ITEXPO begins in:   New Coverage :  Asterisk  |  Fax Software  |  SIP Phones  |  Small Cells
February 2007
Volume 10 / Number 2

Convergence? Delayed by the User Experience

By Brough Turner, The Next Wave Redux

Fixed/mobile convergence (FMC) has been a hot topic for several years. Korea Telecom launched its “One Phone” service in 2004. British Telecom launched “BT Fusion” in 2005. Then the flood gates opened in 2006, with numerous WiFi-enabled mobile phones and a plethora of companies offering converged voice service platforms. Certainly, the hype is substantial. But is there any adoption? Would you want to use any of these services?

So far, the answer is ‘not much’ — not much adoption and no overwhelming desire to adopt. Early service offers haven’t been compelling and user experiences have been cumbersome. There’s no doubt many of the pieces are in place. We have proven VoIP (define - news - alert) telephony infrastructure from multiple vendors. Now we have dual mode phones from major suppliers including the market leader, Nokia. But the associated hype cycle would have us believe VoIP over WiFi is about to sweep the market, destroying traditional mobile business models. In fact, the revolution will take time. Practical user problems remain, like complexity in configuring handsets and service profiles, limited talk time (WiFi power efficiency is still playing catch-up), and difficulty in accessing any but the home WiFi hotspot. There are two classes of customer and, thus, two paths forward.

Corporate FMC
The first is FMC for corporations. In this market the user experience must be acceptable, but isn’t the deciding factor, if the value proposition is compelling and the support burden is not too great. Many companies are pursuing this path, from small startups to British Telecom, which has launched its Corporate Fusion service in the UK and Spain and is investigating service launches in other countries, including the United States.

Given the high costs incurred when employees use mobile phone minutes at work instead of free PBX services, workplace FMC has the potential to provide significant savings. Corporate IT departments can pre-configure handsets and roaming can be limited to WiFi hotspots on the corporate network, so an acceptable user experience is within reach. Thus, we can expect to see growth in enterprise FMC during 2007 and 2008.

Consumer FMC
The second opportunity is consumer FMC. That’s a lot harder. Consumer products and services can afford fewer glitches. A 1% problem rate swamps any support budget and an even mildly cumbersome startup procedure blocks the majority from ever adopting a service.

Consider the success of Skype, or rising Web 2.0 services like YouTube. In each case, the user experience is simple — it just works! Okay, it doesn’t hurt that the service is compelling and the cost is low or free, but, in each case, the critical difference is an absolute minimum of fuss. It just works. There are no support issues.

For a consumer FMC service to “just work” means trivial software installation or pre-configured handsets, a compelling user interface, but also seamless roaming across unaffiliated WiFi hotspots. Preconfigured handsets are feasible today, but that’s not what’s being delivered. User interface software is an art, but one that’s been mastered in the past, so it will appear sooner or later. However, seamless roaming will take some doing. Many hotspots, even if free, require a browser-based login. And once connected, there’s a question of capacity. Public WiFi hotspots provide 11 Mbps or 54 Mbps connections over the air, but frequently use a DSL line with perhaps only a few hundred Kbps of upstream capacity for Internet connectivity. So, multiple VoIP calls in one hotspot simultaneously is problematic. Further, while my residential wireless router provides upstream priority for VoIP’s UDP packets, that hasn’t been an issue for commercial hotspots, at least until now, so an outgoing email from the next table is likely to glitch any VoIP conversations.

Finally, there’s an extra problem in the U.S. — our mobile handsets are ppre-copnfigured by our mobile operators to support just the services that mobile operator specifies, locking out features the mobile operator doesn’t wish to support. This blocks 3rd party services, likely stalling consumer FMC in the U.S.

The situation in Europe is much better. Handsets are open. Startups are introducing new services. I have yet to see handset- based software that automatically detects unaffiliated hotspots, figures out how to connect, and does so, but I fully expect such software to emerge. Similarly, today’s software download and installation procedures seem to require dozens of clicks, but someone will figure out how to automate this (or will offer pre-configured handsets).

In short, there is quite a bit of innovation still required before VoIP over WiFi is a done deal, but the window is now open. It may take a year or two, but someone — probably in Europe — is going to figure out how to deliver the needed user experience: launch a service that just works.

Brough Turner is SVP and CTO of NMS Communications. (news - alert) For more information, visit the company online at



Today @ TMC
Upcoming Events
ITEXPO West 2012
October 2- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
Austin, Texas
The World's Premier Managed Services and Cloud Computing Event
Click for Dates and Locations
Mobility Tech Conference & Expo
October 3- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
Austin, Texas
Cloud Communications Summit
October 3- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
Austin, Texas