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    Dave, Jim, Sally, Sheila, Bob? I


    By Keith Dyer at CTIA Wireless in Atlanta

    Is there a market for group calling from a mobile phone? This would be a feature where you could set up your phone so you could call a group of people all at the same time, effectively setting up an impromptu telephone phone call.

    Conferencing specialist Polycom thinks so, and has launched a group conferencing solution through its wireless solutions unit to meet potential demand.

    The system works like this. The mobile phone user checks a tick box next to any name he wants to call in his contact list. Then that list of contacts to be called is sent to a call server sitting in the mobile network. The server then simultaneously calls the list. Each called party then hears a message inviting them to a conference call. This can be a generic message from the service provider or could be a message recorded by the caller. They then accept the call and the conference call proceeds.

    The system can also be used just to call one person simultaneously on all the numbers listed in the address book, as a kind of crude presence application.

    The group calling application can be downloaded onto Java, Symbian, Brew, and RIM devices, with Microsoft a future option, according to general manager of Polycom’s wireless group, Chris Hotz. The client software itself has been written with open APIs so that it can work in a variety of environments, while the call server is based on bridge technology from Voyant, a Polycom acquisition which has about a 50-60% share in the carrier conferencing solutions market.

    Hotz admits that the concept of group calling from mobile phones is not new, but says that the new Polycom Mobile Meeting client is greatly simplified from earlier versions, into which Polycom tried to pack far too much full conferencing functionality. The point about instant group calling, Hots says, is that it is very different from normal enterprise conference calls.

    “Enterprise conferences tend to take place at the top of the hour with perhaps nine to ten people participating. Group calls are shorter, have fewer people and tend to happen more randomly,” he says. The function is also different to push to talk, in that it is a many to many call, rather than the you speak–I speak model of push to talk. In this regard Polycom has an agreement with Sonim, to integrate with Sonim’s PoC based PTT technology to allow a user making a PTT call to upgrade to a full duplex call on the fly. Group calling also doesn’t require the called party to have a compatible handset or client on the handset. Only the calling party needs the group call client.

    Group calling from a mobile would add data and voice calls to a mobile operator, Hotz said – the extra data use being accounted for by the requests made to the call server. The proposition will also have potential for multi player gaming and other multimedia applications, he added.

    At the moment, Polycom is concentrating on its home US market with the instant group calling product, but with extensive GPRS networks now across Europe, European operators and handset manufacturers would seem a natural opportunity as well.