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Since the dawn of mobile, operators have looked to penetrate the enterprise market yet, in spite of their continued travails, success has been limited. For the majority of SMEs, the PBX remains king and IT departments are keen to keep internal control over their networks and the associated costs. Instead, mobile operators have been forced to the periphery with the cell phone chiefly of use to workers only when away from the office, where the increasingly powerful IP desk phone armed with an array of features holds sway.
Needless to say, SMEs still require good mobile coverage and when this is not present, they normally have little option but to switch providers. The costs associated with in-building coverage solutions (e.g. DAS and traditional picocells) means operators will only ever employ them for the largest organisations. The introduction of new, higher capacity femtocells that can even be installed in a grid, as well as next-generation picocells, means an economical solution for fixing coverage in SMEs is at hand.
However, challenges remain. The mobile handset continues to lack the capabilities of the PBX enabled deskphone and femtocells frequently drop calls when users move on to the outdoor network – an acceptable drawback for residential users but not for enterprises.
The solution lies in moving mobile networks away from the mainframe model and putting intelligence at the edge – in small cells. Small cells that act like complete mobile networks can handle all local voice and data requests themselves without necessarily using backhaul or the traditional core. This not only creates a vastly more efficient mobile network, but also transforms enterprise connectivity.
By putting core network intelligence into enterprise femtocells or picocells, traffic can be intercepted before it goes to the traditional network core and where required, directed to the enterprise’s own communications products. In this way, a cell phone has access to all unified comms features ranging from the basics such as extension dialling, call transfer and conferencing, to the more complex such as click to dial and dual ringing. Suddenly the cell phone – with no need for any downloaded client – has the same capabilities as any other IP extension so users no longer have to sacrifice features whenever they use it.
But the benefits go beyond the mobile users. Corporate IT departments gain the same insight and control over in-building cellular traffic as they do with all ordinary IP extensions. For example, this means their call logging software encompasses in-building cellular traffic for the first time, thereby making it simpler to track all voice traffic and use this to inform future purchasing decisions as well as monitor unexpected usage.
The benefits don’t stop with voice either. The smartphone revolution has revolved around data usage and in response, enterprise apps have emerged along with simple web-based remote access to corporate servers. Ordinarily when mobile users try to access such services, the traffic goes to the local base station and from there to the mobile core before being routed to the enterprise’s own servers. Needless to say, this is a long way – especially considering that enterprise users may be standing a few meters from the destination servers in their building – and the result is a less than snappy user experience. In future, this traffic can be redirected straight from the small cell to the on-site servers, thereby avoiding the mobile core altogether and speeding data access considerably.
The virtue of this solution is that it meets the needs of SMEs as well as operators. Organizations can turn their mobile handsets into powerful IP extensions without having to cede control to the operator – IT departments remain king. On the other hand, operators have a truly attractive enterprise proposition for the first time ever and perhaps more importantly; it is one that offloads traffic from their network, thereby lowering costs.