Detractors of Fixed Mobile Convergence can’t see the value in being able to walk into your office talking on a cell phone, then pick up your desk phone and seamlessly continue the call. They are right; that’s a small hook on which to hang a massive reworking of the corporate voice network. But that’s not Fixed Mobile Convergence, so it’s a straw-man argument. In Fixed-Mobile Convergence, you walk into your office talking on a cell phone, sit down, and continue the conversation on the same cell phone. The value driver is that you no longer need a desk phone – that’s a big saving.

So now you are wondering where the “convergence” is in this scenario. Isn’t this just FMS – Fixed Mobile Substitution? Yes and no. If the wireless connection remains cellular it is FMS. But the second big value driver comes in if it seamlessly transitions to Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, and stops using cellular minutes. This is FMC. The line between FMC and FMS is quite blurred. FMS has the disadvantage that signal coverage can be weak in some buildings, and if everybody in a densely populated office goes the FMS route, the cell won’t have the capacity to serve them all. But this problem is addressed by an interesting new product category called the femtocell, which is just like a Wi-Fi access point except it runs cellular frequencies and protocols. So if you deploy femtocells in your office you are going the FMS route, if you use the Wi-Fi network instead you are doing FMC. So the FMC scenario requires the phones to be dual mode (cellular plus Wi-Fi). FMS has the advantage that the phones can be cheaper, since they can leave out the Wi-Fi radio.

Another issue is who manages the cell phone. Voice Service Providers for years have been pushing a service called Centrex, which obviates the need for a PBX on the company premises. But most businesses have resisted. They prefer to control their communications infrastructure themselves. This same objection applies to FMS, but not necessarily to FMC. With the enterprise oriented (i.e. non-UMA, non-IMS) flavors of FMC, once the call is on the Wi-Fi network it is just a regular VoIP call on the corporate PBX. This means that it is billed at non-cellular rates (free on internal calls), and it can offer all the regular PBX features.

From a market segment point of view, the Blackberry is the closest thing to an enterprise cell phone that currently exists. But it doesn’t (yet) offer any PBX call features nor does it have Wi-Fi, and it is sold through and controlled by the mobile network operators, so it also fails on the score of not being controlled by the IT department.

Nokia, recognizing these issues, sells their Eseries phones not only through mobile operators but also through interconnects, the same distribution channel as PBXs. Nokia has also endowed their Eseries phones with enterprise-grade manageability (though it is with carrier oriented OMA-DM, rather than the enterprise oriented WBEM). So Nokia’s Eseries strategy still lacks PBX features on the phone. But the Eseries phones run on Symbian’s S60 operating system, for which there is a vibrant developer community, so if there isn’t yet a third-party PBX style client for it, there soon will be.

Another cell phone project taking this approach is OpenMoko. This goes even further than Nokia’s Eseries, since all the software, including the operating system (Linux) is open source.

One Reply to “FMS and FMC”

  1. Hi Michael,

    Interesting. A blog that focuses on FMC and FMS. I think though that I need to had my little contribution to your views of FMS. FMS does not necessarily have to be taking place through a picocell. From a corporate perspective (and the same applies in the consumer segment), what drives FMC is the objective to divert the traffic onto the IP network for cost purposes, even at the cost of usability and at the cost of the user who pays for the IP backhaul. But there is a key component of FMC: the need to apply the pricing on a specific location, your office or you home. This location angle is the one that Seeker Wireless has taken.

    Seeker is a location technology company that has developed a handset/SIM based application which allows to accurately (<50m) and reliably (99.5%) locate the users. Around its core location technology it has developed a service wrap up for "home zone". Simply put, via the sim tool kit (STK), the application defines a logical zone in which the user is identified as @ home or @ the office and benefit then from a fixed line pricing. The benefits are the likes of usability (STK based, one off registration and visual display on the phone of the zone status), cost savings for the user, retention/acquisition tool for the operator, no waiting UMA/etc phones as compatible with legacy handsets, home zone, office zone, campus zone etc... and many more. It's for these reasons and more that Seeker has secured two contracts with operators and is working on more opportunities.

    Arguably you could raise the issue of coverage as you do in one of your post. We believe that users that are likely to buy a picocells need to be very (emphasis on the very) educated due to usability issues. So they are likely to be adopted by users in so called advanced and rich markets, where operators have 3G networks, networks which they are trying to use the additional capacities with voice service.

    Hope this helps adding an additional piece in your already thorough analysis of FMS/FMC. You can appreciate that Seeker is a solution for today without having to wait for new firmware, chipsets, etc... and that the whole service has been build from the ground up around the user. Let me finalise this rather long comment by the tag line that a successful service should be about "convenience, not convergence."

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