smartphone.biz-news spoke to Christoph Wernli, business development manager at Devoteam, about the convergence market and the opportunities offered by open-source operating systems.
Devoteam is to release a Blackberry version of its VoIP client OnePhone that runs on mobile platforms enabling voice calls over an IP network.
It is expected to be available for the RIM handset in the first quarter of 2009.
The application, which effectively turns mobile devices into extensions of employees’ desk phones, is also being made ready for Android and the iPhone.
Christoph Wernli, business development manager at Devoteam, said the application would have to be modified to comply with Apple’s legal requirements for services such as VoIP functionality.
That aside, he said the aim was to expand beyond the current offering for Symbian and Windows Mobile handset to provide its clients – and in particular operators – with a wider choice of devices on which OnePhone can be used.
"What we are aiming to do is create this same kind of convergence platform for all operating systems out there," he said.
Convergence Is The Future
OnePhone is a SIP-based, dual mode GSM-WiFi solution that is able to interwork with public and private WiFi hot spots, and with mobile networks.
It was first released in 2004 – before the advent of smartphones – in an internal Bluetooth version.
Wernli said they had anticipated the growth of WiFi and sophisticated handsets, and the application had evolved for use with 3G and WiFi.
"The vision we had is that it’s not going to be a mobile world but a converged one," he said.
From an infrastructure access point of view, this entails a plethora of wireless options – WiFi or GSM/GPRS/UMTS.
Wernli said this meant that a device has to be agnostic in regards to the access methods it uses.
Devoteam had also to consider the gamut of services required for mobile devices, including:
- Traditional voice
- Messaging – SMS, email, instant messaging
- Location Based Services (LBS)
- Video calls
"All these should be accessible seamlessly by whatever means is available, without having to choose different WiFi access points or UMTS, if you are in the field. That should be transparent," said Wernli.
He said OnePhone has been set up based on these requirements. As a result, it sits on top of the different stacks for accessing GSM or WiFi but beneath the user interface.
"That means that on one hand the OnePhone is not necessarily visible to the user, but can translate any kind of user action towards different access stacks," he said.
"So, if you place a voice call, then of course you couldn’t care less if you are in the office or in range of WiFi access or outside on GSM.
"You place the call, OnePhone intercepts it and depending on the parameters, processes the call over GSM or, if WiFi is available, it will transform this user action into a VoIP call."
Wernli said that ability to seamlessly communicate via the best possible wireless option at any given moment was one of the fundamental concepts of OnePhone.
He said it was this that gave it a huge advantage over other applications that were often separate add-ons that sat on top of the user interface.
"OnePhone is structured so that it can be used by my grandmother – it’s point and click," he said.
Wernli explained that behind the scenes OnePhone was a convergence platform providing voice call functions as well as others such as video calling and access to data (email, mapping etc).
A key element was its ability to provide call continuity, switching between GSM and WiFi mid-call without calls being dropped or any loss of call quality.
He said other solutions relied on special boxes to provide this functionality, increasing the burden on enterprises.
"OnePhone implements the hand-over mechanism, which is entirely client-based," he said.
"It senses when it is losing the WiFi signal and starts transferring a call over to GSM or whatever is available."
Signal strength is continuously measured and based on a series of complex factors the application decides when it is necessary to start the hand-over procedure.
"It’s a trade-off. On the one hand you want to remain on VoIP as long as possible because it costs less," he said.
"On the other hand you don’t want to have dropped calls."
Encryption Becoming Essential
A recent feature added to OnePhone was the ability to encrypt voice calls, something that is required particularly by users handling sensitive information such as banks.
Wernli said there was still a certain wariness that someone could eavesdrop on calls.
"With GSM it’s usually taken for granted that no-one can drop in on your call," he said.
"With VoIP that’s not the impression people have."
Wernli said because Devoteam developed and controls the entire stack within the application it has the flexibilty to implement such user requests speedily – something he said was almost certainly not always the case.
"We don’t have to tell the customer that we would like to provide this feature, but you will have to wait until someone in Microsoft or Nokia agrees," he said.
Devoteam’s main market is currently Italy, where it has over 60,000 users but it signed up a UK operator earlier this year and is currently in talks with operators in Spain and France.
Typically sales are to operators who are able to sell OnePhone’s mobility function as a complementary product to an IP PBX.
Wernli said that while efforts were being focussed on the European market, they weren’t ruling out future operations in the US.
"We have seen a lot of interest in the upper segment of the market where OnePhone is used to offer additional services to complement other corporate functions and broaden an enterprise’s offering."
Wernli said he expected the penetration of OnePhone to increase as the shift towards handsets being mobile computers rather than simple phones quickened.
He said that in addition to improvements in hardware towards iPhone-like handsets, the shift to open-source operating systems such as Android, LiMo and iPhone was extremely positive.
"Open-source gives so much more choice to enable new kinds of services," he said."We will see a huge explosion of applications and services in the same way we saw it on the Internet 10 years ago."