EU operators turn to fixed-mobile convergence as mobile-only loses lustre

Two's company, three's a crowd. So what does four make? Where mobile operators are concerned, four and more is the number of services they increasingly aspire to provide to their customers.

For sure, combining mobile services with TV, fixed broadband and other services is not yet right for every market, nor is there one single strategy for implementing or executing fixed-mobile convergence or quad-play. But in the western European markets, some increasingly regard a mobile-only play as an uncomfortable place to be.

As Rupert Wood from Analysys Mason puts it, an operator with a legacy mobile service and not much else is in an "unenviable" position. Not only does such an operator have to compete with bundled offerings from rival mobile players, but it also faces competition from fixed players as they add mobile to the mix of fixed voice, broadband and TV services.

In the UK, for example, BT has returned to the mobile market thanks to a new wholesale deal with EE. But the incumbent operator, which is also extremely competitive in the field of pay-TV services, is adopting what Wood calls an "inside out" model that makes use of indoor femtocells and Wi-Fi access points, playing on the idea that a large proportion of calls originate and terminate in the home.

So what are mobile operators doing to meet all the various market threats? Many of them are pursuing the FMC path by buying or building assets, depending on their capabilities and the market in question. They are being attacked from all sides: the fixed players, other mobile operators and over-the-top (OTT) providers.

Nonetheless, others also still believe that there is room for mobile-only players. Mika Uusitalo, CTO for Europe and Latin America at Nokia Networks said LTE technology might develop into a direction where it can be used to replace fixed DSL services. "For example, already in many countries students prefer mobile broadband rather than fixed broadband access to Internet," he added.

Further down the line, 5G could also provide new options for mobile operators: "Fixed and cable operators have a real current cost advantage over mobile operators working 'outside-in', but 5G may come to challenge the view that it is always best to get mobile data onto fibre as quickly as possible," observed Wood.

Our special report on FMC looks at some of the challenges faced by mobile operators and how some of them are working to address these challenges.--Anne