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FMC Could Integrate Services, Plus Networks

Mobile operators are now making key decisions about the future of their consumer fixed-mobile convergence offerings. While enterprise FMC services are clearly following the route of VCC- and SIP-enabled solutions, consumer FMC services will take one of two major paths -- based on each mobile operator's view of the market, and the nature of its existing network assets.

According to ABI Research principal analyst Philip Solis, "Today, consumer FMC services that are based on Wi-Fi use UMA to manage the connection choice and handover between Wi-Fi and cellular networks. These services are ramping up quickly in Europe, due to intense competition between Orange, BT, and other mobile operators. In North America, T-Mobile USA is about to go nationwide with its UMA-based FMC service as well."

"However," adds research director Stuart Carlaw, "mobile operators such as Vodafone, SFR, Softbank, and Sprint are at the leading edge among carriers exploring femtocell technologies. With their ability to work with any handset, and their potential for encouraging high data use, femtocells are very attractive when compared to VCC and UMA-based Wi-Fi services."

ABI believes that although there are technical advantages and disadvantages associated with dual-mode and femtocell approaches, an equally important consideration will be the shape of an operator's overall business. For T-Mobile and Orange it makes sense for them to leverage current public Wi-Fi network investments by adopting a dual-mode approach; but other carriers will see femtocells as an opportunity to differentiate themselves in highly competitive markets.

Which actually raises a good point, carriers and vendors are predominantly thinking about integrating networks, but few are apparently thinking about integrating services -- relative to their customer's known application needs or wants. Are service providers competing for customers, or delivering the most differentiated network offering? It's not a rhetorical question, since I'm really puzzled by the focal point of these debates thus far.

Technology aside, what's the value proposition(s) of FMC, from a typical customer's perspective? Meaning, when selected services are converged, what are the categories of known customer benefits -- both direct and indirect? We all understand the potential for a lower cost service, but surely there's more here that could help justify the required carrier infrastructure investment.

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