RIM's MVS 5.0 Supports Wi-Fi Voice Calls

Blackberrys are getting a new mobile voice system, giving enterprise users get a multi-transport way to make voice calls seamlessly and with standard PBX functionality.
Research In Motion, makers of Blackberry smartphones and Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES), on Monday announced that it is enhancing its Mobile Voice System (MVS) to support Wi-Fi transport for voice, with the promise of cost savings. MVS will also become a full SIP platform, offering better overall PBX integration and support for SIP-based applications.

MVS is the voice server equivalent to RIM's BES. It runs on premise in the enterprise, usually alongside BES, extending PBX functionality to Blackberry phones; that is, users can make and receive office phone calls to and from their Blackberrys using PBX functions like extension dialing, or forwarding, moving or transferring calls. Enterprise IT or voice managers can even enforce call routing through the enterprise for security or policy reasons. And users can give out a single number -- their office number -- instead of multiple, or personal numbers.

Making voice calls over Wi-Fi is a powerful next step for MVS. With still plenty of congestion on 2G and 3G networks, and poor in-building coverage, Wi-Fi calls will become a viable alternative. Wi-Fi voice will also accelerate the ability to extend the enterprise, blurring the lines of communication and collaboration for the mobile worker. Perhaps just as important for now, this new Wi-Fi capability could drastically reduce the cost of cell phone bills, especially for costly international calls. Just find a hotspot, and make secure, free phone calls using the corporate infrastructure, no matter where you are.

Because the Wi-Fi feature is tied to MVS, users also get PBX features on the mobile phone using the MVS client software. This has always been the case with MVS, but introducing Wi-Fi opens up new possibilities. For example, before users could move a call (a PBX feature) from the Blackberry to a desk phone or vice versa, but now they can move calls between cellular and Wi-Fi, or vice versa. Say you're on a call where you know one coverage option is optimal over another, like moving out of a Wi-Fi hot spot and into the car, or moving from the car into the office. To make use of this, users have to create the appropriate Wi-Fi profiles on their phones; the MVS client leverages those profiles exclusively.

All MVS traffic gets routed securely through the network, also interacting with BES where appropriate. It includes authentication at the phone, and BES security and policy settings are enforced. You also get integrated voice mail (mobile and office) and incoming call filtering based on allowed or blocked caller lists.

Nokia N8 Smartphone
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With RIM's MVS 5.0, coverage can be optimized by moving calls between cellular and Wi-Fi, and vice versa.

To date, MVS was only integrated with Cisco's PBX, Unified Communications Manager and Call Manager Express, according to Manish Punjabi, RIM's Senior Director overseeing unified communications and collaboration solutions. Now, with MVS 5, not only does it support the newest versions of CIsco's platform, it will integrate with any SIP-compliant PBX. Punjabi says RIM is testing integration on a variety of SIP-based PBXes to ensure full compatibility. (While SIP is a standard, many manufacturers choose to implement its features in nuanced ways, making true SIP compatibility a challenge. RIM has to fully test each SIP PBX to ensure that corporate integrations will go smoothly.)

By adding SIP support, RIM is making MVS more of a platform, much like BES. Where BES works with virtually any back end mail system, the goal is to do the same between MVS and any PBX. Any SIP-based application can be integrated with MVS, just like developers and applications can take advantage of the BES infrastructure. For example, there are BlackBerry clients for Microsoft OCS and Lotus Sametime and Connections.

MVS can run in high availability mode (you can have a primary and secondary server) to help provide the reliability most organizations need from their voice systems. RIM wouldn't discuss pricing, but said that these enhancements would be available later this year.