A closer look at fixed mobile convergence

You don't have to put fixed mobile convergence on your holiday shopping list just yet, according to our wireless expert. But now is the time to determine how the technology can benefit you -- so you can shop smart later.

If you haven't heard, fixed mobile convergence (FMC) is now making the rounds.

In a nutshell, FMC is just that -- the merging of fixed and wireless networks into a single system. In the simplest case, it has two key attributes: Users have just one phone number and one voice mail account. For those of us with both landlines and cell phones, the benefits here are obvious; the time saved in checking multiple voice mail accounts alone could be priceless. But the benefits go far beyond those illustrated in this simple example.

The full vision of FMC is to tie the PBX and all its services to the cell phone, so that the cell phone becomes just another extension on the enterprise voice network. This means that nomadic users can access all the voice services available in the office from any location. In addition, dialing a co-worker's desk reaches him wherever he might be, and transferring the call to another fixed or mobile user is just as easy as when one is in the office on a landline.

But the vision of FMC is even more interesting. As we move to unified IP-based voice/data networks, our data connections can now follow us wherever we travel, with the same degree of service, security and manageability as we have on traditional LANs. It won't matter if we're in the office, connecting via a hotel broadband facility, or on a Wi-Fi hot spot. Everything works in exactly the same way, all the time.

Let's extend this vision even further. Suppose we are able to integrate telephony -- cellular or landline -- with wireless LANs that offer data and perhaps even Voice over IP over Wi-Fi (VoFi) services. And suppose we can originate a call or data connection on landline, cellular or Wi-Fi services, and then hand off the connection to one of the others, automatically and transparently. For example, let's suppose you start a call on a cell phone while leaving the house. You stay connected while driving to work via the cellular network, but, as you enter the office, the call is handed off to your company's Wi-Fi network via a gateway, and perhaps eventually to a landline as well. The call is never dropped, and all value-added services are available no matter where you are or what type of connection you have.

So FMC is truly a big deal, worthy of your attention. But don't worry, you've still got time to plan for FMC. Standards are still emerging, and I never recommend buying release 1.0 of anything. But release 2.0, over the next few years, is going to provide some very interesting and powerful tools to improve enterprise productivity, customer service and even the bottom line.

Craig J. Mathias is founder of the Farpoint Group, an advisory firm specializing in wireless communications and mobile computing. He can be reached at [email protected]

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