Avaya brings corporate VoIP to the iPhone

David Braue
1 October, 2008
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Conventional wisdom may say that Apple has banned voice over IP (VoIP) calling from the iPhone, but telecommunications vendor Avaya has found a way around that limitation by launching what it says is the world’s first solution for integrating the iPhone and the corporate desktop phone.

Rather than using a downloadable client application offered through the App Store – which would be subject to vetting and likely banning by Apple – Avaya has established its Avaya one-X Mobile offering (due to ship in November) as a server-side portal that can be accessed through the iPhone’s Safari web browser.

Authenticated access to the portal view gives the user an interface that replicates the functionality and configuration of their desktop VoIP phone, which communicates with the Avaya Communication Manager (ACM) server that controls calls through Avaya’s IP-capable PABXes.

This access – similar to that which is already available through a variety of ‘soft phone’ client applications for a variety of desktop and mobile operating systems – lets iPhone users view their phone books, access the corporate directory, listen to their voicemail, view call logs, and access other common IP PABX features.

To make a call, the iPhone user sends a dial command and the soft phone interface instructs ACM to make two calls: one to the iPhone user ordering the call, and the other to the destination number. Those two calls are then bridged in the PABX, providing pass-through calling that can run over VoIP or any other number.

Users can transfer calls between their iPhone and their desk IP phone with a tap on the iPhone’s screen. The system can also leverage iPhone features: for example, users can set call handling rules based on their location (as read through the iPhone’s GPS unit), time of day, and so on.

Two for one. Although the solution does involve making two phone calls for each iPhone call, outgoing calls made from the PABX can be easily carried over VoIP and kept as cheap as possible using least-cost routing capabilities – effectively allowing iPhone users to tap into the benefits of VoIP through a roundabout way.

Mark Duncan, head of technical sales with Avaya South Pacific, was pushing the management benefits this arrangement offers – for example, easier billing since calls are made through the PABX, as well as the ability to reroute calls if, say, the user is at a hotel in India that’s best reached via land line.

“By using the iPhone to make calls on your behalf from the desk phone, you’re removing any business calls from the user’s personal mobile bill,” he explains. “You can mange all your calls through the PABX, and it’s very easy to manage those calls down to a lower cost than you would have had in an unmanaged environment.”

Using mobile phones as a window into a call control environment – rather than as a VoIP soft phone of its own – represents an overall direction for Avaya, which Duncan says is moving away from the platform-specific soft phone clients it has previously offered; one-X Mobile will also be offered for Research in Motion Blackberry OS, Palm OS, Java, WAP, Symbian and Windows Mobile based devices.

That’s not only because the method provides a way around restrictions on VoIP – such as those understood to be imposed by Apple in order to protect revenues from its many exclusive carrier partnerships – but because it allows businesses tighter access into the Avaya calling platform. Using this approach, API calls into ACM and one-X Mobile will enable application developers to build their own applications that take advantage of the IP PABX calling environment – right out to mobile users in the field.

Duncan believes that the iPhone’s slick user interface is likely to make it an increasingly popular choice among business users: “there are specifics in the iPhone that make this a very compelling story,” he explains.  “The bigger strategy is all about having a voice strategy, a single inbox, centralising things around fixed line services, and having calls extended out to wherever you might be. This is like a remote control for your office desk phone.”

What do you think? Is this kind of workaround going to become more common / necessary for business suppliers wanting to sidestep the App Store to get their apps onto the iPhone? Has Apple just lost control of its iPhone enterprise story? Share your thoughts in the AMW Forums.

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