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Will FMC heat up or fizzle out?

Posted: 01 Mar 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:craig mathias? farpoint group? fixed/mobile convergence? fmc? next generation networks conference?

In an industry famous for buzzwords and acronyms, nothing is hotter today than fixed/mobile convergence, the latest in a long line of convergences. The most famous of these was the Great Digital Convergence of the late 1990s, where all media became digital and all was right with the world.

Combined worlds
In most cases, Digital Media Land became a good place to be!except for Hollywood studios and major record labels. If you happen to be one of those, the vast majority of your time today is probably consumed in pursuing every possible path to prevent consumers from actually taking advantage of all that is good and digital.

Fixed/mobile convergence isn't much concerned with improved picture or sound quality!rather, it's all about combining the worlds of fixed and mobile telephony (and even broadband) into, for lack of a better term, a single system image.

Reduced to the basics, wouldn't it be great if we could use our cellphones as extensions to our private branch exchange-based office telephony system? All of the features in our desktop phone would carry over to our mobile phone, reducing two voicemail systems to one. I'd buy that in a heartbeat.

There's another aspect of fixed/mobile convergence that we might more properly refer to as mobile/mobile convergence. That's the combination of a big-cell technology like cellular (or perhaps mobile WiMAX, when it becomes available) with a small-cell technology, most notably Wi-Fi (or perhaps unlicensed mobile WiMAX, if that becomes available).

The merger of big cells for coverage and small cells for capacity is truly the best of both worlds. I believe this approach will become dominant for almost all wireless voice and networking in about five years.

Most of the technologies we need to implement mobile/mobile convergence exist today, but!as is typical!they will take some time to deploy. Little details like standards, business models and architecture have yet to be resolved.

Big picture
However, there's a bigger issue afoot. Just who might be the customer for all this fixed- or mobile/mobile convergence? I recently had the privilege of chairing a symposium on fixed/mobile convergence at the Next Generation Networks conference. We began with three possible frameworks for the rollout of fixed/mobile convergence.

The first and most obvious is that the wireless carriers drive development and adoption. But these guys are still consolidating!they really need to clean up their coverage and reliability acts before charging off into unexplored territory.

The next possibility is that the wireline guys do it. Clearly, they need to do something. The last copper loop will be turned off someday and the wireline carriers clearly need to be 100 percent broadband by then. But they could also leverage wireless by becoming mobile virtual network operators, essentially building a brand piggybacking on a cellular network.

There's already been a lot of discussion of the quadruple play-high-speed data, landline voice, video and mobile services, and the likely path for both the telcos and cable operators.

At first glance, the third option seems a little crazy. That option is that the enterprise will build its own fixed/mobile convergence implementations, working around the carriers.

Entirely wireless
Solutions to all three scenarios are available today, but a paradigm shift of this order takes time. Consider, though, that there might even be a fourth option!going entirely wireless. Dual-mode big-cell/small-cell handsets, mobile broadband data, enough capacity to support isochronous traffic (via overprovisioning the small cells) and voila!not convergence, but the replacement of wire altogether.

- Craig Mathias
Farpoint Group




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