New Mobile Tool from Agito Networks Could Spur Dual-Mode Phone Deployment

By Ericka Chickowski Print this article Print

Agito Networks converged utility will allow Wi-Fi, cell and PBX systems to work with each other without holding you to one vendor or carrrier's technology.

Since they hit the market four years ago, dual-mode phones that can talk to both wireless and wired networks have been stymied by a technological stalemate in handling call coverage. But things could be changing.

Some analysts expect that the impending launch of a new carrier-agnostic product from Agito Networks could be just the catalyst that enterprises have been waiting for to get behind dual-mode deployment.

Backed by $7 million in venture funding by Battery Ventures and headed up by executives from Cisco, Motorola and Palm, Agito Networks was founded to address the major shortcoming in dual-mode phones that has kept these devices from gaining traction within the enterprise.

"When most people think about a dual mode phone they think, 'Hey this phone will automatically pick which network to use, whether its going to be Wi-Fi where it gets free calls or it's going to be cellular where I pay for the calls,' and they just assume that that gets fixed and worked out for them," said Pejman Roshan, co-founder and vice president of marketing for Agito.

"The reality is that a dual-mode phone has bit of schizophrenia. The cellular part of the phone has a cellular identity and the Wi-Fi part of the phone has your PBX identity, so its basically two phones inside of one phone. There is an opportunity to take advantage of multiple networks, but there's no easy way to move across them."

As the market stands right now, most dual-mode phones require user intervention to switch between network modes. And cellular network carriers have done very little to drive the improvement in this arena because they largely see the adoption of dual-mode as a potential threat to revenue, said Michael Disabato, service director for Burton Group. At very best they've offered options for call management that are device-dependant and require enterprises to commit to a single carrier.

"The carriers and the mobile operators hate dual-mode, for the obvious reasons," said Michael Disabato, service director for Burton Group. "They in turn are responding by saying ok, well, we'll let you do this if you let us manage your IP PBX in your network."

Predictably, most enterprises have balked at the issues posed by this in terms of convenience, control and cost. Instead they've waited to deploy a dual-mode solution, hoping for a third party to swoop in and solve the problem. Which is exactly what Disabato believes Agito has done with the development of the Agito RoamAnywhere Mobility Router.

This mobile voice convergence utility is comprised of a network device and Java clients installed on user's phones. Together the device and the client software work to route calls through either the cellular network or the Wi-Fi network based on where the phone is at the moment. The client software enables the network device to track the location of the phone based on RF signatures and then it seamlessly routes calls through the appropriate network even if the user roams between them mid-call. In addition the software takes advantage of full PBX capabilities and offers a host of call-forwarding options that allow users to merge corporate numbers with cell-phone numbers.

Disabato believes that it is the location-aware call routing that is truly the differentiator, and that it really has the potential to upset the mobile carrier applecart. "It disconnects the mobile operator from the whole process," Disabato said, "which puts control in the enterprise's hands, where it needs to be."

This is exactly why Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe chose to work with Agito on a mobile voice convergence beta. As one of the top thirty law firms in the world Orrick relies heavily on its mobile voice infrastructure to keep its 1,000 attorneys and other support staff connected to clients.

"What we liked about Agito was the fact that it is agnostic and that is very important to us," Patrick Tisdale, chief information officer for the firm. "We appreciate that there were some intriguing angles to each of the big carriers' variation on this theme, but they presuppose that you either have an extensive subscriber base with them or you're willing to convert that way and that is just very difficult to do."

Orrick's push to move to dual-mode phones is driven less by the cost savings offered by voice-over-wireless technology and more due to operational logistics.

"One of the ironies of modern, efficient green buildings is that in many ways they are like lead boxes for the purpose of shielding a cell phone signals," Tisdale said.

Orrick's new San Francisco building is a prime example of this phenomenon. The windows are not only double-glazed, but there are also two layers of glass to create a greenhouse effect and improve heat efficiency. The problem is that the cell service is so bad that the firm had to work with its main provider to install an expensive repeater device to gain access to the network signal. Of course, then the firm continues to run into the problem of relying on a single provider in spite of the fact that many employees rely on a different carrier.

"The idea of having a single mobility device that is an extension of your office phone is valuable to us so that in our leadened buildings we can exploit our wireless systems for service," Tisdale said.

Because Agito is so new, Orrick and several other major customer acquisitions are still just in the process of testing the product. But analysts such as Disabato believe that the technology shows so much promise that they it won't be long before customers deploy the technology and more competitors enter the field.

"Over time this is going to be a big upheaval, it is going to be a very disruptive influence on the mobile operators," he said. "Right now they are the only ones who have briefed us that have a box that sits on your network and controls your phones with a Java applet and bypasses the carriers, but I'm sure there are other people who have either worked this out or are working on it because it is an elegantly simple solution."

As for Orrick, the jury is still out on whether the law firm will take advantage of Agito on a major scale. Tisdale says the beta has gone well so far, but he's still studying whether it RoamAnywhere will be the right fit for his firm.

"I really think it does show promise," he said. "What we'll find out is whether it will do everything in the way an attorney would want it to."

This article was originally published on 2007-12-03
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