Feature

Ubiquitous enterprise mobility has arrived

Steve Broadhead, founder and director of Broadband-Testing Labs

Have you noticed how often the word "convergence" has cropped up in IT conversations throughout this decade?

Whether it is voice and data, local area network (Lan) and wide area network (Wan), fixed and wireless, or wireless and mobile, there is convergence going on there. Or not. Analysts still talk about the idea of ubiquitous enterprise mobility - for an employee to be always connected wherever and whenever - as something that will happen, not something that has.

Analysts on total connectivity

Take Forrester Research, for example, an analyst that follows this space very closely. Forrester Research sees the combination of public cellular and Wi-Fi technology as the harbinger of a new mobile network that will be a combination of short-range unlicensed technologies operated by their users and users' IT staff and carrier-based systems for connectivity outside of the enterprise.

This concept I do not have a problem with. I travel around England a lot on both rail and road networks and I see the shortcoming and suffer from them too. My problem lies with them talking about this as a "going to happen" event when the technology prevails.

To quote from a Forrester Research report released last year, "Although the widespread availability of systems coming from familiar suppliers is at least five years off, understanding what makes up the ubiquitous infrastructure and how to plan for the multi-network future is a must for enterprises looking to realise returns on IT investments happening now and during the next five years."

Brand Communication's system

So what about systems from unfamiliar suppliers? There are a handful of companies across the world trying to solve the ultimate "always connected" conundrum, and one of these - mobile technology supplier Brand Communications - most definitely has ubiquitous enterprise mobility technology right now.

We know this because we were testing the Apollo product range from this UK-based technology supplier just last week. And it works, and works really well. The system is built around a client-server architecture, so it can scale, but equally it works in a small business scenario - ideal for a wireless or mobile operator to wrap up in a managed service offering.

For proof of concept, we put together a test-bed that was simple, but equally reflected what could be a national or global deployment the building blocks are the same, just bigger and there are more of them. Although spreadsheets full of statistics tell one story, often the seeing - or in this case - hearing is believing routine works best.

Putting the system to the test

So we did a "physical" proof of concept, setting up a soft phone to dial into the speaking clock (tip: in Andorra where Broadband-Testing is now based, this same number orders you a taxi) turned the speakers up and listened hard, while monitoring the connection at the same time.

We dialled in via the Lan-broadband connection, having also enabled a Wlan (to broadband) connection and a GPRS connection via a PC Card we installed.

It is important to note that, from a user perspective, all this stuff is transparently handled by Brand's Apollo client and can be pre-configured (in seconds). So the user just uses the laptop or personal digital assistant.

The limits of the connection

Back to the action. So, we have got the conversation going with the speaking clock from our initial connection via the Lan-broadband route. What happened, then, when we pulled the Ethernet cable out? Our speaking clock did not miss a beat as the Wlan connection instantly picked up the connection, as instructed to in the client profile we configured.

So far so good, but what if we disable the Wlan - now the system has to reconnect across a different - mobile - broadband connection, the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) network?

You can probably guess what is coming. Once more, the speaking clock did not fluff a single line. This stuff really works. We continued to randomly re-enable, disable, pull out cables, plug them back in etc, until we got bored, because we could not get the system to fail.

The message to the analysts

So if any readers are familiar with Forrester Research (not one of the analysts I work with generally), can you please tell the company to check out Brand Communications' Apollo system and Forrester can then talk about having ubiquitous enterprise mobility right now, rather than in five to ten years time.

Interview: Mark Kendrick, CEO at Brand Communications discusses ubiquitous enterprise mobility and what his firm has to offer.

After the seemingly endless talk of fixed and mobile data convergence - and wireless local area network (Wlan)/mobile - in practice very little seems to have happened. Do you agree and, if so, why is this?

Yes I do agree for the most part. The simple reason for the failure of this obvious goal is that, in many cases, the convergence was intended but those implementing it forgot the seamless aspect, which is critical for success.

The world we live in today is full of "islands" and a user on a 3G connection is not going to reconfigure his environment when he moves to a Wlan hotspot, so will stay on 3G and the Wlan business model as we have all seen is challenged.

Winners in this market will be those who deploy a seamless platform that removes the need to cater for varying bearer types and which creates, and to use a well worn word from the 1990s, a homogenous network agnostic to the provider but seamless to the user.

Why has someone like a Cisco or a Nortel not taken hold of this space and led it in the way that data and voice markets have been led from the front in the past by major North American suppliers?

Many of these suppliers have focused on delivery of the high-speed backbone, the corporate local area network or the internet if you will.

Few focused as much attention on the mobile or remote user, whether in the design of the virtual private network (VPN) to cater for the rigours of unreliable and disruptive environments, or the mobility aspects where users were not on a reliable dial up connection, but instead are moving from unreliable packet to unreliable packet with the wish to maintain a persistent internet protocol (IP) address or presence.

Mobile IP was the only solution they had in their kit bag and this simply is not up to the job of harmonising global or unrelated networks either from a scalability or security perspective. What we have achieved at Brand is a handover speed which cannot be detected, even using voice over IP (VoIP) traffic, despite it being secured by a military grade VPN.

What are the unique features offered by Brand and how critical are they to achieving this state of ubiquitous, secure connectivity?

Unique is an overused term. When looking at mobility you have to examine the whole system, as features such as extensive bearer and device management are as important as the session management, the security and the transparent integration with any application.

For instance, on a WM5/6 PDA, Brand power management is critical to ensuring the device can be used when suspended, maintaining its IP presence in the network and as such being viable for mobilising or Push applications that would otherwise not be possible.

This feature has meant battery life of days, no need for Direct Push which requires a change to the application model, and in doing so delivering an environment critical to the success of seamless mobility and convergence.

In this way we can deliver a true converged environment with Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) traffic being able to traverse the walk from the office network to the Starbucks coffee shop and then to the home without ever dropping the call, changing the IP address and without compromise to security, which is maintained throughout.

Where do you see the opposition in comparison with yourself?

The success of seamless mobility is not whether you can make it but can you demonstrate the benefit and sustain its deployment - Brand has done that for 15 years.

The other critical capability that the market wants is seamless mobility with bonding. The need for speed has seen demand for aggregating packet networks, multiple digital subscriber line (DSL) connections to overcome the local loop limitations, such as DSL+DSL, DSL+Wimax and 3G+Wi-Fi.

Brand launched bonding products in 1993 meaning that it has mature systems.

Brand delivers remote connectivity through Lan extension and not remote access and has seamless support for any application as it also includes a fully encrypted layer 2 transport layer to deliver even trunked virtual local area networks (Vlan) traffic to a mobile phone.




 


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This was first published in January 2008

 

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