Everybody has heard of fixed mobile convergence (FMC), right? FMC will enable mobile phone users to automatically switch to a wireless local area network (WLAN) and have their calls routed over a fixed wireline network. But FMC is much more than just voice convergence over mobile and fixed networks. FMC will also:
- Integrate the mobile phone with a private branch exchange (PBX) - FMC will link mobile phone users with the enterprise PBX, thereby providing a single mailbox, a single phone number and access to PBX features.
- Enable unified communication - FMC will provide presence-enabled voice, video and text communication that can be integrated with enterprise applications.
- Reduce cellular minute usage - FMC calls will use Wi-Fi networks when possible and will therefore reduce mobile phone minute usage.
There are two fixed mobile convergence deployment options. The first option is to buy a managed FMC service from an operator such as Verizon or AT&T. This is analogous to buying a Centrex service, because the operator manages the FMC equipment. A second approach is to buy FMC equipment from companies such as RIM, Cisco or Divitas. This is analogous to buying a PBX, because the enterprise manages the FMC equipment.
Unfortunately, initial FMC services from Verizon and AT&T focus simply on integrating the mobile phone with the PBX. In fact, Verizon's recently announced PBX Mobile Extension service does not even make use of enterprise WLANs. An enterprise will therefore need to deploy FMC equipment in order to unlock the full potential of fixed mobile convergence.
Getting ready for FMC
Before you buy any equipment, make sure that your enterprise LAN, information technology (IT) staff, and management tools can handle the job of supporting FMC. Consider the following:
- Deploy WLAN systems: Most FMC deployment scenarios assume that enterprises will use WLANs for in-building voice and real-time communication. This means that enterprises should install WLAN APs with sufficient RF coverage (including hallways, stairwells and restrooms). But this also implies that WLAN systems (i.e., dense deployment of lightweight APs that are centrally controlled) be deployed to deliver the consistent voice quality that business users have come to expect from their wired phones.
- Trial Wi-Fi phones: Most FMC deployment scenarios assume the use of Wi-Fi phones. FMC products now make it possible to use existing Wi-Fi phones to roam to operator cellular networks. More importantly, the experience gained from limited use of Wi-Fi phones will quickly point out any shortcomings in enterprise WLANs, network coverage, quality of service, or PBX support.
- Develop a mobile phone policy: Some enterprises don't have any policies associated with mobile phones because selection and use of such phones may be considered a personal employee matter. But with FMC, enterprise involvement in mobile phone selection may become necessary. Similarly, enterprises may want to formalize a policy regarding PDA or smartphone use because most PDAs are becoming communication devices that include telephony. Be sure to consider security issues such as data encryption, stolen phone procedures, and information access control.
- Evaluate network management tools: FMC requires real-time network management. Unfortunately, the IT staff often does not fully consider network management tool assessment. Wireless interference can degrade voice quality and make it impossible to place a Wi-Fi phone call. Insufficient AP density can result in a "network busy" notification. Excessive network load (wired or wireless) can cause packet loss and result in poor call quality. Make sure that you have the right tools to help your staff quickly diagnose, isolate and fix these problems.
- Ensure that your wired network is ready for FMC: Make sure that your wired network has sufficient capacity to carry voice calls with minimal packet loss. Be sure that you have correctly configured quality of service (QoS) mechanisms to ensure low-latency call transmission. It is often a good idea to evaluate use of wired VoIP phones before trialing Wi-Fi phones because this approach enables you to ensure that your wired network can handle VoIP before you add another level of complexity (wireless).
Fixed mobile convergence will integrate mobile phones with your PBX, enable unified communications, and reduce cellular minute usage. Before you deploy FMC equipment, however, ensure that your enterprise LAN, IT staff and management tools are ready. Up-front planning will improve your ability to successfully deploy FMC and will save you time and effort in the long run.
About the author: Paul DeBeasi is a Senior Analyst at the Burton Group and has over 25 years experience in the networking industry. Before joining the Burton Group, Paul founded ClearChoice Advisors, a wireless consulting firm, and was the VP Product Marketing at Legra Systems, a wireless-switch innovator. Prior to Legra, Paul was the VP Product Marketing at startups IPHighway and ONEX Communications and was also the Frame Relay product line manager for Cascade Communications. Paul began his career developing networking systems as a senior engineer at Bell Laboratories, Prime Computer, and Chipcom Corporation. Paul holds a BS degree in Systems Engineering from Boston University and a Master of Engineering degree in Electrical Engineering from Cornell University.