Mobile Unified Communications and the Death of Fixed Mobile Convergence

There are a lot of wireless communication terms getting bandied about these days that people only have a vague understanding of. “Fixed Mobile Convergence”, “Femtocell Technology” and “Unified Communications” are common phrases that people in the industry are using to discuss the merging of our wired and wireless worlds. However, most people don’t really know what the difference is between each of these types of emerging technology … and that includes the people who are working in the business! Does it make sense to keep talking about these vague ideas that no one understands or is it time to just pick a term and move forward with realizing it?

Here’s a closer look at the each component in the issue:

Fixed Mobile Convergence

Fixed mobile convergence is a term that is used to describe the merging of the wired and wireless lines of any individual consumer. The goal of this service is to have both fixed and mobile services on one phone through a seamless switching of networks. This is intended to reduce calling costs and to increase call quality. For example, you may typically use the wired service but then switch over to a wireless service when you are seeking to make international calls. Alternately, you may use the service to push calls from a landline number to a mobile number.

Fixed mobile convergence is achieved with the assistance of a few basic tools. It uses dual-mode mobile phone handsets which are able to connect to both the local area network (through a VoIP connection) and the wider area network (through the cell phone connection). Increasingly we’re seeing a trend towards using Wi-Fi connectivity to make fixed mobile convergence more of a reality but in the past it’s relied on gadgets like Bluetooth.

Examples of this type of dual-handset fixed mobile convergence can be seen in different parts of Europe. In the UK, there is a system called BT Fusion which is operated by British Telecom but uses a Vodafone handset. There is also a similar system operating in France which relies on Wi-Fi connectivity for the seamless transition between wired and wireless connections.

Fixed Mobile Convergence Alliance

In January of 2007, six groups joined to form the Fixed Mobile Convergence Alliance. Brasil Telecom, British Telecom, Korea Telecom, NTT, Rogers Wireless and Swisscom all agree that an alliance is necessary to move the technology of fixed mobile convergence forward in the market. It is their goal to encourage the widespread use of a seamless wired / wireless phone connection.

Femtocell Technology

Many people confuse Fixed Mobile Convergence with something known as Femtocell Technology. The two things are related but are not one and the same. It can be said that femtocell technology is a tool that is designed to achieve some of the same goals as Fixed Mobile Convergence. Also known as Access Point Base Station, this is a small device that you set up in your personal home in order to enhance cell phone call quality indoors. This is one of the many goals of Fixed Mobile Convergence. Femtocell technology is currently providing a suitable alternative to true fixed mobile convergence for many people.

Unified Communications

If femtocell technology refers to a smaller scope than fixed mobile convergence, unified communications refers to one which is broader than fixed mobile convergence. Whereas the goal of Fixed Mobile Convergence is to create unification between the wired and wireless phone systems, the goal of Unified Communications is to bring together all forms of communication. It seeks to integrate all voice, email, fax, VoIP, conferencing, desktop applications and in-person communication. The goal is essentially to streamline all of these different forms of communication in order to create a more productive work and personal life for everyone.

There are many different methods of achieving Unified Communications. These methods combine software programs with hardware technology in an attempt to create the most sophisticated forms of integrating all of our tools of communication. However, this is a very new area of technology which hasn’t yet been fully developed. Although there are Unified Communications products on the market today (with Microsoft products leading the pack), it is not something which we have seen take its final shape just yet.

How These Three Parts Go Together

The question that is plaguing the industry is how to reconcile these terms with one another. On the one hand, they each serve to describe different goals and even different technology. On the other hand, they all seem to serve the overarching purpose of enhancing the communication experience by merging the different ways that we interact with one another into a single way that makes more sense. The debate is whether it remains useful to continue using the separate terminology.

We are currently seeing a shift in the industry take place which is moving away from the use of the term Fixed Mobile Convergence. Instead, people working in this part of the business have started re-branding themselves as agents of Mobile Unified Communications. The idea behind this is that Fixed Mobile Convergence is one aspect of the bigger picture of Unified Communications. The hope is that we can streamline all communications to include the ability to seamlessly transition between wired and wireless networks in order to enhance call quality and reduce calling costs.

The Ultimate Goals

Each specific area of this business has a unique goal in mind. For femtocell technology, it is specifically to enhance the call quality of mobile phones that are used indoors. Fixed mobile convergence aspires to those same goals but also seeks to streamline productivity by creating just one phone number, one voice mail and a system of call control for the user of the phones. Unified Communications seeks to go one step further in integrating the goals of Fixed Mobile Convergence into a bigger picture in which all other forms of communication are also easily accessible through a single system.

Does The Name Matter?

There has still been no conclusion reached by the industry as to whether or not it matters what we call this process of streamlining our communication. On the one hand, different terms can assist us in better understanding which aspect of the business we are speaking about. On the other hand, a single term can be the first step in unifying all of the people who are working in diverse aspects of the business which could increase the potential for moving this technology forward.

Ultimately, we’re going to see some form of Unified Communications taking place in our society today because it’s something that people feel they need. As a larger number of people begin to use mobile broadband, we’ll find that there’s a bigger push towards streamlining all of our wired and wireless voice and data activity into one system with one phone number. Call it what you may, it’s going to happen either way.

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