The Location Aware PBX

by Dave Michels

I want my cell phone to control my PBX phone. I have a client today, but it’s rather dumb. I want it to passively make smart decisions based on factors it knows, such as my location. This is an obvious next step in mobile evolution, but to my knowledge still does not exist. It’s a logical and overdue step. Where is it?
First, a disclaimer, a PBX is the system that drives your office phone. Office phones can be connected to a PBX, Key System, Call Manager, hosted service, whatever. I don’t subscribe to the PBX is dead or even dying arguments, I subscribe to the PBX is changing reality. I agree the term “PBX” seems to increasingly suggest a system of the past, but this is just marketing. Microsoft made noise about the “Era of the PBX” being dead while simultaneously announcing they added Call Park and other “RFP features” to their call solution. Call it what you like, in this post, it’s a PBX.

Location Aware Call Routing

Over the past few years, VoIP solutions have embraced location. It is a very difficult thing to do and always requires some manual intervention. Most phone systems understand phone location and support E911. Cisco tied network information through its own Cisco Discovery Protocol. Microsoft can also sort through tables of Mac address and location names to determine location. I am sure others do too and more will – there are two drivers; E911 and rich presence.

E911 is somewhat obvious and carries with it some liability. People believe they have a God Given right to accurate and speedy 911 service/response. If the fire truck pulls up to the wrong address – that’s a bad thing… people die. The fact 911 was conceived in a pre-VoIP world is not a sufficient defense. Nor is the the fact that VoIP enables or even motivates mobility.
Rich presence though is something we all ‘get’. I used to work closely with someone downstairs at the office, and being averse to stairs, I regularly checked her presence before treading down to chat with her. This worked great, until she started teleworking. One wasted trip downstairs just to discover she was remotely present and available was all I needed to understand rich presence. The very tool that improved my efficiency was now wasting it. Rich presence is a fancy way of describing presence with location information. It is very valuable… “remember the eggs” makes far more sense when communicated to a spouse at the grocery than say a shoe store. Rich presence invites improved context.
Trend 1: Phone systems get this and are adding the ability to at least manually update presence, and more and more are adding automatic methods.
Trend 2: Look at the smartphone which is also discovering a world of location aware services. From Check-in activities to coupons to even finding your car in a parking garage. The smartphone has two tools to understand location. The first is its radio capabilities which generally includes GPS (accurate) and cell triangulation (not so accurate). The second capability is the calendar which also often provides clues about both location and availability.
Trend 3: PBX Mobile Clients. These clients typically provide access to features, voice mail, and call route settings from the smartphone. For example, a reasonable cell phone client can set a phone to Do Not Disturb (route calls to voice mail). Or even initiate a call using the cell phone’s wireless (3G or WiFi) with the cell phone or even PSTN landline for the voice channel.
I want the next step, to automatically set call preferences based on location. Nokia has made a cell phone only attempt of this called Nokia Situations. The idea is the phone knows where you are and what your preferences are given that “situation”. I’ve blogged before about Locale (Android App) that does a similar cell phone only function – say automatically silence the phone when in church.
These are very clever, but don’t incorporate the PBX which increasingly is routing calls to the mobile phone.Mobile apps for the PBX that run on the cell phone should know not to ring my desk phone if I am not at my office (or home where I have a Teleworker). Calls should only ring to my cell phone that are on my VIP list when I am in a “meeting”. Of course, sometimes those “meetings” are in my office, today I both my cell and desk phone ringing 3-5 times during my meetings – very annoying. “Meetings” should automatically make my cell phone vibrate and my desk phone chirp (single half ring).
The cell phone should automatically update my presence information – AND – E911 location information if my corporate phone system knows the location. I would feel much better about the fire truck pulling up to the right building of a multi-building campus if the location information was coming from my cell phone instead of some manually updated table of MAC addresses.
I’ve been expecting this for over a year. None of the above trends mentioned are new. Cell phone apps and innovation are are unlike anything ever seen, but the PBX innovation faucet still drips like a good bottle of ketchup.
UPDATE: Apparently the Avaya One-X Mobile offers a feature called “Send Calls Based on GPS” that can activate call routes based on predefined smartphone GPS locations.