Strata8 Followup - Part 1

In my article Strata8 - new approach to in-building wireless telephone usage, I expressed some skepticism about Strata8's approach to the "problem" of enterprise users using their cellular phones while on the premises of the enterprise - totally bypassing the expensive (and extensive) investments by the enterprise to insure lowest-cost (landline) telephony services.

I'm less skeptical about Strata8 after an interview with Andy Wilson, Strata8's Vice President of Marketing. In this article, Part 1 of 2, I'll "answer myself" about points I raised in the initial article. In Part 2, I'll discuss the bigger picture of Strata8 that I gained from a frank discussion with Wilson.

CDMA-only, Sprint-only, no GSM - Yes, Yes, and Yes. There's a simple explanation. Strata8 is a subsidiary (?) of Wirefree Partners which owns a 10 MHz "PCS block" (1.9 GHz) of spectrum in 15 markets in the US (plus US Virgin Islands). Wirefree Partners in turn leases half of that block to Sprint. So, it's natural for the Strata8 subsidiary to also partner with Sprint, and thus Strata8's service has to be compatible with Sprint's technology (CDMA). As to why no GSM? 1) Strata8 doesn't currently have a partnership agreement in place with a GSM carrier, and 2) Strata8 is a startup with only its first, relatively limited venture capital investment in hand. Wilson conceded that it's completely feasible, technologically, to offer its enterprise customers a choice of preferred-carrier to interoperate with, and choice of wireless technology, on an enterprise-by-enterprise basis. They're just not there - yet. PBX Concerns - Wilson made the point that most enterprise Private Branch Exchange (PBX) systems are largely virtual / software-defined these days. Point taken, and thus "adding internal lines" to accommodate added wireless users when using Strata8 isn't much of an issue. Not to mention the entirely valid point that Wilson made that the enterprise "desk phone" is often going unused in favor of using the wireless phone. Using Strata8 obviates much of the utility of the desk phone (and then some - discussed in Part 2) and adds all the capability of an enterprise desk phone to a user's wireless phone. Wilson was too experienced to suggest to me that Strata8 largely eliminates any need for a desk phone... but that's a logical conclusion. Whether a Strata8 user's "calling number" is passed along in Caller ID (to me, a salesperson would be loathe to have his number not show up as the caller) is a decision made by whoever is in control of the enterprise PBX. Strata8 Vs Wi-Fi In Phones - One point that escaped me, and is probably the key point of Strata8's approach, is that what Strata8 is doing is totally, entirely compatible with cellular as it is right now. No breakthroughs in technology, or compromises (as with incorporating VOIP Telephony Over Wi-Fi) are needed. In fact, I made the point with Wilson that Strata8 should be positioning themselves as a cellular carrier... that happens to build "access points" within enterprise premises rather than "wide area coverage with towers". (One reason that approach might be a bit untenable to Strata8 is that they may not want to risk causing any irritation in their parent company's "tight" relationship with Sprint).

Explaining Strata8 in the context of it being "just another cellular carrier - indoors-only" makes it much easier to understand overall. A Strata8 (enterprise that has contracted with Strata8) user's phone simply defaults to using the "Strata8 cellular network" - which is only accessible when the user is on-premise. When a Strata8 / enterprise user goes off-premise, they "roam onto" Sprint's "wide area" network. Thus the only thing special about "Strata8 phones" is that the phone needs to be configured to default to Strata8, and only use a "wide area network" (currently, that's limited to Sprint) only when a Strata8 network isn't accessible. Lapsing briefly into my former enterprise information technology mindset, this "feature" may well be a key selling point for enterprises - you're not changing the phone or the overall experience (convenience) of using a wireless phone - at all, while gaining considerably more capabilities and control over cellular phone usage, coverage, security, and (most importantly, Strat8's research indicates) enterprise telecommunications budget.