Two divisions in AT&T Corp.’s systems and technology company last week unveiled a communications system the company said will provide customers wireless phone access in the office or on a campus and analog cellular service wherever else they go, all using their current cellular phones.
The Cellular Business System is the first of four wireless systems in the new FreeWorks family introduced by AT&T Global Business Communications Systems and AT&T Network Systems. AT&T’s Global unit plans to market the product to businesses and Network Systems plans to sell it to cellular carriers. The product is scheduled to hit the market in the second quarter.
Targeted at high-volume business users, CBS is expected to succeed as an enhanced service and component in businesses’ overall multimedia programs, according to Dana Becker Dunn, vice president of Multimedia Offers for AT&T GBCS.
CBS could prove a formidable weapon for cellular carriers by helping retain current customers and capture new ones. The system can be configured with AT&T’s proprietary Definity switch and is compatible with most other private branch exchange or Centrex switches, said AT&T.
Jerry Carpenter, director of wireless development at Bell Laboratories, said the flexibility of CBS will allow for a hybrid approach to configuring in-building systems. In some cases CBS could be installed with base stations distributed throughout a business complex or campus. In other cases, a distributed antenna strategy transmitting to a few base stations will be a more cost-effective method.
Carpenter said handoffs are seamless within a multizone office or campus environment. However, the system does not provide handoffs between the on-premise frequencies and outside cellular network. AT&T is working toward providing that capability. Also, the company said it intends to design CBS to work with a number of digital air interfaces.
In most cases, airtime used inside the office will be free of charge, said Ray Pennotti, wireless access systems director at AT&T Network Systems. However, specific pricing terms for CBS, including on-campus airtime, will be decided by the carrier marketing the service, Pennotti added.
CBS doesn’t offer that much more than its competitors, commented Jerry Kaufman, president of Alexander Resources, who studies wireless telephone systems. However, he noted some switches will enable businesses to install wireless access to the PBX on a per-unit basis through AT&T. Instead of installing an entire system, an individual user could fix a base station in their office and install a card in the switch, which would communicate with each other wirelessly.
Pennotti believes CBS is an opportunity for service providers to increase penetration among high-usage customers.