(This article originally appeared in the August 2007 issue of Internet Telephony magazine.)
Fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) is a much-bandied term, but it’s a vendor or operator solution in search of a user problem. It’s all about technology, not users. Operators are building or planning converged core networks, based on IP
, which can handle the needs of both fixed and mobile subsidiaries. But this is to save costs and simplify operations. Some operators are launching “FMC services,” but these focus on converging technologies, not on converging user functions or benefits.
Users are interested in converged address books and converged voicemail, many are mixing their business and private lives, but none seek to converge their channels of communications.
If anything, recent studies by cultural anthropologist Stefana Broadbent at Swisscom (News - Alert) show users increasingly favor different communications channels for different purposes. Fixed-line calls are for shared activities, i.e. to reach a business or multiple family members at a residence, while mobile calls are personal. Beyond that, mobile calls are for last-minute co-ordination. Texting is for “intimacy, emotions and efficiency.” (Stefana
was studying Swiss and French users who pay more for voice calls than SMS messages). Email is to exchange pictures, documents and music. IM and voice-over-Internet calls are “continuous channels” open in the background while people do other things. In short, users don’t want convergence. If anything, they want additional channels of communications that serve different purposes.
Seen in this light, FMC services that target residential users, for example “BT Fusion” from British Telecom and “Hotspot at Home” from T-Mobile (News - Alert) U.S., are incrementally improving traditional mobile telephony by expanding coverage and/or reducing what the user pays. There is no service convergence. This is a mobile phone. From the user point of view, it doesn’t matter if the improved coverage comes from dual mode (GSM/WiFi
) phones, femtocells or additional cell sites deployed by the operator. Indeed, FMC has been slow to emerge as early dual mode phones had limited battery life (addressed with evolving silicon and new protocols like WiFi (News - Alert) Multimedia Power Save) and both UMA
(Unlicensed Mobile Access) and VCC (Voice Call Continuity) technologies are fairly complex.
Business-oriented FMC services are a bit different, but the underlying issues are similar. Except for outsiders calling a main business number to obtain routing
assistance, most business calls are made to a specific person. The best way to reach a person is to call or text their mobile handset. Meanwhile, mobile handsets have better address book functions than most PBX
extensions, so both sides of business traffic (originating and terminating) are migrating to mobile phones. But mobile phone usage is expensive and by-the-minute, versus “free” for internal PBX (News - Alert) calls and least-cost-routed for external PBX calls. It’s the IT directors’ issues of cost and control that have delayed widespread adoption of mobile telephony within enterprises. FMC technology promises to make enterprise mobile telephony affordable and provide the control (for example call logging), many IT directors seek.
Enterprises are one area where FMC may bring some user-visible service convergence, but for simple issues that are relatively independent of FMC. The first is a single address book. Address books should be synchronized and backed up with a master copy not on the phone — either in the cloud or on some form of personal storage. This is true whether you use FMC or not and the form of synchronization is likely independent of any of the specific approaches to FMC.
Next is a single voicemail box, ideally also accessible via other means, like email. This is “universal messaging” which has been touted for over a decade, and indeed, some enterprise FMC solutions incorporate universal messaging.
Finally, home and work overlap more and more. In many industries, workers access business email from home. And increasingly, private communications are invading the workplace. Workers, especially younger workers, expect to be plugged into their social networks while at work, whether by email, IM or mobile phone. FMC can help here as enterprise-centric FMC solutions tend to support multiple numbers and multiple devices, in other words, multiple identities.
So in summary, FMC may help extend mobile coverage into homes, but femtocells do the same, are simpler to implement and work with any handset. FMC can help an IT director get affordable mobile phone service within an enterprise, but the actual user benefits (synchronized phone book, unified messaging) are relatively independent of FMC. At the beginning we said FMC was a vendor and operator solution in search of a user problem. A more productive approach for operators might be to address the user problems directly using whatever technology it takes.
Brough Turner (News - Alert) is Senior VP of Technology, CTO and Co-Founder of NMS Communications.