When the biggest news isn’t news at all – Nokia and 3GPP VCC

This year’s 3GSM/MWC passed by with few (if any) words said about one of the most interesting announcements from Nokia. In reality this was no announcement at all, it was merely a single line found deep within the spec sheet of the newly launched Nokia E75.
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What was the big news?

The big news was that the new line of Nokia’s E-Series phones – the E75 model – appears to be shipping with the 3GPP VCC standard embedded within.

What does this mean?

3GPP VCC is a standard developed by some very clever individuals, many of whom I had the pleasure to work with for the past 2 years or so, which allows a phone call to seamlessly handoff between mobile (GSM/CDMA) networks and IP based networks (such as WIFI).

What is the impact?

If the phone is actually delivered with the VCC feature on board, it opens up the possibility of merging together the VoIP telephony worlds on WIFI (at the office or home) with your mobile phone (while on the road). Yes, VCC has been around for a (relatively) long time now, however prior to the Picture 4.pngappearance of this rather innocuous line in the E75 specification it has been largely unused as a result of no phones having the capability built in. Up to now the only way to leverage this standard was through 3rd party software that required significant aftermarket configuration and support. Most of the software on the market either produced a poor overall phone experience by changing the behaviour of the phone too much, or it simply could not keep up to date with the newest phones. Assuming the E75 comes to market with the functionality on board, this will be the first mainstream phone to offer it out of the box.  It will be very interesting to see whether this triggers increased business or consumer offerings.

Two more things…

It was surprising how little effort Nokia put into letting people know about the feature’s existence. It was written on the spec sheet as the very palatable techno-jargon “3GPP VCC”, which no one short of a select few people in the industry will even know what that means, and near as I can tell no effort was made to demonstrate the technology despite its very significant “cool” factor. The end result is that throughout the web and ‘blogosphere’ the silence has been deafening. In contrast, you can imagine a few years from now when Apple releases a new iPhone with the same technology embedded you can be certain that Steve Jobs will be up on stage walking around in his black turtle neck demonstrating for all the world to see the amazing Apple innovation allowing you to use your mobile at home via WIFI and magically walk outside and continue talking on the mobile network.

As a final note, the phone also claims to offer up to 9 hours of talk-time on WLAN which just seems incredible, but well done Nokia if they even come remotely close to this figure.

Impact to Unified Communications

Voice over WIFI merged into the mobile network is a powerful example of the vastly overused and often misunderstood term “unified communications”. In this particular case it:

  • brings together two completely separate network SILO’s – your in-home or business WIFI network and external GSM network.
  • and ensures that no changes of user behaviour are required to achieve this integration.

Both of these I believe to be key elements of any unified communications service and both of which may be achieved should this device deliver on the promise of VCC.

Skype and Unified Communications

F4664CC3-7BE5-4F46-9359-9613BB700C6B.jpgWith some estimates suggesting that 30% of Skype users are using it for business purposes it is interesting to consider Skype’s place in the world of Unified Communications.

Skype’s history as a proprietary protocol and a closed network has so far limited the opportunity to unify the calls with an existing enterprise telephony system (such as a Cisco PBX or alternative). With Michael Robertson’s announcement about Open Sky(pe) some degree of integration is now possible. Specifically, it allows for calls to your business phone number to also terminate to Skype clients as well as allowing non-Skype (e.g. SIP devices) to call out to Skype users via the new gateway.

This does open up some new opportunities however, at the moment, without Skype’s direct involvement the solution is still limited as you are unable to make Skype originated calls that flow through your existing enterprise telephony network (e.g. so the calls can pickup your business number identity). In order to really offer a unified experience with other communications networks such as mobile, fixed line and IM networks Skype will need to open up further to allow things like this or otherwise risk remaining a single disconnected silo of communications.

There is a lot of power in the Skype platform without a doubt offering the best audio and video quality available in a public network dependent VoIP offering, however at the moment the extent of focus on the market needs of business users has seemingly been quite limited.

Mobile Internet meets Peugeot 308

736B9986-9CE4-4E9E-8B1E-53F9440DD2DA.jpgWhere would I be without mobile internet? Probably still sitting at a petrol station somewhere along the M1.

While attempting to drive back to London I became aware that my rented Peugeot 308 was running a bit dry on windshield washer fluid (albeit not because it warned me of this, it has no windshield wiper fluid warning light as it turns out!). Off I pulled into the roadside station to pick up some wiper fluid thinking this should be a relatively simple task – you know, buy wiper fluid, open hood, open wiper fluid, pour into fluid container. Not so much. 10 minutes later I was still walking around the car trying to find the lever to crack open the hood. While I am no mechanic, I like to think I checked the spots this lever would typically be:

  • A lever underneath the steering wheel.
  • A button under the arm rest in the centre console.
  • A button on the side of the driver seat.
  • A button inside the glove box.
  • A lever on the passenger side underneath the glove box.
  • A button in the trunk. (yes I know, a stretch, but I was getting desperate!).

Always the last thing to check of course, but I did also try and check the instruction manual. However, as luck may have it the rental company conveniently did not include it as part of the package.

Finally after becoming somewhat disgruntled that I could not find something as simple as the hood opener I got back in the car and thought about what to do next.  Then, eureka!  Google was clearly the answer – through the magic of mobile internet there may still be hope for me to get the windshield wiper fluid filled up!

I picked up my Blackberry and typed into Google: “hood opener peugeot 308”.

Results: nothing of any interest.

Frustrated at first, I then came to the realization of my perhaps North American centric search terms, and swapped out “hood” for “bonnet”.

Bingo.

Up came a few sites, all of which went on to complain about the lack of a windshield wiper warning light as well as the location of the “bonnet” opener.  Which, as it turns out, is conveniently located in a virtually invisible lever in the border of the door frame on the passenger side of the vehicle.  Hallelujah, the bonnet is open and my windshield wiper reservoir is filled up!

In the absence of mobile internet and Google, where would this answer have come from?  I probably could have found a number from the rental company to call and, assuming they were still open, perhaps I could have been connected to someone who knew the answer. I would hope so, but thats probably optimistic. Another alternative would be to find someone at the petrol station who knew the Peugeot’s more subtle details, or to call someone who could have checked the internet on my behalf to answer the question. Whether any of these solutions would have given me the answer I was looking for is up for argument but no doubt they all would have taken more time and quite likely led me to the decision that wiper fluid wasn’t all that critical and I could make it the remaining 20 miles home by leveraging the spray of cars in front of me to clean my windshield. Clearly not a great option – so needless to say I am pleased to have found yet another useful application of mobile internet – finding out how to open a bonnet on a Peugeot 308.

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