Research In Motion's comparatively glacial development pace for the BlackBerry OS left significant opportunity for upstart mobile operating systems and devices to gain consumer mind and market share. The use of these devices on corporate networks- gradually being permitted by many IT departments as security and productivity features reach acceptable levels-has created opportunities for other product makers to take advantage of RIM's confining ecosystem and slow development pace on its server room technologies as well.
Recently, I wrote that enterprise mobile implementers need to consider unified communications when evaluating which employee-owned devices and mobile operating systems to permit on the corporate network. The obvious corollary to this missive is that the UC and mobile IT teams need to ensure that choices made on the back end of the UC deployment match up with those mobile devices that will be supported.
With that in mind, RIM recently announced Version 5.0 of its BlackBerry Mobile Voice System (MVS) at the 2010 Wireless Enterprise Symposium. The biggest enhancement within Version 5 is the addition of voice over WiFi support for certain BlackBerry devices, allowing the WiFi network to serve as the transport medium between BlackBerry devices and the corporate PBX.
Certainly, this is an exciting and welcome improvement to the BlackBerry platform, promising tighter integration of mobile workers into corporate UC initiatives and more efficient use of existing network resources and mobile calling plans. However, I suspect that the small range of devices supported by the solution will be too limiting for customers that have begun permitting other devices onto the network.
Although MVS leverages SIP to communicate with the corporate PBX, RIM only officially supports Cisco at this time. Broader PBX support is expected down the line, but since MVS 5.0 won't start shipping until an unspecified time later this year, there could be an extensive wait for that to happen.
Also with MVS 5.0, the user must anticipate network degradation and go into the phone menu to manually toggle the call from WiFi to cellular networks and back. Manish Punjabi, RIM's senior director of Collaborative Mobile Voice, says the company has not encountered any negative reactions to the manual network switch from those in the beta program. Users simply become more sensitive to when they are moving out of WiFi coverage and get in the habit of moving the call manually.
Color me dubious on that point.
MVS is a value-added enhancement to a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) implementation, leveraging the management infrastructure for relevant application and policy delivery, as well for secured call control traffic. While a BES server is a requirement, MVS 5.0 will work with older versions of BES (4.17 and higher), but not with the recently released BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express.
MVS capabilities will vary depending on the operating system on the phone. While the majority of features in MVS 5.0 work with older 4.x-based devices, BlackBerry OS 5.0 or higher is required to utilize the new voice over WiFi capabilities. That leaves a few modern BlackBerrys that may be in use throughout the enterprise out in the cold. A few models of the Curve, the Pearl and the Pearl Flip support WiFi but don't appear to be upgradable to OS 5.0.
The reliance on BES on the back end also negates the enterprise's ability to extend call capabilities to employee-owned BlackBerrys that may be managed with a BES Express server or are unmanaged. And, of course, there's no support at all for employee-owned iPhones or Android devices, even if they do comply with corporate mandates for e-mail features plus security policies.
The PBX integration and WiFi connectivity afforded by MVS are not new technologies, even if the latter is new to RIM's offering. I tested Agito's RoamAnywhere Mobility Router in 2008, and I found it offered excellent integration with common corporate PBXes, along with an automated handoff based on network fingerprinting that doesn't require users to magically know all the WiFi network's dead spots.
Since then, Agito added BlackBerry to its list of supported devices, without requiring a BES server or a particular OS version on the device. The company claims support for 19 IP-PBXes-more if accessing a TDM PBX through a gateway. And with its support for the iPhone, Windows Mobile devices and Nokia devices, Agito has provided a solution that can be extended to both corporate and employee-owned devices.