated cell phone—which saves callers the hassle of being routed through a phone service, dropped into voicemail and left waiting for a return call, and spares busy professionals from sharing their personal cell phone numbers with business contacts.
EC500 was attractive to enterprise number-crunches because it increased productivity by reducing missed calls, and it gave users the freedom to move out from behind their desks without fear of missing a call, or having to constantly call in and check voicemail. This single functionality of forwarding desk-bound calls to cell phones was great—but it was really still a single functionality. All that changed, however, this June at the Nokia Connection 2005 event in Helsinki, Finland, where Avaya and Nokia, who have an ongoing collaborative relationship, announced they were making a joint contribution to the Fixed to Mobile Convergence (FMC) voice solutions market.
Their solution works on dual-mode devices running on the Symbian OS, which, according to Gartner Dataquest, accounts for 85 percent of all phones shipped worldwide; of that total, 33 percent of the market is Nokia’s, with distant second and third places falling to Motorola and Samsung. The solution also provides Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) capabilities, which enable users to make and receive calls over mobile networks or WLANs. The major difference, though, is that instead of offering a single “re-routing” feature, the joint offering opens EC500’s capabilities to all those of a office PBX—which means cell phone users can transfer a call, put the call on hold, hold a conference call and dial a colleague’s four-digit extension, instead of their 10-digit number plus their extension, as they normally would from an outside line.
Early to Market
Strategic Products & Services (SPS), one of Avaya’s biggest business partners, was among the first to trial the “new EC500” (which, inconveniently, Avaya and Nokia refer to only as “the offering”). SPS is also a communications solution provider, and to date has implemented over 30,000 systems throughout the United States and boasts revenue growth of 600 percent over the last five years. Was SPS trying out the system before it could recommend it to customers? That was part of it, said Mike Taylor, VP of emerging technologies, when I called his office phone and reached him on his cell phone, in a car. “We’re also trying to see what kind of needs can be met within our organization, because we have quite a few mobile people,” he explained.
SPS was open to trying out the new offering, says Taylor, because “when you’ve got a large sales force, 100-plus people, most of which work remotely from the office, from a business perspective we’d like to keep in touch with them. … The attractive thing about the EC500 is you give customers your work number and extension, and when they call, it rings your desk phone and rings your cell phone at the same time—that feature’s actually been around four or five years, and we use it quite extensively. The difficulty in the past, though, has been that once you got the call you couldn’t really do anything with it. All you could do was answer the call, or if you didn’t answer it would go to your corporate voicemail. But you couldn’t transfer it, you couldn’t forward it to people within the company, and you’d have to dial their 10-digit number.”
SPS has 80 or 90 employees using the original EC500 service, and it rolled out the new Avaya/Nokia functionalities to about 10 of its employees. Aside from an initial glitch downloading the software over-the-air from the Avaya Web site, the deployment essentially took as long as rebooting the phones. “For anybody within the business who’s already familiar with the phone features, there’s no training about how to use or understand the features,” says Taylor. “How to access them on the phone is kind of new, but it’s like any other cell phone—once you figure out what the features are, you know how to get to them. So there’s probably a little bit of a learning curve.”
The only thing presently keeping Taylor from a wider deployment is logistics. “Right now the feature works in conjunction with GSM phones and GSM service, and the bulk of our users … don’t have GSM phones. So one of the first things we did when trialing this was sign a contract with Cingular, and now what I’ve got to do is look at some kind of transition plan and figure out which of those people in [our] remote areas are viable to put on the Cingular service.”
The fee for the EC500 feature is per-license, per user, and the added features of the Avaya/Nokia phone software is
currently free, if you have the EC500 license, according to Taylor, who says the value of the new features “has really perked up a lot of customers’ ears.”
And of course, he’s finding value in it as well. “For me, the biggest value has always been being able to be reached. The sales force contacts me on a regular basis, and customers contact me on a regular basis, but the difficulty is, I’m nearly never at my desk. So without having to give people cell phone numbers or have people track me down or leave me voicemail messages and me have to call them back—which is a huge cost savings in and of itself. If someone leaves you a message, you’re not making an outgoing call to return it. And I rarely have to do that anymore. Another advantage is just accessibility to be able to do things, even though I’m on the road. So if I do get a call and I need to get that call someplace else, I can transfer it, I can conference other people in, and that’s just amazingly productive, versus having somebody call and saying, ‘Well, you really need to talk to so-and-so. Why don’t you call back in, here’s the number, and then have him conference me in.’ I don’t need to do that anymore” says Taylor. “We’re enjoying using [the solution]. In fact, my biggest issue right now is people harassing me to get them one of the phones.”
And while SPS isn’t fully employing the Avaya/Nokia FMC solution’s ability to route mobile calls through IP networks, many other cost-conscious enterprises are taking note. The Italian National Centre for Information Technologies, for example, plans to convert a million desk phones in its public administration facilities over to IP mode over the next three years. It’s anticipating that a collaboration with Avaya and Nokia and the move to WLAN and GSM dual-mode technologies will offer a substantial savings.