RealTime IT News

Hauling Wireless From the Warehouse

When you need of 48 rolls of toilet paper in one handy package, the place to go is the local Costco warehouse. Now it's also the place where small and medium sized enterprises can get hosted wireless communications, thanks to a unique partnership between the wholesaler and Sotto Wireless.

Called Sotto@SOHO, the service is an all-in-one wireless and office communications service that supports up to 10 virtual employees. It uses Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to provide voice and data capabilities via a WiFi gateway that lets users seamlessly move from an office network to a GSM cellular service without dropping a call or data packet. Sotto back-end hosting provides the needed PBX-like functionality.

The recently-launched service is the latest vendor pitch to offer SMBs wireless and unified messaging services at prices they can afford. For SMBs that may not have access to major carrier business-oriented plans or in-house tech knowledge, unified messaging for smaller players has to come at the right price point.

Sotto is trying. It offers the services with a monthly plan starting under $50, considered lower than some similar offerings, which may also get the attention of competitors.

Vendors are responding to spiking mobility technology adoption in this sector. In 2005, 68.8 million U.S. enterprise users had mobile wireless services, with 25 percent using a mobile wireless broadband solution, according to a CTIA study. By 2016, it expects the U.S. alone to count 81.9 million mobile enterprise users, with 83 percent using wireless broadband.

Costco will sell Sotto@SOHO starter kits, featuring two smart phones and the gateway, for $399. A $699 kit kicks in a Polycom IP320 desk phone with Office Attendant features built in.

Plans start at $49.95 per month for unlimited nationwide VoIP calling, and cellular bundles start at $49.95 for 1,000 voice minutes. A special introductory offer features 90 days of free wireless VoIP service, 1,000 cellular voice minutes, 20 MB of data, 100 text messages and a 60-day money-back guarantee.

As one pundit noted, most SMB have wireless contracts. But unified messaging and communications still remain out of reach for many, who would love the big company feel the services provide.

"As a user I can stay in touch with my clients by giving them a single number to call, and the unified communications system connects me over whatever makes the most sense," Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates research told InternetNews.com.

"What you have is a cellular phone that can work as a normal mobile phone outside, or can be used as a VoIP phone when in the office," Gold said.

Subscribers sign on for a bundle package that features Nokia E51/6 smart phones and a wireless router/VoIP box that plugs into a broadband connection. The service will be sold though Costco Wholesale Business Center stores in several state locations including Washington, California and Arizona.

Calls to Costco and Sotto were not returned by press time.

A recent expert online discussion on UC for SMBs cited hosted solutions and software as a service strategies as the best paths for enterprises to take as they're more economical and easiest to manage.

Gold said new services like the Costco-Sotto deal highlight a growing trend.

"Within the next two to three years, we expect up to 25 percent of business users to forgo permanent wired phones and use only cell phones as their communications device," Gold said. "For those users, unified communications will be a strong offering and will be required to get the job done."