FMC Continues to Impress in Concept, Gather Steam in the Field


Fixed mobile convergence (FMC)-the integration of Wi-Fi and cellular networking-has a lot to offer. It can cut costs by replacing Wi-Fi for cellular, enhance productivity by making people more readily available, and reduce investment costs in the long-term by reducing the duplication in telecommunication networks.


This eWeek piece is a bit of a catch-all: In the first half, the writer does a very nice job of describing FMC and its advantages. As I've said when talking about different technologies, it generally isn't a good sign if a platform that is several years old still is being defined in the press. This case, however, may be an exception because the concept is difficult and the various pieces have a long gestation period. The writer does a nice job of describing the approaches taken by Agito Networks and DiVitas Networks. The sense is that FMC is a very long-term proposition, but that many incremental advantages can be realized as it slowly matures.


While the complete realization of the FMC promise is off in the future, the telecommunications industry is making some impressive gains now. Earlier this month, for instance, Sprint announced that it is tying the knot with Cisco's Unified Communications Manager. The offering, clumsily called Sprint Wireless Integration, offers a fairly sophisticated level of FMC service. A Sprint executive noted that the platform enables both the convergence of desk and mobile phones and the economies of using wired instead of wireless network elements to complete calls. The release provides comprehensive lists of the benefits and end-user features.


End-user devices, of course, are a challenge for purveyors of FMC. There are many mobile operating systems, and more are emerging as the mobile community explores the potential of open source platforms. At the same time, operating in a FMC environment is exacting; it's not possible to just throw any end point device into an FMC network. Huawei Communications is aware of this. Earlier this month, the firm spun off a division to work on handsets, mobile broadband dongles, networks gateways and IPTV and video conferencing, according to this story at vnunet.


Everything about FMC sounds good on paper. Here, however, is an actual case study. It was conducted by OnRelay, an English firm, and focused on 36,000 calls placed by an unnamed European manufacturing company. The firm found savings of 33 per user per month, which is about $50 at the current exchange rate. Further, the firm found that 68 percent of the staff used the mobile PBX (MBX), and almost one-third saw no need for a desk phone, while those who did used it only sporadically. The release cites a number of statistics that suggest that employee traffic migrated to a great degree from traditional to FMC-based calling.


The ramp-up to FMC may seem slow to folks who have been aware of the concept since its inception. The momentum may be building, however. Infonetics Research released a report late last month that says sales of dual-mode phone reached $7.6 billion during the last quarter and will be up 16 percent for the year.


The element market is even more promising: The report says that sales of unlicensed mobile access (UMA) controllers, voice call continuity application servers and multi-access convergence gateways grew by a factor of five between 2006 and last year and will grow seven-fold between 2007 and 2011. The main players now are T-Mobile USA and Orange in Europe. Rogers is a new entrant in the North American market. The release offers a number of interesting findings on the leading device makers and predicts that the number of subscribers will rise from 1.7 million last year to 9.7 million in 2008.


The good news is that FMC is a planner's dream: It promises to cut costs, reduce complexity and increase productivity. The better news is that the promise gradually is being realized in the field.