AT&T Debuts Office@Hand Mobile PBX for Small Business

Tuesday Feb 1st 2011 by David Needle
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Cloud-based system lets small businesses manage their phone system from a smartphone for a fixed monthly cost.

Want to manage fixed line phones and mobile devices without the expense and support of a traditional PBX? There's an app for that.

AT&T (NYSE: T) on Monday released Office@Hand, a free app for the iPhone and BlackBerry that's designed as a mobile PBX application for companies and departments with an AT&T wireless account. The company says an Android version of the cloud-based service, which is designed to handle up to 100 users, will be released by early next month.

Office@Hand works with existing mobile or fixed-line phones, adding "professional phone system features" such as auto-receptionist, multiple department and employee extensions, voicemail, rules for call handling, faxing, on-hold music and more.

Small business owners and administrators can access, update and reconfigure the features from their mobile device when they're away from the office without any additional hardware required. The Office&Hand service is available for a free 30-day trial to AT&T wireless customers. AT&T said the service costs between $14 and $16 per month, per user, depending on the number of users.

"There really isn't any other phone system you can manage from your smartphone as a business owner or administrator," Eugenie D'Aoust, director of mobility product marketing for AT&T Business Solutions, told InternetNews.com. "It's the first smartphone-based mobile PBX."

The Office@Hand service was made possible through AT&T's exclusive relationship with RingCentral, which also offers its own cloud-based, business phone system platform. "RingCentral brings us [its] expertise in app development, specifically for small business and enterprise workgroups," said D'Aoust.

IDC analyst Matt Davis said the move to team with RingCentral shows AT&T sees an opportunity to get to market quickly with a product it thinks small businesses needs.

Mobile Convergence

Davis told InternetNews.com that the analyst community has long been expecting AT&T to take advantage of its position as both a fixed and mobile phone operator. "This is a convergence story," Davis told InternetNews.com. "They've been trying to push the envelope getting wireless into the overall SMB bundle, and one way to do that is with the voice features in Office@Hand." Davis added, "I haven't seen anything like this done very well. When I look across the SMB service provider community, a number [of them] do hosted VoIP well, but the mobile component is a strategic advantage for AT&T. Smaller companies want these features, but they don't want to have to support an IT department or buy lots of hardware."

Office@Hand includes the capability to transfer live calls between mobile and land lines; forward voicemail and faxes via email; set custom greetings and multiple department and user extensions with voicemail boxes and set advanced call handling rules like custom business hours.

D'Aoust said she thinks the single monthly charge will be attractive to departments and small businesses. "It makes the pricing predictable, and that's important to managing the bottom line," she said.

Check this link for more information about Office@Hand, including a video on how the service works.

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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