Fixed-mobile convergence is the way to connect the mobile phone to the fixed line infrastructure . With the convergence between mobile and fixed line networks, telecommunications operators can provide services irrespective of their location and access technology.
FMC aims to present consumers with a uniform communications experience, both on the go and in the house. It combines the convenience, freedom of movement and personalized services of the wireless world with the high quality and speed of fixed communications.
For telecommunications industry FMC is not a new topic. During the 1990s, FMC was touted as a near-term possibility. However, at that time there was less incentive for fixed and mobile operators to seriously invest in FMC products.
Now following user and technology trends have pushed FMC to being of crucial strategic importance for operators:
1 . With the slowdown in revenues from traditional voice services, the market is now entering a phase characterized by the need to grow revenues by launching new services. 3G and WiFi services are up and running, HSDPA and WiMax are also coming in.
2 . Mobile operators offer data services but the bandwidths currently available are generally much slower than the broadband speeds, many users have come to take for granted on their fixed lines.
3 . Operators and vendors have therefore undertaken the challenging task of addressing the technology that needs to be in place for FMC to become a reality, both within the network as well as at the user terminals.
The foundation for FMC is in the network. This has included the development of IP backbones, optimal routing and quality of service. For FMC to work at the network level, network equipment vendors have been working on technologies based on standards and protocols. These allow network traffic to be transported seamlessly between different types of networks.
Three of the key enabling technologies for FMC services are SIP, IMS and UMA/GAN . The description of these technologies is as follows:
SIP is a protocol developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which can initiate, modify and terminate interactive multimedia communication sessions. Vendors have been building it into a variety of products, from IP-PBXs to media gateway cores and handsets.
IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS)
IMS is an architecture standard based on SIP, which allows for multiple real-time applications such as voice, video, games etc. to run across a single network.
It was initially designed by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) for mobile networks, newer releases of IMS are designed to be access agnostic so that it can be used by any type of access method, be it a fixed line or mobile of any standard (GSM, CDMA2000, UMTS etc.
UMA is an access technology that allows subscribers to switch between fixed and mobile networks. It provides access to GSM and GPRS mobile services over unlicensed spectrum technologies, including Bluetooth and WiFi. By deploying UMA technology, service providers can enable subscribers to roam and handover between cellular networks and public and private unlicensed wireless networks using dual-mode mobile handsets.
FMC offers ability to reduce the cost of making and receiving mobile calls. Wireless minutes can be automatically pulled off of the cellular network and redirected as VoIP minutes on the WiFi network. This is especially valuable for highly mobile employees and International Roamers.
FMC provides improved in-door signal coverage for mobile phone users at a very economical price by using WiFi access points.
It is not for the regulator to decide whether there should be fixed-mobile convergence or the pace of it. The regulator should only facilitate fixed-mobile convergence if there is a demand for it. This means that the regulator should prepare the environment so that market forces will guide the direction, the extent and pace of fixed-mobile convergence.
The Unified Carrier License
The separate licensing arrangement for fixed and mobile carriers is one of the obstacles at the moment.
In the scope of service under the current carrier licenses, the licensee is authorised to provide only a particular class of services – fixed services or mobile services. Therefore if a network is capable of providing both fixed and mobile services, this cannot be accommodated unless the operator takes out two licenses. Then there is the uncertainty of under which of the two licenses is a converged service regulated. To address this issue in future, the proposed solution is to allot a unified carrier license . This will provide the flexibility of authorizing both fixed and mobile services under the same license .
British Telecom (BT) launched world’s first FMC service called ‘Fusion’ in June, 2005 in United Kingdom. It works just like a mobile phone when user is out and about, but switches automatically and seamlessly onto a BT Broadband line when the user is at home. That means the user gets all the convenience and features of a mobile phone but with fixed line prices and quality.
BT Fusion offers customers huge savings by allowing calls to UK landline numbers to be charged at BT landline rates. Calls over broadband in the home means customers can make a mobile call but with the quality of a fixed-line and worry less about the signal being lost or dropping out.
When BT launched Fusion, the technology was immature. The service used a Bluetooth connection between a dual mode handset and the Home Hub wireless router, which had a range of about 10 meters. That meant effectively, users would be in range of the BT Home Hub only when in the same room.
The operator launched the dual mode WiFi/GSM version next year in January which provided wireless LAN capability extending the coverage of Fusion from the home to BT hotspots, as well as the networks in BT's 12 Wireless Cities in United Kingdom.
BT also started another service called BT Corporate Fusion , from the end of April, 2007. Even though the services share the same name, BT's Corporate Fusion is an entirely different proposition.
The SIP-based service comprises four elements: a PBX , call control server, wireless LAN access points, and dual-mode WiFi/GSM handsets. When calls are made over WiFi, users will have access to PBX functions, such as the corporate directory.
The reaction of consumers to devices and services that offer convergence is still emerging. Clearly, many innovations or combinations of elements will fail, because of lack of interest, poor value for money, concerns over privacy or the introduction of something even more innovative.
Convergence does not stand still rather it evolves under pressure from the upstream markets in the supply of chips and their application in innovative hardware and services. Market players try to respond to the changing views of the various groups of customers, whether consumers or business.
There is no reason to expect these changes to stop or even to slow down, given those underlying forces.
FMC will fundamentally change the way the communications world currently functions. Instead of taking a network-centric view, FMC places the customer at the centre of communications. As a result, consumers benefit from convenience and simplicity, enabling new services for a lower price.
The worldwide FMC services market has great potential. It is predicted that there will be 269 million broadband homes by 2009. If all these homes migrate to an FMC enabled service, there would be a potential FMC services market of $141 billion.
Success in the emerging FMC environment will be determined by user acceptance, not networking technology. Although importance of standards, interoperability, collaboration and application availability in this regard also cannot be underestimated.