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Wi-Fi And Cellular Unite

VARs seeking cutting-edge wireless technology are turning to new offerings from a variety of vendors that bring together Wi-Fi and cellular phone calling, known as fixed-mobile convergence solutions.

wireless Wi-Fi

Players such as start-up DiVitas Networks, Cisco Systems' Linksys division and Siemens Communications all recently have launched products and partnerships that aim to target this burgeoning market.

Typically dubbed Fixed-Mobile Convergence (FMC) solutions, these offerings are designed for use with dual-mode mobile handsets that handle cellular calls on carrier networks, as well as voice-over-WLAN calls made via enterprise Wi-Fi networks and public hotspots.

The Holy Grail for users is being able to unify enterprise and cellular calling on a single device that seamlessly switches between the two technologies, meaning, for example, that a call initiated on the cellular network can transfer to the Wi-Fi network without interruption once a user is in range. At the same time, users also gain access to all of their enterprise calling features, directories and data applications on their mobile phones.

Gone are the days when users have to carry multiple devices and hand out separate phone numbers for customers and colleagues to reach them, solution providers said. "Six months ago, I had a BlackBerry and two cell phones. This drives that down to one device," said Doug Chesler, president of Federal Network Services, a VAR in Woodinville, Wash. "It's something that everybody has been waiting for."

FMC solutions carry promises not only of cost-savings on cellular phone bills but also of cost control for mobile usage, which has proved elusive for CIOs and CTOs until now, solution providers said.

"In our interviews with customers about their concerns for 2007, mobility and cost control are on all of their lists. They want cost accounting and to be able to charge back to the appropriate department," said Tom Shaw, president of Wide Area Management Services, a solution provider in Santa Clara, Calif.

Both Federal Network Services and Wide Area Management Services are Cisco VoIP partners that have teamed with DiVitas to extend their mobility practices.

DiVitas, a two-year-old Mountain View, Calif.-based company, recently began shipping its first product set, which includes Mobile Convergence Appliance (MCA) and Mobile Convergence Client (MCC). The beauty of the DiVitas offering is that it works independently of wireless carriers, many of whom have been reluctant to dive into the FMC market for fear of losing the usage minutes they make their money off of to Wi-Fi networks.

"You're able to seamlessly roam from any network to any other, [even if] these networks are controlled by different entities," said Vivek Khuller, founder and CEO of DiVitas. "[We] make sure the applications you need to get your job done when you're not at your desk are available to you equally across any of these devices, and when you roam from one network to the other, the call doesn't drop."

For partners, DiVitas offers a way for solution providers to access revenue opportunities they were left out of before, Khuller said. "The channel has been left out of the mobile revolution because the opportunity has been captured by the carriers. This is so compelling to channel partners because now it allows them to get in the game," Khuller said.

The DiVitas offering is compatible with existing IP-PBX platforms or can provide IP-PBX functionality on its own. The DiVitas MCA 1000 with a 10-user MCC license starts at $5,495.

Linksys also has its eye on the FMC prize. In March, it teamed with Sotto Wireless, a hosted communications service provider in Bellevue, Wash., to offer a bundle that ties Sotto's service with IP phones and wired and wireless networking gear from Linksys. With Sotto's service, Linksys channel partners can offer its SMB customers single-number access and unified messaging for wired and wireless calling.

"We become the end customer's telephone service provider, combining their cellular voice and data plans and their local service," said Scott Hansen, vice president of sales and distribution at Sotto Wireless.

Siemens has jumped into the game as well, recently launching FMC capabilities for its HiPath enterprise communications platform. The HiPath MobileConnect lineup includes an appliance that sits between an enterprise's IP-PBX and its WLAN, as well as a client that resides on a dual-mode handset.

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