Scripting new vistas in mobility

Date:   Sunday , March 02, 2008

University of California San Francisco Medical Center (UCSF), one of the country’s top medical schools, suffered from many cellular dead zones. Doctors, talking on cell phones, found that their calls dropped when they walked through these zones. The lack of dependable connectivity was quite disturbing as doctors often missed important calls—especially at times of emergencies. Driven by the requests of the physicians, the UCSF IT staff came up with a technology solution that leveraged dual-mode phones along with their existing Wi-Fi infrastructure and cellular coverage, to solve the problem. Deploying this new solution has proved highly successful as it allowed the dual-mode phone to move seamlessly from a cellular network to the hospital’s extensive Wi-Fi network. Hospital staffers no longer suffer cellular dead zones and are now able to connect from anywhere in the campus. An added benefit - the staff no longer have to carry multiple devices such as cell phones, Wi-Fi-only devices, pagers, and walkie-talkies. The new system allows the staff to consolidate their multiple devices into a single dual-mode phone.

The credit for this innovative technology goes to DiVitas Networks; a Silicon Valley based company founded by Vivek Khuller. “When I spent time in venture capital, I had to be on the move constantly and would miss most of my calls to my office number. Wondering if there was any possibility to make the desk phone mobile triggered the idea to start DiVitas,” says Khuller, President and CEO of DiVitas Networks. Mobility at work is a problem faced by most employees everywhere. Until now, people only had the following three network options for communications at work – land line, cellular, and Wi-Fi. However, DiVitas found a fourth way that combines all three – extending a desk phone onto a personal mobile phone by bringing inter-operability between the cellular and Wi-Fi networks to provide seamless mobility.

Reports have shown that almost 26 million converged mobile devices will be added worldwide in 2008 for the enterprise use alone. By 2011, the number is expected to reach almost 100 million. This is a clear indication of the huge market potential that lies ahead for the company. DiVitas has also identified opportunities beyond voice communication service such as mobile IM. IM (instant messaging) is increasingly becoming a preferred mode for text communications for employees at work. However, most companies see IM as a big security threat since it is beyond their ability to monitor employee activities on IMs. Seizing this opportunity, DiVitas plans to roll out Presence and IM applications that companies can deploy and monitor using the DiVitas server. For such applications, the company is looking to work with operators so that the operators can offer new Value Added Services beyond email to their subscribers. This will be a win-win service for both operators and DiVitas.

With the DiVitas Mobile Unified Communications solution, any company can make mobility a viable option for all of its employees. Until now capability has been restricted to only senior executives and sales representatives. If a technology is able to deliver increased productivity at an effective cost, any company would be attracted to deploy it. To achieve cost effectiveness, DiVitas makes use of the vast difference in the tariff rates between landline and cellular calls. In the U.S. and Europe, call rate for landlines is less than that of cellular. Additionally, in Europe cellular roaming charges can be very high. DiVitas reduces roaming charges dramatically resulting in ROI in as little as two months. “As a company we want to remove any barrier to adoption for mobility for enterprise use,” says Khuller.

To build a technology that promises to change the face of mobile service requires a strong architecture that can ably support voice, cellular, and Wi-Fi applications. The solution consists of two parts: a DiVitas server and a DiVitas client. The server software runs on select platforms from leading manufacturers such as Dell and HP. The client runs on mobile phones from leading handset vendors such as Nokia, HTC, and HP. The server keeps the client in the loop, ensuring that both are always in sync. Depending on the availability, quality, and cost of the network where the handset is located, the server automatically and seamlessly connects the handset client to the server either over cellular or Wi-Fi. If someone dials a call to a desk phone, both the desk phone and the cell phone will ring and the call can be taken on either of the devices using the network present in that area, depending on which instrument is closer to the person at the time. Furthermore, one can use the office desk number on a personal mobile while making an official call. “In simple terms we offer a solution that can be termed ‘Reach and Respond’: Any person can be reached and be responsive immediately from anywhere,” says Khuller.

Building such a complex technology which ensures interoperability between different networks and different operators was not an easy task. There are multiple operators who provide cellular and Wi-Fi networks. DiVitas had to ensure proper compatibility between the various networks in order to achieve a seamless transition between cellular and Wi-Fi. There was also a need to develop the technology in such a manner that it could easily be deployed at a customer base irrespective of the handsets, PBX, cellular, and Wi-Fi connections available there. It took nearly a year and a half to develop and perfect the product to a level that was acceptable to the end users in lieu of the alternatives.

Within six months of launching its solution DiVitas filed 20 patents and signed over 50 customers in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. There is a strong demand for the solution worldwide. By the end of the year, Khuller also hopes to venture into the Indian market where he sees a huge potential for converged mobile solutions. However, different geographies would mean different requirements. “We had foreseen the difficulties that would come up due to geographical disparity and had built our solutions in such a way that they could be easily customized as per the requirement of the customers based in different geographies,” Khuller says.

DiVitas has strategically placed sales teams in the U.S., Europe, Singapore, and Korea to tap the growing market, and engineering teams in the U.S. and India. Since the beginning, DiVitas has been able to attract the top talent in the industry. Recently Gordon Young, previously a senior executive at Cisco joined DiVitas as the VP of Sales and Managing Director of DiVitas Europe. “To work on DiVitas’ convergence technology, we need a wide array of experienced and highly skilled professionals who are domain experts in voice, cellular, and Wi-Fi applications. We hand pick our employees and most of them have come to us from major companies like Nokia, Cisco, and Sycamore,” says Khuller. The company’s India development center has 30 of its 80 employees.

A successful technology also needs to be backed by good customer support. Khuller plans to raise the company’s third round of venture funding to build a strong sales and customer support team that will shore up the increasing customer base. To date, DiVitas had raised $23 million in two rounds of funding from Clearstone Venture Partners and Menlo Ventures.

DiVitas has already generated a buzz in the industry by delivering the right solutions at the right time and by addressing the need of the hour. The company came into limelight last year when it bagged 14 top awards in the U.S. and Europe for developing the most promising and innovative technology of 2007 – a feat not many startups have managed to pull off. Today, armed with technology expertise and market foresight, DiVitas is riding on the wave of global recognition with zeal to resurrect the many existing dead cellular zones.