The Many Roads to Converged Wireless-Cellular Services

Carl Weinschenk

John Cox at does a good job of two things in this Network World piece. The immediate task at hand is to provide an update of how fixed mobile convergence (FMC) is working in the field. In the process, Cox provides an accessible overview of the two types of FMC in use.


FMC is the ability of calls to flow freely between wireless and cellular networks. Behind the firewall, products from third parties such as Siemens, NEC, DiVitas and Agito work with the corporate IP PBXes to enable calls to jump back and forth. Outside the firewall, consumers and businesses are served by products using the Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) standard released by the Third Generation Partnership Project. In this scenario, switching the calls between networks is done by a UMA controller on the carrier's network. T-Mobile offers such a service in the United States, Cox notes.


In addition to the review, the story makes several points: Wireless networks must be designed for ubiquitous voice (not just the data transmissions for which most initially were designed), such systems tend to drain handheld-device batteries more quickly and companies looking at such projects appear more interested in the efficiencies and service improvements than direct revenue contributions.


Kineto Wireless is one of the companies most often associated with UMA. The company made a couple of announcements during the past few weeks. This release, which is about the later deal, refers to the first. In the earlier deal, Kineto says it will work with NXP to evolve UMA from 2.5G to 3G status through integration with the Nexperia cellular system. The second deal -- the one directly described in the release -- will enable some Qualcomm 3G Universal Mobile Telecommunications Service (UMTS) chip sets for UMA.


The melding of wireless and cellular networks is complex. Fixed mobile convergence is one way. A second way -- referred to in this In-Stat release as fixed mobile service (FMS) relies on femtocells. These are small base stations that attach to the ends of cable and digital subscriber line (DSL) modems. In the report that the release hypes, In-Stat says that by 2010 FMC and FMS will converge into a single market segment. The new market segment, it says, will eschew cost-savings strategies in favor of highly valued telecommunications services.


This blogtwopointzero post goes pretty deeply into what the writer thinks a converged network should look like and what it should be able to do. The most important point, however, is made in the first few paragraphs. The writer begins by making the point that FMC should stand for "fixed mobile confusion." The key to sorting though it all, he says, is to forget for a moment about the underlying technology. The key is to decide precisely what the result should be -- what the network must be able to do -- and work backward to determine the technology necessary to achieve this outcome.


This is a challenge, the blogger says. People have tremendous choice in the types of mobile devices that they use, and have settled on phones that they like. However, FMC approaches require the use of specialized dual-mode devices. This is bound to be met with resistance. The author doesn't mention femtocells, but it seems likely that he would be an advocate of this approach, which puts the integration focus on the network and not the device.


Though the two sectors may eventually coalesce, for the time being, the two sectors are competing. This TechRepublic commentary discusses the relative advantages of FMC and femtocell approaches. The writer says femtocells have the advantage because they are simpler: A device that receives signals from a cellular handset and arbitrates between the cellular and wireless network is inherently more efficient than embedding cellular and wireless capabilities into each handset. The headline ("Femtocells Yes, Fixed Mobile Convergence No") is a fairly clear indicator of the writer's conclusion. He says this approach is increasingly popular in the marketplace.

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