Fixed-mobile convergence includes handsets with cellular, Wi-Fi interface

Lines between wireline and wireless phone services have blurred and will continue blurring, and fixed-mobile convergence will become a key differentiator for telecommunications service providers. Those were the key messages from panelists discussing fixed-mobile convergence at last month’s Voice on the Net Canada conference in Toronto.

The goal is to offer customers the same applications and functions whether they are in the office or out of it, said Warren Montgomery, of the office of the chief technology officer at Chicago-based Personeta Inc., which develops software for fixed and mobile carriers.

Services allowing a call to ring on landline and mobile phones simultaneously, with the first phone picked up getting the call, are commonplace today, but that is only the beginning, observed Paul Drew, director of product line management for MetaSwitch, an Alameda, Calif., unit of British communications technology company Data Connection Ltd.

The next step is dual-mode handsets that work over either Wi-Fi wireless networks or cellular systems. The first such devices will not hand off calls between networks, Drew said, but future phones will add that function and allow calls to a single number to reach the phone using either network, which will require roaming agreements between cellular and Wi-Fi providers.

As an example of the possibilities, Drew cited British Telecom’s Fusion service for consumers, which allows a cordless handset to operate over a Bluetooth wireless connection at home and over mobile operator Vodafone’s network outside. BT chose Bluetooth despite its limited range of about 10 meters because Wi-Fi’s high power requirements create a battery-life problem for mobile phones, he said.

True fixed-mobile convergence “nirvana” will come when a call to one number can reach a subscriber on one device that supports cellular, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, Drew said. That will require carriers to upgrade to IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS), which is touted as the architecture for future converged networks.

“I’m guessing it’s three to five years out before it happens,” Drew said.

Today convergence requires passing a call from one service provider to another, said Brian Cappellani, chief technology officer at Toronto-based Sigma Systems Canada Inc., which makes service management software for IP, telecommunications and cable networks. Ultimately, he believes, the home service provider will retain control of the call.

Fixed-mobile convergence and new services built on it “will be key differentiators for next-generation service providers,” Cappellani said. Andrew Hurrell, director of IMS provisioning at Atreus Systems Inc. in Ottawa, said the key to selling converged services will be making them customizable “almost to the whim of the customer.”

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