logo_siemensMy friend Luc Roy, now with Siemens visited earlier this week for a briefing on OpenScape Mobility. Luc was kind enough to broaden the discussion to include an update on the joint venture and the Siemens Enterprise Networks, formed as a joint venture between the German conglomerate and The Gores Group, the private equity owners of Enterasys Networks, in the fall of 2008.

Modeled loosely after the Nortel-Bay acquisition of 1998, this deal a decade later, combines Siemens Enterprise – telephony, services and enterprise wireless (acquired Chantry Networks in 2005) – with Enterasys – switching and security policy management – and a contact center specialist unit called SER. With an enlightened management and a solid direct sales team in both Siemens and Enterasys, it seems that in a few short months the JV has managed to deliver some level of strategic value add to customers. Since most Siemens enterprise customers bought their telephony gear direct from Siemens and their networking gear through a reseller, which would more than likely have been Cisco gear, the Siemens sales team can argue for the switching equipment spend better than the reseller can. In these cases it’s not about the gear, it’s about the relationship and that’s why they would win (and why Nortel which had a heavy channel orientation in both voice and data wouldn’t win so often). Resellers do like to sell what customers want, while direct sales people sell what their company has. A slight difference, but a slightly more persuasive advantage to Siemens/Enterasys.

On the other hand, I don’t think this argument works the same way in reverse. I don’t think Enterasys customers are going to swap out their favorite brands of voice gear because the Enterasys sales team said they should. That’s because voice equipment is way too personal for users in the enterprise so telecom managers and IT specialists in communications are WAY more careful about wholesale changes.

Siemens Mobility Strategy

Siemens Enterprise is in a pretty sweet spot among mobile UC companies because it offers infrastructure, telephony systems and mobile UC products. According to Luc, the company is focused on delivering solutions that demonstrate inter-portfolio value among its existing customers. There are no delusions of addressing a non-Siemens or non-Enterasys customer.

Firstly, the company has intensely competitive WiFi products. Five years ago the debate was about where to put the intelligence. Some leaders (in the short term) argued that the world need to have thin Access Points with very little awareness of sessions and policies and the like. In these architectures, all traffic was switched to a controller device near the edge that would apply all the policy and authentication services in a centralized approach akin to the mainframe models of the 1970s.

Chantry Networks, the predecesssor company to Siemens’ WiFi unit argued differently. They insisted on an architecture where the AP was smart. It had the capabilities to authenticate and apply policies at the edge of the networks as part of an enterprise authentication and policy service. This tended to reduce the intermediary demands of the controller, so the costs of these devices were lower. And, as Luc points out, in a world of 802.11n, where the standard proposes a maximum throughput of 600 Mbps (roughly 12 x more performance than current 802.11g throughput), a thin AP architecture could easily overwhelm the performance of the wired network supporting the edge environment without passing useful user traffic. From my perspective, engineers generally try to avoid circumstances of discarded packets – it wastes a lot of energy and degrades all manner of services – and those worried about architecture, tend to appreciate the value of smart devices in their network infrastructures.

Now under the Enterasys organization, the wireless unit introduced in March 2009, the C5110 Controller supports 2 x 10G and 1 x 1G interfaces and redundant operation for the support of up to 1,050 APs for particularly large campus environments. The new AP2605 Access Point is a cost-reduced managed 802.11 a/b/g radio that is expected to retail at less than $300.

As I recall, the Siemens WiFi platform was particularly tuned to VoIP over WiFi, which is a big advantage for their second element of the strategy. Secondly, Siemens HiPath MobileConnect enables a seamless WiFi-cellular handover service. MobileConnect is a client and server software feature that constantly monitors the signal strength of the communications and seamlessly passes the call back or forth between the WiFi and cellular environment. This is supported on select dual-mode devices where Siemens have been able to develop control of the radios.

Key features planned for the summer 2009 release of MobileConnect include location-based services support through an unannounced relationship with Ekahau, the Wi-Fi location implementation, battery-life improvements, conferencing extensions, better hotspot-cellular handoff options and third-party IM clients.

In future releases, Siemens plan to integrate this feature with the third element of the strategy, the Mobile UC client for RIM, Symbian (Nokia) and Windows Mobile 6.1 devices.

As an aside, we did speak about Microsoft’s poor support for mobile UC from other vendors. Microsoft has consistently refused to allow convenient support for a non-Microsoft UI or communications interaction while their competitors (Nokia and to a lesser extent RIM) have a more robust development environment making their devices more suitable for enterprise UC. Microsoft should stop pulling its punches and allow developers more leeway in developing fully featured mobile UC for their OS, otherwise users will be presented half-hearted, half-featured buggy mobile UC applications. Certainly, not the best method for promoting your OS.

The third element in the Siemens strategy is the Siemens Mobile UC client. This is a SIP endpoint with support for presence setting, call flow management, initiation and joining of conference calls, view the contact list with presence indication, initiation of group call to a workgroup and call log. Supported on RIM, Symbian, Windows Mobile and most recently, the Apple iPhone devices, the Mobile UC client offers a wide array of mobile UC features including user control of their mobile communications experience.

Siemens has a solid base of enterprise customers in telephony products and services with needs for mobile UC capabilities, so merely having a competent offering will be useful in meeting these needs. The MobileConnect offering is less valuable for most users, except in circumstances like campus workers where the dual-mode device is the preferred platform because consistent session quality is maintained regardless of public wireless strength. The power of the WiFi infrastructure offering is that is enables higher quality user experience and security in the demanding, unlicensed campus setting. Siemens mobility is a mobile UC power to be reckoned with.

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