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Fixed mobile convergence (FMC) has long been hailed as a potential boon for enterprises, but it is yet to take off in any major way. Sean Robson examines the promises and pitfalls of FMC, and why adoption is taking time.

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By  Sean Robson Published  September 6, 2008

Fixed mobile convergence (FMC) has long been hailed as a potential boon for enterprises, but it is yet to take off in any major way. Sean Robson examines the promises and pitfalls of FMC, and why adoption is taking time.

Fixed mobile convergence (FMC) has long been regarded as a solution set that would significantly change, if not revolutionise the enterprise communication space globally. However, adoption, both in the region and worldwide, has to date been sporadic at best.

"FMC is a broad topic and there has been some hype around this topic in the past few years. However, FMC as Nortel sees it, is a key industry trend which matches concrete subscriber needs for simple, efficient and affordable communications everywhere," says Hassan Hamadani, marketing manager at Nortel Middle East.

Hamadani goes on to divide FMC into two seperate sides. On the one side a device is used across various fixed and mobile access networks. The other side sees FMC dedicated to multiple device access.

"Not everybody is using or will use a dual mode, and even for a dual mode user there is a need at some point to use other devices, such as a computer and a TV, to communicate.

There are solutions today enabling call grabbing from fixed phone to cellular, and the reverse. Such solutions provide communication management and simultaneous or sequential ringing across fixed, mobile or laptop. All of this can be considered FMC," he explains.

A less intricate but no less applicable definition is offered by Michael Hong, product marketing manager for WLAN products at Foundry Networks: "In general we are talking about a mobile device, like a mobile phone, which can seamlessly and transparently roam or switch between different wireless networks. A typical example of this would be from GSM to something like Wi-Fi but it doesn't exclude other wireless networks like WiMAX."

From a user perspective FMC is, put simply, " The fusion of mobile and fixed lines voice networks," according to Bassem Aboukhater, regional IT director, Leo Burnett.

"FMC helps consumers to use mobile devices to make calls using normal mobile networks as well as Wi-Fi depending on where in the world they are," weighs in Mohammed Thameem Rizvon, group IT manager at Kamal Osman Jamjoom.

FMC benefits

Fixed mobile convergence offers a variety of benefits and advantages to end-users but what exactly are these tools and how can they be integrated into the enterprise fabric?

"FMC has the potential to be a great tool when it comes to enhancing customer service. The use of one number gives us the means to be reached whether we are in the office or on the road. It's all about increased efficiency," says Aboukhater.

"FMC presents us with a number of advantages and uses like video conferencing and video chats, which can be done using just mobiles, and the ability for data communication using those same mobiles," says Rizvon.

"With FMC, businesses in the UAE will be able to improve employee productivity by giving them the ability to access the office phone on their mobile phone. This means that the company not only increases productivity but also reduces its phone bills overhead.

Currently, people carry two devices for one purpose but using FMC solutions means you can make all your calls and expense them to the office using the one device with a single number portability," explains Hong.

From an enterprise perspective the company owns the one number. If the employee leaves, the enterprise still owns the number and can point it to another user. This prevents the loss of revenue and leads.

Hong sees a number of obvious advantages to the implementation of FMC. "There are a number of possible benefits that could accrue from people moving to FMC. Firstly, there is the saving benefit. FMC has been touted as being able to save the subscriber or user money because, with FMC, your mobile phone can now use things like your local area wireless network, such as Wi-Fi."

"The second benefit is that you can increase your mobile phone's coverage because now your device will work either on your mobile carrier network or on your local area enterprise network. People could deploy networks in underground locations, concrete bunkers or in rural areas where mobile carriers may not have any sort of coverage," continues Hong.

"Thirdly, there is the simplicity of having a single phone number. There is no need to manage two devices or even two or more voice mailboxes. You simply have a single device with a single phone number at which anyone can reach you no matter where you are," asserts Hong.

Mitels Networks, general manager GCC, Hisham El Amili looks beyond the obvious potential of the solution and sees longer term benefits. "The potential applications are great and yet to be fully appreciated.

In today's enterprise environment people want to work quicker and more efficiently FMC is of obvious benefit. But it can also be helpful in terms of the green movement and the global carbon reduction. Office space costs and maintenance are becoming an increasing concern. FMC uses convergence to make the virtual office possible," he says.

Slow on the uptake

Although repeatedly touted as the next big thing to emerge in the enterprise space, FMC adoption rates have been anything but inspiring. Adoption over the past few years has occurred in a piecemeal fashion, with users picking up a mix of technologies and solutions.

"There are some components that we have seen being adopted already. Going back to the mobile device side of things, we have seen adoption of FMC-like devices. These are devices that support GSM or CDMA networks as well as any wireless local area networks," says Hong.

According to industry experts, many obstacles remain in the path of wider FMC adoption.

"One of the key obstacles to adoption has been its prohibitive cost. Setting up the network and purchasing the devices is still relatively expensive and in addition one of the biggest challenges is that of the traditional mobile carriers.

They have the best access to the networks, users and devices that would assist in bringing the costs down but do not have an incentive to do so. In fact, the more subscribers who move to FMC, the more money telecom companies end up losing in the long term," Hong says.

End-users like Aboukhater, agree: "We have, as of yet, not implemented a complete FMC solution due to the costs. It's just too expensive at the moment to make it a viable option."

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