The Mobile PBX is Overdue

by Colin Berkshire

I’ve maintained for a while the cell phone companies are pretty sleepy, and they’re missing a lot of opportunities.

If cell phone companies would realize that people need multiple telephone numbers on their cell phone, that would be a true revolution in telecommunications. If people could have a personal telephone number, and also have a company telephone number on their cell phone, I think we would see a dramatic change in how office phone systems worked.

This dramatic change would happen in one of two ways:

The first possibility is that the PBX would die. Why do we need to put a phone system in a small branch office. Why do I need to buy phones, and administer those phones when a lot of our workers aren’t at their desks. Does having this phone system really make any sense for us? The only reason we do it is so that there is some telephone address that employees can be reached at, and so that they can have a business voicemail box.

If we could terminate business telephone numbers on cell phones then I think we could eliminate phone systems in our small branch offices entirely.

The second possibility is that the PBX would consolidate back to headquarters. I wish that it would be possible to add SIP accounts to an iPhone. Of course, I know you can have third-party apps that provide SIP based telephone service. But these apps don’t work the same as the main telephone application. I’m talking about providing a user interface so that a SIP line is treated identically to the cell phone line.

If we could do that, we could terminate extension numbers from headquarters on every employee’s cell phone. (Why can’t we do this today???) for the life of me, I just can’t understand why we can’t terminate an extension number from our headquarters phone system on peoples iPhones.

I work in HR, and there’s a tremendous value add that would come from being able to terminate extension numbers on employees cell phones. We could program the phone system to not connect calls through to their cell phone outside of business hours. Employees would be allowed to be off duty outside of business hours, when they’re not paid.

There is a huge problem to some companies will allow employees to give out their cell phone numbers. Effectively, those employees become on call 24 hours a day. This extends employer liability whoever that employee may be. And, the potentially subjects the employer to overtime claims.

I just cringe every time in employee turns in a request to be able to give out their cell phone number for business use. It’s a lawsuit waiting to happen. And, if that employee leaves or is terminated how do we control the communications that are going to that employee? How do we keep them from poisoning customer or supplier relationships?

The answer is to be able to terminate corporate extensions on people’s cell phones.

We really, really need the ability to add SIP accounts to iPhones and Android phones, and have those lines be treated as peers with the cellular company.

Now, let me loop back to the stupidity of existing cell phone companies.

Right now, the cell phone companies enjoy a monopoly. That monopoly is the telephone button on everybody’s cell phone. On my iPhone there’s only one Green telephone button, and it goes to my cellular carrier, only, exclusively.

It would be almost trivial for the cell phone companies to offer her a SIP interconnect service. You would go into their web based interface, into the SIP credentials, and their network with register with our company PBX.

SIP calls to that extension would be routed through the cellular carrier’s network to the end-users phone. No change to the software an android or iOS would be required. The cellular carrier would simply become the hub which merges one or more SIP lines together with their own telephone number.

For outgoing calls, the user could specify with the prefix which caller ID was to be displayed. Or, it could be set based on the time of day.

Why don’t cellular companies do this? It sounds trivial to implement. It sounds like something that every corporation would immediately need.

Well, don’t hold your breath for this feature. Verizon is busy integrating AOL and acquiring Yahoo.