The term fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) has been bandied around for a number of years. To most within the world of wireless, it means combining back-end networks to seamlessly integrate voice, data, and video across both wired and wireless networks.
In recent years, we have seen a push by major telephone and cable companies to offer FMC services, but the first step has been to merely bundle a group of services together to save customers money (and to make it harder for them to churn off the network).
Other types of FMC are being talked about as well. One is to combine in- and out-of-building wireless communications into a common and seamless system. This is being done by various network operators in different ways.
T-Mobile, for example, has been offering a system in which customers can use their own Wi-Fi system and DSL or cable broadband connection to their T-Mobile phones while they are inside their own homes. While Wi-Fi is still part of the T-Mobile network, all of the capabilities are available whether the customer is in range of a Wi-Fi hotspot or a T-Mobile cell site.
Meanwhile, other network operators are selling (or giving away) femtocells, miniature cell sites installed in a home and then connected, again, using customers' own broadband connections back to the network.
The advantages of both of these types of systems are that they free up spectrum on the wide-area network, they provide better in-building coverage, and they enable customers to use their single wireless phone as their only phone, if they so choose.
FMC in the Corporate World
Today, FMC is coming to the corporate world, but with some differences. The major difference is that since many companies are now using IP business phone systems, it is possible to marry the company phone system with Wi-Fi or in-building wireless.
This results in employees being able to make use of a single phone (their wireless phone) for all of their calls, ending up with one voicemail box. They gain the ability to dial extension numbers to reach other employees even when on the road, and in many cases they gain access to some or all of the company's telephone system features, including speed dialing and conference calling.
FMC enables employees to be more accessible, combining their mobile and office numbers so they can be answered on their wireless phone, and in some cases, their desk phone. It also provides better in-building coverage by using the existing Wi-Fi network most companies already have installed.
In addition, when employees are inside their own building or in other places where there are Wi-Fi access points, data access from their wireless phones will be off the wireless network, using the company's own broadband connection when possible.
In the case of the T-Mobile system, not only can employees use their wireless phones for all of their voice and data services, they can also use them when they are away from the office and within a Wi-Fi hotspot. In some cases, this works in other countries and therefore dramatically reduces the cost of overseas phone calls.
Regardless of how the in-building integration with the wide-area network takes place, either by using Wi-Fi or other forms of wireless that are then integrated into the corporate network, there are many advantages to this type of service. The most important advantage is that employees now can receive their calls even if they are not sitting at their desks but are in some other part of the building (which means they will probably want to set their phones to vibrate when they are in a meeting with others, especially their bosses).
FMC in the Future
As we use wireless devices more and more every day (average per month minute usage in the United States for wireless phones is more than 700 minutes and growing), they become our main form of communication. FMC will help by making the wireless phone the focal point of all of our communications needs, and will solve the "what number do I call to reach you?" issue.
But FMC is only in its infancy. Over time, we will be able to integrate our home, business, and wireless devices into a fully converged system that will be smart enough to know where we are and what calls we do or do not want to take.
For example, if we are in our office and someone calls our residence, the system can determine that we are at work and route the call to our voicemail automatically. Conversely, if we are at home and get a business call, unless it is the boss calling, that call can also be routed to our voicemail.
Over time, as the network back-ends all share the commonality of IP technology, even more levels of convergence will be possible and will be offered to us. The drawback of this type of convergence at the moment is that while it is efficient and saves time and money, it does "wed" a company to one specific wireless provider.
While that is great for the wireless provider, it is not necessarily the best situation for a company to be in since it will lose some of its bargaining power. In the future, I am sure that this type of convergence will allow companies to use several different wireless networks, but for now it provides advantages to the network provider as well as to its customers.
Andrew M. Seybold is CEO & Principal Analyst with Andrew Seybold, Inc., a wireless industry consulting and research firm. Visit www.andrewseybold.com for more information.
Is Rising Rapidly
Enterprise fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 27%, rising from 6.3 million connections in 2009 to over 27 million connections in 2014, according to ABI Research. These connections consist of voice and data services accessed using cellular and Wi-Fi access points connected to fixed line broadband networks. Wi-Fi FMC will get a boost from the growth of dual-mode cellular/Wi-Fi smartphones since business customers are the primary adopters of such devices. 90% of the smartphone market will consist of these devices in 2014, up from just 45% in 2009. Previously, the lack of Wi-Fi phones was a detriment to FMC adoption, particularly for voice over Wi-Fi applications.