FMC is really the nirvana where all networks finally converge. We are already experiencing it with internet connectivity – I keep up to date with facebook, twitter (and, ahem, of course work and email) via the internet connection on my mobile phone. We use both WiFi and 3G/GPRS to do this and whilst service can be intermittent it does work and is reasonably ubiquitous.
Convergence of voice over fixed and mobile networks is really the final piece of the jigsaw. Since Timico started selling VoIP services around 5 years ago we have been looking at FMC solutions. These have all been based on WiFi for the mobile piece.
The propositions have never been what might be termed to be business strength. Soft Client vendors have come and gone. Handset battery life has perhaps improved a little but is still an issue. This is the case with both WiFi and 3G/GPRS (to a slightly lesser extent).
Reliability of connectivity has also always been an issue – where to get good quality WiFi that is free and open without having to sign on or pay by credit card. Moreover WiFi whenever there has been any amount of traffic, ie multiple users on the same hotspot, suffers from quality problems due to packet collisions and network congestion. So it is ok if you can use it at home or at a place with few users but not as a general roaming proposition.
Even if using WiFi does work there is still the problem of the single number not really being a single number. Somebody still has to pay for the cost of forwarding to GSM if the WiFI client isn’t online. The experiences of Truphone in dealing with mobile operators when trying to offer a single mobile number is also salutary.
Skype and 3 have cracked the mobile play with VoIP services over the data channel. 3’s revenues actually increased when they offered skype support. I can’t vouch for the quality of the experience but using the data connectivity is not considered an option on other networks who either block, or at the very least don’t spend any time optimising, their networks for VoIP.
So where does that get us? The only real proposition in my mind is to provide FMC using integrated GSM and fixed line networks (be it VoIP or good old fashioned PSTN).
GSM is a proven technology with mature handsets, good battery life etc.
The only problem is that it needs the cooperation of a mobile network to make it happen. A VoIP provider will need to have a gateway into the mobile network and the agreement of that network to hand over control of the call to the third party VoIP platform. Unlike BT which has been regulated into providing third parties with access into their network the mobile operators have not and up until now have shied away from opening up to others.
Part of me says “and who can blame them”. If I was them I’d not necessarily want to let others ride on the back of their massive capital investment and keep the revenue opportunities to themselves!
On the other hand the whole FMC play is really uncharted territory. It is a massive undertaking for a mobile operator to try and roll out FMC.
Not one of them has succeeded yet. O2 tried and stopped. Vodafone is still trying but their OneNet project seems to be slipping and in my mind the scope of what they are trying to achieve is so large that it will take years.
Selling mobile services is one thing. Selling mobile services connected with VoIP. IP networks and PBXs requires a whole new level of expertise that is not there amongst mobile channels.
Selling mobile in itself is a skill that typically is not there in a fixed line and PBX channel.
So you need a fully converged channel that is really not there at the moment, at least with any scale.
The answer is for mobile networks to team up with VoIP providers who are also ISPs and let the smaller specialist company pipe clean the issues and effectively create the market. This will require a change in philosophy amongst the mobile operator community but to make FMC happen it is what has to be done.
For business FMC it likely also specifically needs Vodafone and O2 to come to the party as these are, rightly or wrongly, the perceived “business grade” mobile operators. Take this as a call to action!