Strata8 followup, part 2

In Part 1 of Strata8 Followup, I discussed some issues and concerns that I raised in my original article on Strata8 - Strata8 - new approach to in-building wireless telephone usage. In Part 2, I'll conclude with discussion of the bigger picture of Strata8 that I gained from a frank discussion with Andy Wilson, Vice President of Marketing at Strata8.

In our discussions, Wilson disclosed that the way that Strata8's on-premise picocells communicate to the corporate PBX for voice traffic is Session Initialization Protocol - SIP. My impression from Wilson is that this was simply the most practical way to communicate between two disparate systems. But that use of SIP makes provokes some interesting implications for "value-added" services and systems beyond what's possible / practical / affordable with "pure cellular" service from a carrier. One trivial example is that most enterprises have web-based global directories of employees - why not enable such directories, via SIP, that lets you click-to-call over the Strata8 network? With the possibility of leveraging SIP, internal applications could be "enabled" for wireless phones much more easily, and much less expensively, than a similar effort would be that had to work over a cellular carrier's network. Similarly, data services such as SMS, email, and even Internet access, could be much more readily integrated with internal applications.

"Much more easily" than the competing approach of using dual mode Wi-Fi / cellular devices that switch to using Wi-Fi when on premise. While Wilson and Strata8 didn't / doesn't emphasize this point, it's compelling that, again, Strata8's approach doesn't require any changes to wireless phones, usage, the way the cellular network operations, user's expectations, etc. Using dual-mode devices doesn't meet that standard - much more development is needed on the devices, the infrastructure, and the overall handoffs... and user expectations. Yet, with the use of SIP, considerable enhancement is possible, but without requiring the changes described.

Wilson also made something of a case (I wasn't entirely convinced) that Information Technology (IT) managers at enterprises are concerned with security issues arising from use of wireless phones operating on carrier networks from an enterprise premise. From my time in a large corporation's IT department, it's a truism that the overall attitude of most IT managers that "more direct control is always better", but I'm not sure why Strata8's system is inherently more secure than the use of a carrier network... except that the signal, and the content, is confined to the premise of the enterprise.

But I can think of one major exception to the above - Health Care Enterprises. For them, the "more direct control..." of radio emissions is an absolute mantra. Strata8's approach, with on-premise picocells keeping emitted power levels from the wireless phones acceptably low (to minimize the potential for interference with sensitive medical electronics equipment), very localized control over the spectrum used and the power levels, the ability to use commodity phones and other "normal cellular" devices, and the added bonus of keeping the communications confined to the enterprise premise, Strata8's approach might prove very attractive to health care enterprises.

I asked Wilson why, with their spectrum only available for use in sixteen markets, Strata8 wasn't also making use of the Unlicensed PCS band from 1.91 - 1.93 GHz which is 20 MHz wide compared to the 5 MHz of (licensed) PCS spectrum that they use for Strata8. Using Unlicensed PCS would let them offer Strata8 service to all enterprises. Wilson didn't have a response. I can guess... Strata8's parent company had spectrum and devised a system / solution that could make good use of that spectrum. Unlicensed PCS spectrum could be used by anyone.

With Sprint's stunning nearly $30B loss just recently announced, I asked Wilson about Strata8's partnership with Sprint that they had announced the previous week (and the genesis of my original article). Wilson's replied that despite the problems of Sprint's corporate structure, the key point relating to Strata8 was that Sprint's (CDMA) network was very solid and reliable.