Dell's 'virtual smartphone' furthers its drive into worker device management

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App will offer IT security controls and work call expense tracking

Dell on Tuesday announced a "virtual smartphone" to help companies better manage security and track expenses related to employee-owned smartphones and tablets.

The virtual smartphone on an employee's device would be loaded as an app called Dell Mobile Workspace. It will be available in October for iOS and Android, with pricing starting at $19.99 a month for up to 1,000 voice minutes and unlimited text.

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Dell's virtual smartphone app.

Workers and IT administrators will be able to use the technology to enforce security and track costs for business-related calls on employee phones, Dell officials said.

Tracking work-related calls will matter more in the future because an Aug. 12 California appellate court ruling found that companies with employees in that state must reimburse those employees for work-related voice calls on their personal cellphones.

"The California court ruling is completely fine with us," said Neal Foster, executive director of mobility solutions at Dell Software. "Our customers will be able to download an app, and then the enterprise can decide what work calls a user can and cannot receive, and we allow for the tracking of the minutes of use."

Dell will use its cloud services to help manage the virtual smartphones and has partnered with Vonage Business Solutions to offer connections and tracking of work-related calls, texts, voicemails, conference calls, three-way calls and call recording.

The system will set up separate business lines with phone numbers that are different from users' personal numbers on Android or iOS devices. Enterprises will be able to set policies for routing calls over Wi-Fi networks, data networks or cellular networks.

Foster said it will also be possible to track work-related data usage on a worker's device. The app also will allow email integration with Office 365 and access to Box for Dell cloud storage to facilitate sharing of content among co-workers who are collaborating on projects.

Foster said Dell's virtual smartphone will be more cost-effective with support for more voice features, such as conference calls, than is available through many competitors' enterprise mobility management (EMM) tools.

Dell announced plans to aggressively enter the EMM market in December 2013. In its initial efforts to pursue business in that arena, Foster said, the company has taken advantage of technologies it has acquired over the past decade through purchases of other companies, including security vendor SonicWall, which Dell acquired in 2012. While relatively new in EMM, Dell is "peaking close to" 1,000 customers already, according to Foster.

Dell's virtual smartphone will be a "good deal" for midsize companies that can't get the same terms from carriers in telecommunications deals that large companies can, said Maribel Lopez, an analyst at Lopez Research.

"Dell is new to the EMM space but has made great strides in the past six months," Lopez said. "The value proposition for existing Dell clients is great, so if Dell grabbed 10% of its existing Dell clients it would be a success."

Because of its long history as a PC and server vendor, Dell has an opportunity to be ranked among the top three EMM providers, Lopez said, adding, "and frankly anywhere in the top three or four is good enough."

The top two EMM providers currently are Airwatch and MobileIron, followed by Citrix, Good, BlackBerry and Samsung, Lopez said. Samsung is expected to launch an update to its Knox EMM-related software at Super Mobility Week this week in Las Vegas, where Dell will also be showing its new virtual smartphone capability.

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