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

Dell announced a 'virtual smartphone' to help companies keep better track of security and expenses related to employee-owned smartphones and tablets.

Dell on Tuesday announced a "virtual smartphone" to help companies keep better track of security and 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 minutes and unlimited text.

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 which found that companies with workers in that state must reimburse them 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.

There will be a separate business line and phone number from a user's personal one on an Android or iOS device. Enterprises will be able to set policies that route calls over Wi-Fi or over data networks or cellular voice.

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 for enterprise content collaboration.

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

Dell, in December 2013, announced plans to aggressively enter the EMM space and has taken advantage of technologies in acquisitions made over the previous decade, including security vendor SonicWall in 2012, Foster said. While relatively new in EMM, Foster said Dell is "peaking close to" 1,000 customers already.

Dell's virtual smartphone will be a "good deal" for a mid-sized company that cannot get access to the same telecom deals with carriers 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."

Lopez said Dell's long history as a PC and server provider and its entry into EMM gives it the opportunity to be ranked in the top three EMM providers, 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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