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Sun 26 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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Fixed mobile convergence has been hailed as a potential boon for enterprises, but it is yet to take off in a major way. Sean Robson examines why adoption is taking time.

Fixed mobile convergence has been hailed as a potential boon for enterprises, but it is yet to take off in a major way. Sean Robson examines why adoption is taking time.

Fixed mobile convergence (FMC) has long been regarded as a solution set that would significantly change, if not revolutionise the enterprise communication space globally. However, adoption, both in the region and worldwide, has to date been sporadic at best.

"FMC is a broad topic and there has been some hype around this topic in the past few years. However, FMC as Nortel sees it, is a key industry trend which matches concrete subscriber needs for simple, efficient and affordable communications everywhere," says Hassan Hamadani, marketing manager at Nortel Middle East.

FMC presents us with a number of advantages and uses like video conferencing and video chats, which can be done using just mobiles. – Rizvon.

Hamadani goes on to divide FMC into two separate sides. On the one side a device is used across various fixed and mobile access networks. The other side sees FMC dedicated to multiple device access.

"Not everybody is using or will use a dual mode, and even for a dual mode user there is a need at some point to use other devices, such as a computer and a TV, to communicate.

There are solutions today enabling call grabbing from fixed phone to cellular, and the reverse. Such solutions provide communication management and simultaneous or sequential ringing across fixed, mobile or laptop. All of this can be considered FMC," he explains.

A less intricate but no less applicable definition is offered by Michael Hong, product marketing manager for WLAN products at Foundry Networks: "In general we are talking about a mobile device, like a mobile phone, which can seamlessly and transparently roam or switch between different wireless networks. A typical example of this would be from GSM to something like Wi-Fi but it doesn't exclude other wireless networks like WiMAX."

From a user perspective FMC is, put simply, "The fusion of mobile and fixed lines voice networks," according to Bassem Aboukhater, regional IT director, Leo Burnett.

"FMC helps consumers to use mobile devices to make calls using normal mobile networks as well as Wi-Fi depending on where in the world they are," weighs in Mohammed Thameem Rizvon, group IT manager at Kamal Osman Jamjoom.

Fixed mobile convergence offers a variety of benefits and advantages to end-users but what exactly are these tools and how can they be integrated into the enterprise fabric?

"FMC has the potential to be a great tool when it comes to enhancing customer service. The use of one number gives us the means to be reached whether we are in the office or on the road. It's all about increased efficiency," says Aboukhater.

"FMC presents us with a number of advantages and uses like video conferencing and video chats, which can be done using just mobiles, and the ability for data communication using those same mobiles," says Rizvon.

"With FMC, businesses in the UAE will be able to improve employee productivity by giving them the ability to access the office phone on their mobile phone. This means that the company not only increases productivity but also reduces its phone bills overhead.

Hong adds: "Currently, people carry two devices for one purpose but using FMC solutions means you can make all your calls and expense them to the office using the one device with a single number portability."

From an enterprise perspective the company owns the one number. If the employee leaves, the enterprise still owns the number and can point it to another user. This prevents the loss of revenue and leads.

Hong sees a number of obvious advantages to the implementation of FMC. "There are a number of possible benefits that could accrue from people moving to FMC. Firstly, there is the saving benefit. FMC has been touted as being able to save the subscriber or user money because, with FMC, your mobile phone can now use things like your local area wireless network, such as Wi-Fi.

"The second benefit is that you can increase your mobile phone's coverage because now your device will work either on your mobile carrier network or on your local area enterprise network. People could deploy networks in underground locations, concrete bunkers or in rural areas where mobile carriers may not have any sort of coverage," Hong continues.

"Thirdly, there is the simplicity of having a single phone number. There is no need to manage two devices or even two or more voice mailboxes. You simply have a single device with a single phone number at which anyone can reach you no matter where you are," Hong goes on to say.

Mitels Networks, general manager GCC, Hisham El Amili looks beyond the obvious potential of the solution and sees longer term benefits. "The potential applications are great and yet to be fully appreciated.

In today's enterprise environment people want to work quicker and more efficiently FMC is of obvious benefit.

But it can also be helpful in terms of the green movement and the global carbon reduction. Office space costs and maintenance are becoming an increasing concern. FMC uses convergence to make the virtual office possible," he says.

Advantages of FMCSingle number portability: Whether in the office or on the road, one now has a single number at which clients are able to reach you.

Overhead savings: Using FMC means that mobile phones can be directed to use the cheapest available networks, including Wi-Fi.

Increased coverage: Mobile phone coverage is increased because the device can work on the mobile carrier network or on the local area enterprise network.

Number ownership: The company owns the FMC number. If the employee leaves, the enterprise still owns the number and can point it to another user.

FMC adoption

Although repeatedly touted as the next big thing to emerge in the enterprise space, FMC adoption rates have been anything but inspiring. Adoption over the past few years has occurred in a piecemeal fashion, with users picking up a mix of technologies and solutions.

"There are some components that we have seen being adopted already. Going back to the mobile device side of things, we have seen adoption of FMC-like devices. These are devices that support GSM or CDMA networks as well as any wireless local area networks," says Hong.

According to industry experts, many obstacles remain in the path of wider FMC adoption. "One of the key obstacles to adoption has been its prohibitive cost. Setting up the network and purchasing the devices is still relatively expensive and in addition one of the biggest challenges is that of the traditional mobile carriers.

"They have the best access to the networks, users and devices that would assist in bringing the costs down but do not have an incentive to do so. In fact, the more subscribers who move to FMC, the more money telecom companies end up losing in the long term," Hong says.

End-users like Aboukhater, agree: "We have, as of yet, not implemented a complete FMC solution due to the costs. It's just too expensive at the moment to make it a viable option," he adds.

Barriers to adoption

The situation is complicated by the absence of a single, uniform, worldwide standard for ongoing FMC adoption.

"There are, at the moment, no real formal standards to FMC. There have been several flavours of these standards, and hence user adoption has been slow. The other factor is that mobile services and devices have all gone in their own directions in terms of the various operating systems and standards on the phones," says Savio Dias, converged communications manager MENA, Avaya.

Rizvon is yet to adopt an FMC solution as he believes the lack of any real standards together with the relative unavailability of FMC equipment make it, for now, a risky investment.

"Telecom companies are not pushing towards FMC as they are already making huge profits. I do, however, believe that FMC is evolving with vast research and development happening worldwide. In the year ahead, this will have a significant influence in changing the mindset of vendors and consumers alike," says Rizvon.

In spite of the low adoption levels, just as Rizvon many people in the industry remain positive about the future of FMC among enterprises in the region and world over.

Hong is one of them and he believes that the limited form of FMC adoption actually demonstrates a willingness on the part of users to embrace these solutions.

"We have seen that people are willing to go out there and spend more money on these increasingly sophisticated and expensive devices. So obviously there is a market demand for these solutions, and the global market has shown that it is willing to pay for an FMC-like device. This is even happening without providing the users all the benefits FMC promises," he notes.

"I recall when fax adoption was low in the early stages and it was the same with satellite technology, and the same hesitancy occurred with the mobile phone and then the internet. The point is, technology adoption occurs at a natural pace.

It is also likely that the slowness of adoption is due to the wary association and collaboration between various vendors and telecom providers," says Amili.

Making the right choice

With the region's users increasingly searching for ways to improve efficiency, vendors are being called on to offer the right tools to do business with.

"I believe that the ability to understand the enterprise environment first would be crucial. You need to understand the business you are in and what you are looking for before actually setting up a solution.

For instance, if the requirement is setting up your office but you will be on the road and need access to the office our one-X mobile solution would be something we would offer from the start," says Dias.

"As a rule of thumb, I believe customers should always invest in proven technology of the day and right now that would mean VoIP. This would be a first step in the right direction in order to add to and take advantage of increased mobility," says Amili.

Meanwhile, end-users in the region are demanding more from vendors in terms of direction and effective solutions.

"Before I make an investment in FMC I am going to require vendors to come to the same party. They need to do more in terms of educating customers and solutions providers in terms of FMC. I also feel that the region needs to become a part of the broader global FMC initiatives," advises Rizvon.

FMC is not a new technology and while the initial buzz around it may have died off it remains a potential gold mine of possibility. However, there is more ground to be covered, in terms of the technology standard, device availability, vendor initiative and end-user willingness to create an ideal environment for FMC to deliver on its undoubted promise.

Adoption woesThe expense: Setting up an FMC network and purchasing the devices is still relatively expensive and enterprises cannot justify the spending.

Traditional mobile carriers: The more subscribers move to FMC, the more telecom companies lose money. As a result they are holding on to networks, users and devices.

Lack of standards: The current lack of standards and regulations means users are hesitant to commit themselves to the solution.

Immature space: The technology surrounding FMC is still maturing and evolving, and so a technology adopted now may soon be obsolete.

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