Persona Dives In to Mobile Convergence

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This is how fast things change in the technology sector: At the National Show in San Francisco in April, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based company named LongBoard caught some good underground buzz with its fixed-mobile convergence software.

The software would allow cable operators to seamlessly hand off cell phone calls on their in-home broadband networks.

Four months later, LongBoard is no longer LongBoard, having changed its named to Persona Software.

But the buzz has only increased, as the company said it will launch laboratory trials with an unidentified MSO this summer.

CABLE STANDS TO GAIN

While the ability to hand off cell phone calls to an in-home Wi-Fi network is open to any broadband service provider, cable may have the most to gain.

“Cable operators will be the most aggressive with fixed-mobile convergence,” said David Schwartz, director of marketing for Persona, which began discussing its software with cable operators more than a year ago.

Cable operators knew they would step up their telephony rollouts and sought ways to differentiate their product from other wireline and wireless competitors, said Schwartz.

“Moving to VoIP, they wanted a full suite of services and applications” to differentiate themselves, he said.

Cable is looking at various means of getting into the wireless business. The quickest and easiest is to become a mobile video network operator. Through that arrangement, an MSO would buy cellular minutes from Sprint Corp. or T-Mobile, for instance, and offer service under their own brand.

The problem, Schwartz said, is that the cellular provider keeps 85% of the revenue while the MSO still has sales and marketing costs, leaving very little margin. Conversely, studies show that 30% to 45% of all cell phone minutes occur inside the home.

It makes little sense for cable to give back 85% of the revenue when it could move close to half the cell-phone traffic on its broadband network already in the home.

Here’s how the technology would work: A cable operator would deploy a Wi-Fi-enabled multimedia terminal adapter in the home. (Schwartz says most MTAs shipping today are Wi-Fi enabled).

The MSO would then install session initiation protocol-based Persona software inside its network. The software would serve as a bridge between the cell phone and an MSO’s call-management server.

The Persona software client also goes into the handset, presumably leased or sold to the consumers via the cable company.

If a consumer initiates a call from his Time Warner Cable cell phone inside the home, the call would go through the MTA, through the cable plant to the call management server in the headend, then to the regional or national wireline or cellular network where the call is being routed.

The Persona software handles the call transfer to the other network. The same holds true for incoming calls.

If a subscriber is traveling to his home and is on his cell phone, the call is seamlessly transferred from the local Sprint Corp. or Verizon Communications Inc. network, for example, to the homeowner’s Wi-Fi network once in the driveway. (Wi-Fi-enabled MTA signals can vary in range but 300 feet is typical.)

The handset will sense it’s within range of the in-home Wi-Fi network and transfer the call onto the cable plant. The Persona software constantly monitors the signal strength of the Wi-Fi and cellular network, sending a signal back to the Persona platform to ensure call quality.

The software automatically transfers calls from Wi-Fi to the cellular network, much like a hand off between cell towers, Schwartz said.

“When you pass a threshold, a signal is sent back to the application server, and the call is launched back to the other network,” he said.

CONTROLLING CALLS

In San Francisco, Schwartz said Persona demonstrated integration with CedarPoint Communications Inc.’s call-management server and Arris Group Inc. MTAs.

Schwartz said Persona’s software appeals to MSOs for several reasons. “We enable cable providers to keep call control on their own network,” he said. “They don’t have to closely integrate with the cellular network. Other approaches are cellular-centric.”

And because Persona’s application is SIP-based, operators can layer applications on top, such as hosted business services and call park and pickup. Schwartz describes a situation where a consumer has a wireless phone for home, work and mobile, but may want to prioritize the call list, as in all calls from home come through, while certain business calls at certain times of the day are sent to voice mail.

Such features allow MSOs to provide greater choice and control for their prospective phone customers.

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