Integrating Mobile Phones with Your Business Phone System

Updated: August 04, 2009

Introduction

 

While it can be useful for employees to use mobile phones for work, it can also cause a lot of inconvenience. Business cards need two numbers. Customers don't know which number to call, so they may not call, or may call only the cellular number just to be sure. There are additional phone bills, which makes it harder to keep complete call records. Outbound calls from cellular lines don't display the corporate name or number as their caller ID. And the cost of international calls from mobile phones is exorbitant.

Vendors offer a variety of ways to overcome such problems by integrating mobile phones with office systems. The solutions range from cheap and simple to complex and expensive. Mobile integration isn't as much product or technology of its own, however, as a range of capabilities built into phone systems and services themselves. Vendors' approaches vary widely, though, so direct comparison between them is almost impossible. As a result, SMBs looking for mobile integration are better off focusing on simply understanding what features are available and what they can do.

 

Analysis

 

6 Essential Features

1. Forwarding of incoming calls to cell phones: This feature alleviates the need for outside callers to choose from multiple numbers to reach employees. It routes inbound calls to employees' office numbers right back out to their cellular phones based on various criteria. Modern IP PBXes make this feature, a basic form of find me/follow me, easy to use — usually requiring little more than a change of settings through an online user interface. The incoming calls can ring desk, mobile and even home phones simultaneously or in order.

Beyond the basics, the feature can get fairly sophisticated. The system may ask the caller to wait, and perhaps state his or her name, while it locates the employee. It may route calls based on time of day or other criteria, including availability or presence. It may allow employees to transfer calls between their cellular and desk phones with simple key presses. It may forward calls from numbers that users define as important — bosses and spouses http://www.voip-news.com/feature/fonality-find-follow-feature-030408/, for example — to their mobile phones at all times, but send others to voice mail during non-business hours. Hosted as well as premise IP phone systems can offer such capabilities.

2. Making outgoing mobile calls through PBXes: When mobile users can make outgoing calls through the corporate PBX, it solves a couple of problems. First, it lets them call overseas at corporate-discount landline rates rather than sky-high international cellular rates. Second, it makes the caller ID of the outbound call the company's name and number rather than the user's cellular one. And in fact, PBX users have long been able to dial into their office systems, press a few keys and make outgoing calls on the corporate account.

But making such capabilities an integrated part of an office phone system rather than a cumbersome manual operation is more complicated. Typically it requires client software running on the employees' handsets. The software can signal the PBX to launch outgoing calls to both the mobile handset and the number the user is trying to reach, and then connect the two calls. The use of client software, however, introduces a whole new set of issues. For one, it usually requires users to have smartphones such as BlackBerry, iPhone, Symbian or Windows Mobile handsets. And it requires that the software be available for all of the types of handsets employees are using. If they are using their own phones rather than company-supplied ones, that may require new policies on handset or cellular carrier choice.

3. Accessing advanced IP PBX features through mobile handsets: Having handset software opens up all sorts of other possibilities as well. As with outbound calling, PBX users have always been able to access some basic functions such as voice mail and extension dialing simply by calling in and pressing key sequences. But handset software provides a graphical interface to some of the most powerful features of office phone systems. For example, it may deliver visual voice mail, displaying on the phone's LCD screen a list of messages that the user can listen to in any order desired. It may also allow visual searches of corporate directories, allowing users to locate colleagues and then call them with a single click.

4. Showing mobile users' presence: Yet another benefit of client software is that it lets employees detect whether mobile users are available to talk. This capability results from the fact that the software also provides instant messaging functions, which let employees see who is online and available to chat via either the corporate or an outside IM service. And that same state information such as "available" or "in a meeting" naturally also indicates whether the mobile user is in a position to take a phone call.

5. Roaming between cellular and wifi networks: Since modern smartphones are typically dual-mode cellular/wifi handsets, they provide an ideal way to save money on cellular bills. All it takes is an application package that transfers cellular calls to the corporate WLAN (wireless local-area network) when users enter the office, and transfers WLAN calls to cellular service when they leave. Such packages require both client software and server-based roaming applications. The applications can run either on corporate IP PBXes or on separate appliances, such as those of DiVitas Networks, that plug into the corporate network. At least one application http://www.voip-news.com/feature/siemens-extends-uc-101508/ even allows roaming through public hotspots via VPNs securely connecting the handset to the corporate network.

6. Integration between cellular services and office systems: Mobile operators are making efforts to integrate their services with office phone systems. Sprint, for example, can connect with Cisco Unified Communications Managers via Sprint-supplied gateways. The arrangement allows employees with Cisco IP desk phones and Sprint mobile phones to have single phone numbers and voice-mail boxes for all their calls. It also lets them dial other employees by extension number from their mobile phones, and transfer calls as if they're at their desks. And it provides managers with records of all mobile calls as if they were from desk phones. The service requires a minimum of 100 mobile employees in a company.

Recommendations

The benefits you gain from mobile integration will vary widely depending on your circumstances. The first step is to take stock of how much your employees depend on mobile phones to do their jobs. If it's a lot, you can probably benefit from integration. The next step is to analyze which features and capabilities will benefit you the most. In some cases, convenience and productivity improvements will be your key objective. In others, it will be all about saving money on phone bills.

Once you've determined your objective, inventory the mobile phones your employees are using as well as your office phone equipment. If you weren't already planning to buy a new system, see which of the above approaches will help you meet your goal with the equipment you have, or with an incremental purchase of new mobile phones and/or a wifi/cellular integration appliance. If you are ready to replace or upgrade your system, make your purchase with integration in mind. Remember that mobile integration alone won't justify buying an entire new system. But it will be very helpful if you can make it fit into your existing plans.

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