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FaceTime and the Enterprise – Apple’s New Threat to RIM and Cisco

August 5, 2010

in iphone, Skype + VoIP, Strategy Formulation

I started writing about Facetime quietly a month ago. Now I’m sharing some of those thoughts. Beyond the handset manufacturers and the mobile operators I think the enterprise, and suppliers to the Enterprise like Cisco for example should consider FaceTime and how it works carefully. Even companies like BT that have failed to fire on Ribbit might want to look at how they could help HP or Nokia. While ultimately I’m much more interested in the experience and user stories technology is again impacting on how we communicate and it’s important to corporate strategy.

Previous Posts in the FaceTime series:

1. FaceTime – Has Apple Suckered the Operators Again?

2. FaceTime – Call it SIP 2.0?

In previous posts I’ve outlined how FaceTime works setting up a SIP/VoIP/Video session based on well known communications standards. These are also prevalent in the Enterprise. This is a future looking post. It will highlight why FaceTime is poised to have a real impact in the enterprise and as a consequence further challenge RIM’s position with CTO’s and challenge the enterprise communication hardware suppliers like Cisco and Avaya.

Imagine an enterprise world where every employee carries an iPhone4 with FaceTime built in. Visualize little docks on every desktop, WiFI running throughout the campus. Look around and you see no handsets on any desk. Watch employees touching screens and making brief FaceTime calls to each other without even dialing a number. Now think about when they go home.

While that phone is on the desk in the HotSpot it is a SIP phone equivalent. That’s how large enterprises run their communications. They also have large PBX’s and route calls over these networks which exist purely as data and are never handled by your traditional telecom.

Now here’s a list for the Apple Rep’s story going into the enterprise. We want to help you upgrade your network to video calling, save you money on hardware and give your employees the worlds most desirable handset. We can because:

1. Every handset comes with SiP/VoIP?Video pre installed. It is compatible with all your standards / PBX’s etc. In fact we simplify things for you. There’s nothing to register. When you add a phone to your enterprise account you only have to run one number for each employee. iTunes creates a Business Account and we will automatically add all these new iPhones to your SIP registry. By default our Notification Server will try and set up all calls using FaceTime (Free) before resorting to a GSM connection.

2. You can eliminate further upgrades and in fact remove old desktop hardware. We’ll give you a simple dock so employees can have FaceTime available on their desks. This is both symbolic and will enable more efficient use of communications. Eg with FaceTime requests the enterprise service enables “context” before the call, saving valuable setup minutes while linking FaceTime into calendar requests makes conference calls more efficient. The net result… end of telephone tag, and unwanted voice mail.

3. More importantly, we’ll save you GSM minutes. All your iPhone’s will default to SIP and use your network, the employees home network etc. Importantly you can manage security and encryption on all calls within your network or with your employees. These calls will be marked secure.

4. Naturally corporate contacts will be managed with their own set of rules. This means you can customize your employees FaceTime callerID when making calls with other suppliers or even when dealing with customers who are on FaceTime.

5. Even branches or small offices which till now haven’t had the benefits of a local PBX can add service and reduce costs.

6. Toggle employee “numbers” for business on and off. Manage their access or route and transfer calls depending on time of day. Even the employees can manage this based on their context. Why? Because for the first time the mobile number and your internal SIP number for VoIP is the same. There isn’t a separate handset or application for VoIP which must be running. Our solution runs in the background working every day for you.

7. Now you are a member of the iTunes Business Accounts we will let you promote within your SIP contact network as many apps as you want to sell or share with a reduced corporate fee of 10% on paid apps for administration and collection services. You will benefit by offering new services, and enabling custom software on your customers phones.

8. For employees that don’t get a mobile we have a simple solution. It’s iPod Touch 4. FaceTime is built in.

Will they buy it? You tell me!

Does RIM have anything that can compete with a FaceTime numbering in parallel strategy today? Is eliminating the provisioning hassle going to build VoIP? Consider what happens when FaceTime is embedded in Safari browsers
in fact any browser? (That’s SkypeKit effectively).

Nokia tried for years to provide mobile handsets that were ready to go with SIP on board. While they worked the provisioning was horrendous, and I doubt they ever really got them working in large numbers. Nokia was
effectively running two phones in one. A SIP phone and a GSM phone. One could be given priority over the other. Fact is battery life, WiFi availability and the #multiple numbers choice (which number do I give you) made these solutions
impossible. It was PhoneGnome that showed how to turn a dumb PSTN line into a SmartVoip Number. FaceTime does the same. Nokia also failed to simplify the set up and registry management. By contrast Apple has a unique number and can enable more than one profile as the CallerID depending on the users relationship with the corporate database or perhaps even another database.

How can Apple get there?

There’s certainly a role for iTunes Business Accounts. Apple can also add in a service that enables the enterprise customer an easy number migration path. Eg A registry mapping service.

FaceTime needs some tweaks. It’s missing many features. It must in a short time become more than  GoogleVoice, Ribbit, and Skype. Yet this need not be years and years away. The technology has been done. The devil now is in the details. The most important advance relative to the enterprise has been made. iPhone4 is the first handset that can integrate out of the box with the corporate VoIP/SIP network.

There a program currently in Telephony standards that seeks to do what Apple is setting up. Eg A method for building a registry between companies that will enable a transition from PSTN to VoIP. It seems Apple already gets it.

There is plenty of opportunity for Apple here. Similarly, I can see Asterisk PBX solutions routing calls to iPod Touch’s.

What strategy should RIM follow? What about Cisco? Others with interest in the enterprise? Does FaceTime even matter? Isn’t the point really that the iPhone brings the new VoIP and next generation iPod Touch’s will work for those where GSM isn’t required.

If proof was required then you only have to look at the New York Times a few weeks ago. Cisco is busy preparing a CIUS tablet using Android for the enterprise. I’m not sure that it will have a role.

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  • Stuart,
    I think this one is a bit of a stretch. While this would be nice, building it over FaceTime won’t fly – at least I don’t think it will.

    Enterprises today have VoIP infrastructure (at least I hope most of them do). This means that any new communication device that does voice calls and video calls will need to integrate with this existing infrastructure. As such, it is going to require a bit more standardization than Apple currently has in FaceTime, along with a lot more commitment to interoperability and testing and this small nagging thing of openness, which isn’t in Apple’s DNA – at least not when openness means collaborating and working with competitors.

    What you envision will probably happen, but I don’t think it will be Apple doing it.


  • Tsahi, I’m sure you have read my blog enough to know I like to write some stretch into my posts. In this one in particular I decided to try and present it from a “sales pitch” point of view. The key is the standardization process that Apple uses. I think we are about to see the release of the next stage which would enable FaceTime calling between email addresses. That’s a powerful next step. Thanks for keeping the dialogue going.

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  • Gabriel

    When you wrote ” iPhone4 is the first handset that can integrate out of the box with the corporate VoIP/SIP network.” what were you referring to?

    I’d desperately like to integrate the iPhone into my corporate VOIP/SIP network.
    However, every SIP application on iTunes store either requires that the user send their logon credentials to the SIP softphone developer to set up push notifications for incoming calls, or you never get any incoming SIP calls because there’s no push capability. How do corporate environments get proper push notifications while maintaining security of users credentials in house?

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