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Is FMC the ‘real’ convergence?

May 08, 20064 mins

VoIP convergence used to mean a bunch of softswitches, media gateways, replacing Class 5 switches and – not accidentally – spending telecom dollars that used to be spent on traditional TDM on VoIP voice instead. Not much of that ever happened. Today, carrier planners at all levels are focusing on a new kind of convergence – fixed-mobile convergence (FMC). This time may be the charm.

The idea behind FMC is to create a super-voice service that lets customers mingle calls between fixed-line and mobile handsets. A customer could set up rules that govern the conditions under which a call placed to one or the other line is completed. The easiest example is a rule that says, “If my mobile phone is off, ring the call on my fixed line instead of going to voice mail.” This could be expanded to include a test for specific numbers, letting non-critical calls go to voice mail. It would also be possible to do the opposite: Ring fixed-line calls through automatically to the mobile number if the mobile phone is on.

There is clearly a customer value for all of this, but the value proposition for service providers goes beyond making customers happy. Where the value is found varies depending upon what kind of voice carrier is looking at FMC.

An incumbent local exchange carrier (LEC) could see FMC as a way to futureproof wireline voice services against broadband-based VoIP offerings. Most incumbent LECs (ILEC) also have wireless subsidiaries, and a VoIP offering based on FMC ties the popular mobile service to the increasingly price-pressured wireline voice. Because modern 3G services are based on Session Initiation Protocol calling, just like most VoIP services (except Skype), FMC would allow for VoIP-to-mobile calls without going through a relatively expensive public switched telephone network gateway. This improves the economics of IP voice.

For the cable companies, an ILEC drive to FMC creates competitive pressure to follow suit, and they have been signing mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) deals with wireless carriers to create their own FMC services. But cable companies have another reason to like FMC, and that relates to the dual-mode Wi-Fi/mobile handset.

A dual-mode handset is capable of using Wi-Fi in the home (or, in theory, in other hot spots) and standard cellular mobile frequencies when on the road. With the right carrier equipment behind it, such a handset can let a user roam between Wi-Fi and cellular while keeping a call connected. When the user is at home (or at work, for a business version of the service), the calls can be rung through the VoIP and Wi-Fi connection, so there would be no airtime charge.

By offering phone connections over home Wi-Fi, a dual-mode handset eliminates the need to connect the old phone wiring to a VoIP service. This reduces installation costs and potentially increases VoIP penetration. The cable companies might find this a critical edge in getting their VoIP services rolling quickly.

For the overlay VoIP players, such as Vonage, it might be that dual-mode handsets, FMC and an MVNO relationship with a cellular carrier would be the difference between profit and being marginalized.

By adding features to their FMC offerings, Vonage and other VoIP players might raise their margins and attract more customers. Basic Internet calling clearly is going to be virtually free, so if you want to make money you have to look beyond it. FMC certainly is an option.

For users, FMC is likely to bring about major changes in calling. In the future, you might not have a mobile number and home number, just a personal number and set of rules that determine which calls placed to that number are connected on each of the voice services you have. For outside sales and support personnel, it could mean more freedom and flexibility; for home users, a single phone that works everywhere.

This won’t be an overnight process, but the pressures of the competitive market are clearly driving us in this direction. Planning now for FMC seems a prudent step for carriers and users alike.


Tom Nolle is founder and principal analyst at Andover Intel, a unique consulting and analysis firm that looks at evolving technologies and applications first from the perspective of the buyer and the buyers’ needs. Tom is a programmer, software architect, and manager of large software and network products by background, and he has been providing consulting services and technology analysis for decades. He’s a regular author of articles on networking, software development, and cloud computing, as well as emerging technologies like IoT, AI, and the metaverse.

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