RIM focuses on extra voice features for enterprise workers

For today's mobile worker, a flexible mobile voice system that allows them to make phone calls at work, on the road, and at home, is as important as any data plan. That's why Research in Motion (RIM) is concentrating on a "Mobile Voice System" (MVS) via its BlackBerry enterprise servers.

The MVS, among other things, features one-number dialing that mimics the office phone. Users equipped with BlackBerry smartphones linked back through the BlackBerry enterprise server can make and receive calls on the company voice plan or, if permitted by IT, switch to a personal plan and number when needed. The flexibility gives the enterprise better control over who is using mobile voice and how much the company is paying for it. With additional capabilities, such as being able to locate or clean a lost phone in the field and to control inventory, MVS can save enterprises money in a tough economy, said David Heit, senior product manager of Research in Motion.

MVS, Heit added, is not an afterthought on an enterprise-wide data plan but an important adjunct to that plan.

"Wireless email is a great place to start but there's quite a world beyond email (and) voice is an important way to collaborate," said Heit, who spoke at a RIM-sponsored technology update in New York City last week.

Most office communications plans revolve around the data aspects of connecting business users to key company information. This is, of course, where BlackBerry got its start, first as a PDA and later as an integrated mobile device.

Now, as a smartphone, BlackBerry can make the enterprise phone system an integral part of an overall network that makes mobile voice a replacement for a desk phone or, at the very least, a supplement. Again, if there is no need to provide each employee with a PBX-centered desk phone, the enterprise saves money.

In addition to offering employees mobility to receive their voice calls from any location via a single number, the MVS gives the IT department a deeper look into phone usage and, when needed, the ability to throttle or open up that usage, Heit said. All calls, including between international locations within a single company, run through the PBX and are treated as local calls, no matter where they originate or where they terminate, drastically cutting the cost of international minutes.

"We have organizations taking advantage of this kind of concept and running wild," he said.

While not exactly running wild, Jam Industries, a Montreal, Canada-based music distributor and one of the first RIM MVS supporters, is using the system to improve communications within its enterprise campus and to save money on calls between its locations in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, particularly in the U.K. where it has a large operation. Because the calls flow on the data network and through the PBX, they aren't considered mobile voice calls or international.

"I don't care about minutes anymore," said Natan Gleich, Jam's IT director. "I can reduce my minutes plan."

Jam is indicative of how the MVS system is slowly gaining credence in the corporate environment. The music distributor, which lists a bunch of well-known name brands as customers and clients, has about 15 users on the program right now and plans to expand to 45-50 users. These users will benefit from having the option of using a desk phone or a mobile device in the office and the mobile device, with the office number, everywhere else. Those users are already finding the convenience of four-digit dialing through PBX extensions even on calls to the U.K. office.

While MVS has been around since late 2007, it's just now starting to gain momentum for several reasons, Heit said, not the least of which is the movement by enterprises to embrace mobile voice along with data.

"Interfacing into a PBX environment is a little bit more involved than interfacing into email," he said. The mobile voice interfaces require a "bit of IP, a bit of TDM. When you want to do something you really want to get it right."  MVS has been released to "hundreds of users, not thousands" but it "will evolve relatively quickly," Heit promised. "We travel extensively in Europe and the Far East."

Gleich said he has purchased and stockpiled a group of BlackBerry devices linked to the U.K. operation and initialized for executives when they are traveling to foreign offices as a way to maintain inexpensive and direct contact within the company as well as to customers and others outside the corporate network.  The service, said Gleich, provides "really, really great bi-directional single number reach (and) allows us to travel, move around and do what we want."

It also precludes having to install an expensive WiFi VoIP system along with the company's WiFi data network because the BlackBerry is "just a regular cellular call," Gleich said.

WiFi and VoIP are limited by their network reach, Heit said, while the BlackBerry, because it runs on a cellular network, is more ubiquitous." Cellular, though, requires a carrier and carriers are not delighted about anything that actually reduces the amount of voice minutes consumed. On the other hand, because MVS uses the data network to transmit its signals, it's not completely eliminating the voice carrier when the caller is within a PBX environment. And it includes the service provider when the user roams outside the PBX.

Somewhat surprisingly, Gleich said that his local mobile carrier, Rogers, actually recommended BlackBerry MVS to solve his needs when Jam implemented a new Cisco PBX system and wanted to expand its mobile reach throughout the organization. "Operators...are very interested in this solution," Heit insisted. "They understand the equation. You're making use of the data channel."