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July - 2009 - issue > Technology
Universities Deploying Mobile Unified Communications to Keep Campus Connected
Rich Watson
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Universities – by nature the most nomadic of organizations – understand the challenges of mobile communications. Faculty, staff, and students sometimes roam among hundreds of buildings, sprawled across acres of land. Yet their need to remain continuously in touch while being mobile, as inexpensively as possible, rivals that of any enterprise.

Mobile unified communications (which includes features such as presence, IM and visual voicemail, free WiFi calling, and the ability to run a campus-supplied phone number and email on a smartphone) is fast becoming the first choice among universities for campus communications.

One university, for example, is deploying a mobile unified communications application for its mobile social networking capabilities throughout its 50,000-person campus of 4,000 VoIP-ready buildings. The goal of the implementation is to provide a real time common communication device and a social networking application to keep all campus members, both students and faculty, informed on university-related issues, ranging from cancelled classes to campus emergencies.

“Today’s fragmented use of carrier plans and public social networking applications among students and faculty makes it impossible to find a single venue that will allow a broadcasted status message to reach 50,000 people across our sprawling campus simultaneously,” the university IT staff say. “By deploying mobile unified communications, we are harnessing the enthusiasm that students and faculty have for collaboration, and channeling that into a single communications application, to provide maximum visibility for broadcasting bulletin-board style messages to the entire campus population.”

Mobile Unified Communications:

* Supports Dual Persona, which allows personal calls to be routed through a native cellular number (Personal Persona) and university calls to be routed through a client application (University Persona).

* Supports FMC, allowing mobile phones to roam seamlessly between WiFi and cellular.

* Supports WiFi calling, which means mobile calls have landline-like voice quality. No choppy cell phone calls when you are in WiFi range.

* Is under IT control and supports remote over the air (OTA) installation, configuration, and update management.

* Has integrated mobile social networking capabilities, letting you use UC applications such as presence and IM directly from your smartphone.

* Makes a smartphone behave just like a university landline phone (same number, call forward, extension dialing, and so on).

* Supports visual voicemail and single voicemail inbox, allowing individuals to retrieve messages directly from their smartphones and eyeball which messages have priority status.

In bygone days, students relied on dorm phones and university-supplied email addresses to contact one another. Today, however, students are primarily reachable by using a hodgepodge of private, unpublished cell phone numbers and email addresses. They also blast their whereabouts, and read about what their fellow campus dwellers are doing, using one of the many social networking applications like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter.

Given this variety of communication mediums, it can be difficult to find contact information for a fellow student in, say, your math class. Individual, private, contact information simply isn’t managed and published by universities. And this lack of a standard platform for phone and or text-based communication has contributed to undermine the social structure at a university, which by nature is a collaborative environment.

Mobile unified communications running on smartphones is changing all this. It is helping universities overcome the digital divide to recreate a sense of campus community.
Smartphones today support a full range of communications and mobile social networking applications including university phone number, university directory contacts, visual voicemail, microblogging, IM, and presence.

Mobile unified communications single number reach capability allows individuals to contact each other by their university number, no matter where they are located, improving a sense of community. By deploying mobile unified communications on a smartphone, students are reachable by a single phone number (a university number that individuals maintain for the duration of their time at the school), by a single email address (university email) and on a single mobile device that is both WiFi and cell-enabled. What does this mean? Students can call, email, or IM each other by using contact information they find in the university directory – a directory that is accessible directly from their smartphone.

Individuals can also use mobile unified communications on their smartphones to broadcast their presence status (available by voice and or text, or unavailable). Or they can customize their presence status message by editing their microblog to state what they are doing and where they are doing it (like, studying at the library 4th floor).

By making this contact information available on a smartphone, it makes students more reachable by one another, thus inspiring a sense of campus community. It also eliminates expensive telephone tag – no more wasted minutes on missed calls, which is critical for anyone living on a student budget. Mobile unified communications also enables dual persona by supporting a personal cellular number, which comes native with the smartphone, and which runs side-by-side with the university number on the device. As a privacy benefit, Dual Persona allows individuals to keep their personal cellular number private.

With mobile unified communications, students can also be notified via their smartphone application of any changes in class schedules, campus events, or campus emergencies because that info is pushed out to students via a status update message set by the university or professor, or via custom-built bulletin board applications.

Free WiFi Calling: Driving Down Mobile Costs

In addition to keeping campus-dwellers continuously in touch, mobile unified communications is allowing the university to dramatically scale down the cost of individuals, such as faculty and staff (administrative and IT).

Without mobile unified communications deployed, universities end up paying cell phone bills for hundreds of employees who don’t need round-the-clock reachability. In reality, they only want to reach these employees during the business day, but they work on a large, distributed campus and odds are low that they are at their desks precisely when needed by telephone. These costs can be astronomical, reaching tens of thousands of dollars each month. And supplying cell phones, and paying the monthly cell bills, had been the only logical way for mobilizing university staff prior to mobile unified communications.

Deploying Mobile UC is now cutting costs at universities for several reasons:

* WiFi calls placed or received on-campus are free.
* International calls are free when placed or received over WiFi.
* WiFi calls placed or received from hotspots (home office, airport, coffee shop, or hotel) are free, allowing individuals to roam away from campus and remain reachable.
* For WiFi-only users, the university is no longer required to pay the $70-100 per person carrier fee for cellular and data plans.

Mobilizing the Un-mobilized: Making Previously Unreachable Individuals Reachable

Students and staff are not the only campus members benefiting from mobile unified communications. Professors will also be able to take advantage of an application that will facilitate better communication. These are highly compensated individuals, and universities want to make sure they are as accessible as any other campus member – even if they have come to rely on a personal smartphone rather than a university phone, as per the higher-education lifestyle trend. With its dual personal and other features, mobile unified communications will let them straddle their personal and university worlds using a single device.

For example, professors can launch the mobile unified communications application on their smartphone each morning, and immediately view the list of messages waiting in their inbox. There is no need to leave the application running during off hours. On the one hand, professors are more in touch with their students and colleagues because mobile unified communications has made them more reachable. While on the other they are able to keep their private time private – all the while conducting personal and professional communication over a single mobile device.

Smartphones have become known for many wonderful features, and so has mobile unified communications. The spotlight is now on the ability of these two technologies to work together to create a mobile tool for enhancing the university experience.

Author is Director of Product Management, DiVitas Networks
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