Nokia, Alcatel extend PBX functions to cell phones

Nokia Corp. and Alcatel SA are jumping the gun on Wi-Fi phones that work like regular office handsets: They're offering the same capability on ordinary cell phones.

The advent of VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) phones and IP PBXes (private branch exchanges) opened the door not only to business handsets that sat on a desk and sent packets around a wired LAN, but also to ones that could be carried around and use Wi-Fi. That can mean one handset for all business calls, anywhere in the enterprise, but that still leaves the employee's cell phone for use outside. Dual-mode cell and Wi-Fi devices are just starting to emerge, and moving between networks raises technical issues.

By the end of the year, Nokia and Alcatel will offer software that makes Nokia Eseries cell phones, a line of smart phones designed for business, talk to the Alcatel IP Communication server. That means they can be used like a PBX-connected desk phone, with features such as call conferencing and dialing by name, the companies said. It also lets employees keep their desk phones, use just one number, and program which device they want to receive calls on at a given time.

The system also lets cell phone users tap into Alcatel's Least Cost Routing capabilities, which can cut enterprise long-distance charges, and make cellular billing records easier to find, they said.

The PBX features work on cell phones wherever they are used, and using the system doesn't require any cooperation from the mobile operator, said Tom Libretto, a director of product marketing at Nokia.

In its first iteration, the Intellisync Call Connect for Alcatel software will make the phones talk to enterprise PBXes over the ordinary cell phone network. In the near future, it will support dual-mode phones, the companies said.

Nokia, in Espoo, Finland, acquired Intellisync last year to gain a better foothold in enterprises. It also weighed in to that market on the hardware side last year when it unveiled the Eseries phones, which include a variety of business features including QWERTY keypads and support for business applications and mobile e-mail systems. Its E70 phone includes Wi-Fi as well as cellular radios.

Alcatel, in Paris, is near to closing a merger with Lucent Technologies Inc. and recently agreed to buy the UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) business of Nortel Networks Corp.

Nokia already offers similar capabilities with Avaya Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. PBXes, Libretto said. It plans to extend the Alcatel system to other Nokia phones, he said.

Some features of office phones are already available on most cell phones, and mobile-to-mobile calling plans can save enterprises money on calls between employees, said Ovum Ltd. analyst Roger Entner. But having a desk phone and cell phone with one number could be a convenient feature. For one thing, heavy phone users could avoid having to charge their cell phones frequently, he said.

Intellisync Call Connect for Alcatel is part of the Intellisync Mobile Suite from Nokia. It is set to become available through Nokia and Alcatel resellers in the fourth quarter. Pricing has not been set.

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