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Fixed-Mobile Convergence:

Moving from Theory to Reality

By Harold Klett

 

The year 2006 will likely see fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) move from industry theory to a closer reality. FMC, the cross pollination of wireless and wireline services and providers, will find wireline service providers no longer strictly married to landline networks. Instead, they will compete and partner with the wireless providers that continue to gain market share with sticky services such as video and personalized ringtones. What well see is a true blurring of what is considered wireless and what is wireline, moving ever closer to the day when that distinction becomes meaningless.






Driving the move toward FMC is a merging of a number of trends, including subscriber churn and loyalty, next-gen telephony services, revenue generation possibilities and infrastructure technological advances. When combined, these strands are creating the case for current investment by carriers that will lay the groundwork for true FMC in the next few years.

Much of what is driving FMC is nothing more than traditional market forces of supply and demand. At one time, services such as voice mail, call forwarding, etc., were common for wireline, but were considered advanced features by mobile users. That time has long since passed, and mobile service providers are now heavily concentrating on increasing the value of their networks via revenue-generating, next-generation services. Mobile subscribers have quickly become very accustomed to having these services at their fingertips, while also enjoying the flexibility of mobile telephony. The result: more and more users are leaving the world of landline communication.

This could be disastrous news for traditional telephony providers that have yet to take part in the technological evolution. The future telecom windfall will come from advanced services like full-motion video. For that type of service to succeed, the provider needs to guarantee delivery and optimum user experience through broadband and IP technology.

Optimum user experience is evolving in the form of dual-mode phones, which will allow users to have one phone for both the home and mobile use. This will put users in even greater control over who will emerge as a leading provider, as they will demand flexibility of location, premium content without any latency or performance issues, and they will require personalization. The world of telecom is moving from a network-centric view of capabilities to a subscriber-centric view of demands. In the past, subscribers choices were limited to what the network was designed to do. Now, the subscriber is demanding more and more content and services, forcing a new network designed to support myriad capabilities and content. The type of services being delivered are not the traditional network-centric single services (call forwarding) but subscriber-centric offerings (e.g., presence and buddy lists with conferencing and messaging.) This is also blurring the lines between wireline and wireless, and we will continue to see partnerships in the market where providers on both sides will join to leverage their strengths and keep customer churn to a minimum.

Beyond emerging features such as video and ringtones, what other kind of personalized services are we expecting to see? Services such as personal ring back or location-based (concierge) services are already rapidly gaining popularity among subscribers of the worlds forward-thinking service providers. A personalized ring-back service may take the form of an advertisement, whereby a department store would notify a subscriber of a sale, while a location-based service may include a restaurant in the city where the subscriber happens to be sending a menu and/or video clip of the dining room to a mobile handset.

Other popular revenue-generating, enhanced services include, but are not limited to, the following:

Prepaid Mobile Gaming Gaming services enthrall and captivate subscribers because of the nature of a highly interactive, personal and media-rich experience. The ability to inject tones, sounds, voice, and both Web and media content into riveting peer-versus-peer prepaid gaming services will engage subscribers by offering a rich and dynamic service experience. Here subscribers can identify other available subscribers via presence and engage them in an online game, simultaneously talking to each other while playing.

Mobile Centrex This capability consolidates enterprise voice capabilities into a hosted Centrex offer. In addition, dual-mode handsets allow the employees to use one phone on-premise and remotely while carrying the same feature set thereby increasing productivity and reducing cost.

Missed Call Alert This service detects missed calls in a wireless network and sends a text message to alert the customer. The customer can then call the originator back. This existing service can be extended to add visual indication of the caller or include video messaging.

Welcome Roamers The Welcome Message represents an attractive family of services, as service providers can capture roamers and log them into their networks. The Welcome Message can be sent periodically to the roamer during his/her stay in the visiting country, and can contain useful information such as weather forecasts, currency exchange rates, and local favorite restaurants. Service providers can reach out to both the inbound and outbound roamers with customized information, thereby improving the service experience for the mobile roamer and increasing their loyalty toward the service provider.

Location-Based Services This service allows mobile operators to offer enterprises a chance to push their companys presence to mobile subscribers who are in the same area. Whenever a mobile subscriber moves between two different areas of the mobile network, the Mobile Station (MS) sends a Location Update to the network. When the application detects the Location Update, it searches the database for advertisements to push to this customer.

As new types of services built with rich-content and multimedia are deployed, the underlying infrastructure must allow access to and from any device. Services must be deployed in an environment where they can be flexibly adapted to changing subscriber demands, starting small to minimize risk and cost, and then scaling as subscribers grow. Networks need to be built using open standards that allow universal access and content delivery. Where will these standards and technologies come from? Internet and Web-based technologies that have been created and developed during the Internet revolution, built for interoperability and speed, will be the key.

As both the mobile and fixed providers look to avoid the headache of constant customer churn, they will see these new services as the path to increasing customer loyalty. Service intelligence needs to be maintained in this mixed network environment whether its IP or TDM, fixed or mobile. The IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS), defined by 3GPP, provides a standard architecture to address these requirements and is factored in as part of almost every network evolution. According to a recent industry survey, roughly 25 percent of carriers expect to see mass deployment of IMS technology in their networks before the end of 2006, while a further 38 percent expect this to happen in 2007 or 2008.

IMS has been defined as a common architecture/subsystem for providing innovative services to mobile and fixed networks. IMS is the architecture that merges the Internet with the cellular world, and makes Internet technologies, such as the Web, e-mail, instant messaging, presence, VoIP, and videoconferencing available nearly everywhere. These promising technologies include highly scalable, incredibly flexible infrastructure to deliver consumer-driving applications and services across both fixed and mobile networks.

The other infrastructure key to this puzzle is an IP-enabled media gateway, which allows networks to support the current, powerful set of applications on portable mobile devices, as well as a whole new world of speedy, consumer-oriented applications, including video-rich mobile gaming, mobile blogging, and instant sports score updates that would stream to and from SIP mobile terminals and existing infrastructure used by millions of consumers.

The nexus of customer demand and device capability, the markets recognition of the eventual convergence of traditional wireline and mobile networks through partnerships and new services, and the infrastructure technology now available through IMS and IP-enabled media gateways, has set the stage for fixed-mobile convergence to become a strategic initiative now and a reality in the not-too distant future. IT

Harold Klett is vice president of product management at Excel Switching Corporation. For more information, please visit the company online at www.excelswitching.com (news - alerts).

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