Test Center: DiVitas' mobile desk phone

DiVitas Mobile Unified Communications taps Wi-Fi and VoIP to marry the mobile smartphone with the company PBX

When we tested the DiVitas Mobile Convergence Appliance in May 2007 (see the review), the value proposition was straightforward. By leveraging VoIP, wireless LAN connections, and dual-mode Windows Mobile phones, the DiVitas solution allowed mobile users to save precious minutes on their voice plans and even turn long distance into local calls. It was all about the mobile phone bill.

Reducing phone charges is still important, but the solution -- now called DiVitas Mobile Unified Communications -- has taken on new dimensions. Integrating the mobility client with the customer's existing PBX and adding presencing and instant messaging to the mix, DiVitas takes a respectable stab at eliminating the second-class status of the smartphone within the enterprise phone system. In short, no more juggling the smartphone and the desk phone -- the smartphone becomes the desk phone.

[ See the Test Center's reviews of IP PBX systems. See also the special report, "Open source VoIP makes the business connection." ]

On the minus side, only Nokia and Windows Mobile handsets are supported. Plus, the DiVitas software and its use of Wi-Fi are a big drain on a smartphone's CPU and battery life. Users will have to be diligent about recharging their handsets.

Home on the range
The scenario the DiVitas solution was built for is all too familiar: The salesperson or executive on the go sitting at a hotspot trying to catch up on e-mail and burning up cellular airtime returning voicemails. With the DiVitas solution, that same mobile warrior hops onto the hotspot, immediately becomes present to coworkers, and even becomes accessible via his or her office extension number. In short, on any Wi-Fi network, the mobile user's voice communications work just as if he or she were in the office.

DiVitas also leverages the power of presence. For instance, if the salesperson is busy pitching the company's new super widget to a customer, a change to the presence setting will route all incoming calls to voicemail, while still allowing contact via instant messaging -- very handy if someone from the office is trying to reach our salesperson with changes to the widget pricing due to a rise in the cost of palladium. Of course, DiVitas allows IM

My testing was done using an Asterisk PBX and an SMB version of the DiVitas server installed on a 1U Dell server in my lab at the University of Hawaii. The handsets were a collection of Nokia phones running DiVitas' Symbian client, and a single HTC phone running DiVitas' Windows Mobile 6 client. Apple's AirPort Express ably served as the wireless LAN. Any Wi-Fi network will do.

On top of installing each DiVitas client and the DiVitas server, setup consists of configuring a dial plan in the server. My dial plan combined five-digit internal dialing and seven-digit local Honolulu dialing through a Mediatrix FXO connected to the University of Hawaii's POTS (plain old telephone system) and pushed all the long distance dialing out through an AGN Networks SIP trunk. 

The DiVitas system talks to your PBX over SIP trunks. Call features specific to the mobile device are handled in the DiVitas server, while functions native to the PBX continue to be handled there. For instance, if you're trying to conference three DiVitas handsets, that's all handled in the DiVitas server. If you're on a DiVitas mobile trying to conference another DiVitas handset and a deskset on the PBX, then the DiVitas server conferences the two mobile handsets and then adds the deskset as a device through the SIP trunk. If your PBX is open to third-party control of SIP sessions, then DiVitas can work with it. Nearly a dozen of the leading PBX vendors are supported. 

The magic of the DiVitas solution, of course, is the seamless roaming between cellular and Wi-Fi networks. Here's how the roaming process works: The handset will always attempt to join one of your preferred Wi-Fi networks as defined in the DiVitas client. Once on the Wi-Fi network, it will try to get a stable connection to the DiVitas server and start transferring test data in order to judge the overall link quality. If and only if the link is stable will the handset attempt to shift the voice stream over to Wi-Fi. During the conversation, the DiVitas client will continuously monitor audio quality; if quality should drop below an acceptable limit, the conversation will automatically shift back to cellular. Over our AirPort Express network, VoIP calls worked like a charm. The only times our calls jumped from VoIP to cellular were when we left the range of the wireless LAN.

The mobile desk phone
What makes the DiVitas mobile "deskset" so much different from that el cheapo handset I got from RadioShack? Let's look at the components of the DiVitas client: Message waiting indicator, corporate directories, personal directories, conferencing, and easy call transfer all wrapped up in a simple-to-use UI that includes essential presence options. DiVitas has started with the functionality one would expect from a corporate desk phone and not only made those functions available on a mobile platform but also integrated the handset with the enterprise PBX.

Although the concept of a mobile desk phone might sound trivial, take a good hard look at just how many extra entries you've put into your mobile's address book just to call people in your organization. These extra entries are especially irritating when you realize that you've already memorized their five-digit office extensions, and of course the stock mobile phone has no concept of an internal call. The DiVitas system brings PBX features to the mobile handset, allowing users to make "internal" calls over any Wi-Fi connection -- even if the hotspot is half a world away.

Users have four presence states to work with, allowing them to be reached by voice or text, voice only, text only, or not at all. Presence will also indicate when users are on a call. When users are unavailable, their instant messages are queued up and voice calls go directly into voicemail. So far, presence states are applied globally -- you can't be available to some co-workers and not for others. Naturally, I also have the ability to play a different away message for folks inside my organization (the University of Hawaii) versus those outside, and if I'm on the phone, yet another away message plays.

New to this release is visual voicemail, in which your voice messages, their lengths, and who they're from -- along with icons showing the caller's presence information -- are displayed in a quick list, providing for fast voicemail triage. Today, the DiVitas client shows voice and IM status separately. Someday, if unified communications standards fall into place, DiVitas might incorporate third-party IM solutions and display all presence information in a single place. Meanwhile, DiVitas' IM implementation, which is based on Jabber, remains strictly proprietary -- that is, closed.

FMC to MUC
This new version of DiVitas has made leaps beyond the FMC (fixed to mobile convergence) system we tested two years ago. It now offers a mobile workforce a unified communications handset that could possibly eliminate the need for a full deskset. Currently the options are limited to Nokia and Windows Mobile smartphones, and that may not change soon. According to DiVitas, Wi-Fi-to-cellular roaming on a BlackBerry requires system services that are not currently available to RIM development partners. The iPhone, which allows only one communication app to run at a time, is also a nonstarter. DiVitas sees possibilities in Google Android but is waiting to see how Android fares in the market.

Other noteworthy new features in this edition include automatic FTP-based backups of system and configuration files; RTP (Real-time Transport Protocol) stream monitoring for call quality troubleshooting; tighter PBX integration in terms of "call forking" (simultaneous ring in multiple locations); dial plan integration (rules to interpret calling number patterns); and presence forwarding to the deskset (though only some PBXs have opened this feature to third parties).

Ultimately, organizations will want more from unified communications than the ability for users to click "do not disturb" buttons for voice and IM communications. They'll want to apply rules based on time, location, group membership, identity, and status across all communications channels -- voice, IM, and e-mail. Much of this will have to wait until standards in the unified communications marketplace come together. Even so, the current capabilities make this Jetsons-style communication system a great candidate for organizations with a mobile workforce. DiVitas' leap into mobile unified communications is a leap in the right direction.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Management (25.0%)
Setup (10.0%)
Security (25.0%)
Value (10.0%)
Ease of use (10.0%)
Networking (20.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
DiVitas Mobile Unified Communications 2.1.0.1 8.0 9.0 9.0 9.0 9.0 8.0 8.6
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