BMW Manufacturing Rolls With Wireless Upgrade

By William Atkinson  |  Posted 02-07-2011

BMW Manufacturing Rolls With Wireless Upgrade

BMW Manufacturing Co. LLC (BMW MC) of Spartanburg, S.C., a 4 million-square-foot facility with more than 7,000 workers on-site, needed to simplify communications and converge its infrastructure technologies. Part of BMW Group's global manufacturing network, BMW MC is the exclusive manufacturing plant for all BMW X5 and BMW X3 sports activity vehicles, as well as BMW X6 sports activity coupes.

"We wanted to migrate from a combined VoIP and TDM voice solution to a strictly VoIP solution," says Alonzo Seaborne, Americas Region Network Operations Manager for BMW Group North America. "However, one of the things we had to address in getting rid of the TDM solution was the need to have wireless capabilities for the vast majority of our users who had traditional wireless phones."

Indeed, the goal was to upgrade users from the old-school 900 MHz handsets deployed throughout the plant. The genesis for the project came about as a result of the plant's desire to migrate from its legacy PBX system, combine all communications services, and reduce the number of devices that employees had to carry and manage. BMW MC ultimately wanted to limit the number of required desk phone sets and leverage its existing infrastructure to reduce costs and improve communication speed, ease, and efficiency.

In addition to studying 802.11 WiFi phones, BMW MC went out to cellular phone providers in the area for recommendations on solutions. Seaborne says BMW MC had an existing relationship with Sprint for its domestic and international MPLS and its managed network solutions, and ended up selecting the telecommunications provider for its unified communications project as well.

More than 2,000 new wireless handsets of various makes and models were deployed throughout the plant. The handset now in use include Sanyo Pro 700, Sanyo Taho, Ic502, and i365, Blackberry and HTC Touch Pro 2. BMW MC also worked with Sprint to implement Sprint Mobile Integration for employees throughout the facility.

BMW Manufacturing Workers Get PBX Functionality on Wireless Handsets

Sprint's Mobile Integration extends the PBX functionality to mobile phones and allows BMW MC to provide employees with significantly expanded mobility and accessibility. Employees now have a single voicemail, five-digit dialing within the operation, and a single phone number through which they can be reached by on- or off-site callers.

"When we selected Sprint, we also saw the opportunity to increase the capabilities of the device with features such as SMS text messaging and the 'push to talk' feature," says Seaborne. In fact, the plant was able to consolidate its Land Mobile Radio (LMR), paging, text messaging, and automated system alerting requirements into a single device. The solution integrates with BMW MC's existing VoIP deployment as well as using wireless cellular. However, it is not integrated into the facility's WiFi network. "One beauty of the system was that the integration was very simple," notes Seaborne.

BMW MC can use the solution to establish profiles for users and define certain phone restrictions for select users, such as allowing only intra-company calls or time-of-day access. Because the signaling is taking place between BMW's PBX and Sprint's network, configuration management is centralized. This means changes can be made and automatically applied to one or many phones regardless of the type of phone. There is reduced trunk usage and all calls to and from mobile or wired devices -- including to voicemail, internal help desks, internal conferencing systems and calls to overseas colleagues -- are processed as intra-company calls.

As with any kind of change, though, there were some initial concerns from users, especially those who were transitioning for the first time from a desk phone to a wireless device. "When you take desk phones away from people and give them cellular devices to use 100% of the time, it can be a challenge," says Seaborne. "For example, people had to learn how to utilize all of the call features that they had on their desk phones, such as call forwarding and conference calls, on their cellular phones." However, according to Seaborne, Sprint offered an extensive training program, which helped the users make the transition smoothly.

While BMW MC declines to disclose financial results or metrics to demonstrate ROI, Seaborne says "These days, the vast majority of people like the change. They like the idea of having to only remember people's four-digit call extensions. They don't have to remember people's desk numbers and cell numbers. In addition, it is easier for them to reach people when they need to do so. Communication is much faster and easier these days."