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Tech Watch: Plenty of potential in fixed-mobile convergence

The outlook for fixed-mobile convergence in the enterprise is good, but there are a few obstacles to be cleared before it takes off. This three-part feature explores the driving forces in this trend, the business case for FMC and the two major technical approaches to it.

Fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) is one of those technologies that, rather than being invented, productized, marketed and shipped in a package that's easy to explain and deliver to customers, is oozing its way into the IT market as a technique or service instead.

In the process it's creating -- or consolidating -- what will turn out to be a market worth more than $46 billion by 2010, according to a recent report by Infonetics Research Inc. While the growth potential and time scales vary, other analyst companies have high expectations as well -- Insight Research Corp. predicts enterprise FMC spending will double every year until 2012, but the number is currently so low that the market won't be impressive until 2010.

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Fixed-mobile convergence is the concept of combining wired and wireless networks into a seamless whole. More specifically, it's come to mean the ability to link cell phone networks and internal WiFi networks so customers can switch seamlessly from a cell net onto a wireless network as Voice over IP (VoIP). FMC connections could save customers enough cell phone minutes to trim $3.3 billion per year from the revenue streams of U.S.-based cellular carriers, according to market company iLocus.

Despite the rosy outlook for fixed-mobile convergence, the path to it is not obstacle-free. There are two major technical approaches to FMC, but neither is easy to implement or easily compatible with the other. And customers and channel companies are still working on getting over an earlier hurdle -- wired VoIP and Voice over Wireless LAN (VoWLAN) networks.

Some stakeholders, however, are investigating consolidation. "We're beginning to see some interest [in FMC] and to guide some of that decision process," said Doug Fink, executive vice president of united communications at Tempe, Ariz.,-based integrator Calence LLC. "We do a lot of strategy work on convergence migrations. Today that process is in the stage where you're protecting your investment. The infrastructure pieces are there today, and we have to enable that, so [customers] can do that down the road without a major forklift upgrade."

VoWLAN is making inroads on its own, though, in ways that VoIP hasn't, and which may presage a shorter adoption cycle for fixed-mobile convergence than analysts expect.

"We have a lot of midmarket customers who are eager to embrace wireless [voice]," said Scott Faxon, regional vice president for Atlanta-based IP telephony integrator Digitel Corp. "There's a lot of price pressure in a lot of those markets, and it offers some relief in some cases."

Customers with below-average access to Internet infrastructure, and sometimes even cell networks, are also eager for wireless LAN and wireless voice networks in order to expand their own access to the few broadband drop points available.

"[Those customers] struggle to get Internet access because of their geographies, and the Internet companies don't have the incentive to provide the access," Faxon said.

Follow the links below to read about the business case for FMC, as well as what the opportunities are for the channel.

Fixed-mobile convergence: Plenty of potential for the channel
  Home: Introduction
  1: The business case for FMC
  2: Opportunity for the IT resellers

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