FEATURE: VoIP and Convergence -- Tapping the Potential of Fixed Mobile Convergence

VoIP and Convergence -- Tapping the Potential of Fixed Mobile Convergence
Persona Software's David Schwartz looks at the market opportunities opening for fixed mobile convergence technologies.

The convergence of cellular and VoIP networks is creating an enormous market opportunity for both fixed mobile convergence (FMC) technologies and the advanced applications they enable. The opportunities are exciting, but service providers today also have other compelling reasons to converge VoIP and cellular services. Forrester Research recently estimated that more than 50 percent of current voice traffic will be carried on new IP-based networks within a decade. Additionally, a recent study from UK-based consultancy RelevantC shows that up to 44 percent of cellular minutes are now generated indoors in locations where wireline network exists.

With an ever-increasing number of voice minutes migrating to cellular, convergence of the two is both a business and technology requirement for service providers today. FMC technologies bring VoIP and cellular together, integrating wireline and wireless technologies and services while enabling the seamless handoff of IP calls across both fixed-line (WiFi or 802.11) and wireless (cellular) networks with a single user identity across both networks.

SIP Adds Applications
However, not all approaches to FMC enable a complete service model, with advanced applications that can follow subscribers as they roam. The most advanced convergence solutions employ an open SIP-based applications server working in conjunction with a dual-mode WiFi/cellular FMC handset.

SIP has become the industry standard for delivering telephony features and enhanced services over converged networks and is ideal for supporting mobility applications. By using a SIP-based application server approach, carriers can deliver new, enhanced SIP-based applications and value-added services that will attract customers and reduce churn. With a SIP-based FMC solution, carriers of all types can seamlessly hand off not just VoIP calls, but also advanced call features and applications across WiFi and cellular networks. From one device, from any location, users are able to access a range of unique mobility applications, including personalized service management, conferencing, collaboration, messaging, and presence applications.

These applications are especially important for integrated service providers and their wireless operator divisions that are looking to add an advanced feature set. An FMC solution with a SIP-based server enables operators to expand their network to include these new advanced features. FMC also improves the economics of mobility for the end user, since managed FMC services significantly reduce capital expenses per user and the total cost of ownership.

True convergence extends enterprise features across both the wireline VoIP network and the cellular network, enabling service providers to offer their services to the enterprise. This can be of great interest for the wireless carrier divisions of integrated providers, which have traditionally not had an enterprise feature set. With a SIP application server-based approach, a business subscribers' FMC phone can act as an extension of a business telephone system and access enterprise features from both inside and outside the enterprise. FMC solutions that are not SIP-based -- such as those that use Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) technology -- do not offer these enterprise-level features and do not provide the cellular operator division of an integrated carrier with an entrance to the lucrative enterprise market.

Seamless Migration to 3G
While advanced mobility applications alone are reason enough to employ a SIP-based FMC solution, operators also receive another major benefit. Since nearly all operators around the world have stated intent to migrate their networks to 3G networks, the FMC technologies they deploy today must continue to add value as they migrate. A SIP-based approach enables service providers to deploy 3G Release 6+ applications today without any changes to their existing 2.5G networks while they migrate to full 3G at their own pace. As carriers build out their 3G R6+ network, they can continue to offer advanced features seamlessly to customers as they roam between existing networks and the new 3G networks. Carriers can also continue to add new advanced applications on the same application server once they move to a full 3G network implementation.

Carriers Deploying FMC
FMC is attractive to many different types of carriers, including integrated carriers with both wireline and wireless assets, carriers with only wireline or only wireless assets, and multi-service or cable operators. Wireline carriers will be among the early adopters of FMC technologies since they are highly motivated to enter the market. Wireline carriers today are losing up to 44 percent of their calls to cellular providers. FMC will help these carriers gain back those lost minutes and keep their margins up by offering mobile services while maintaining control of calls. Convergence will improve customer retention, attract new customers, provide competitive differentiation, and create higher-revenue service opportunities.

Integrated wireline/wireless providers will also benefit from VoIP/cellular convergence, since it will allow them to achieve greater efficiency and solve coverage and capacity issues. Instead of maintaining several networks, providers will only need one network to offer fixed and mobile services.

Cellular operators that once feared competition from WiFi are now embracing the technology as a way to extend and expand their business, enabling them to provide service coverage indoors and outdoors and reduce churn. A bonus of FMC is that it helps operators make more efficient use of their transmission towers. As the number of subscribers in an area grows in a traditional network, the tower may run out of capacity to serve them -- and it is very expensive to build more. FMC relieves the capacity bottleneck by enabling operators to create a two-tiered network that serves more customers in more areas by building out WiFi hot spots, which are far less expensive than towers, that can be used indoors anywhere the customer is. It is estimated that one cellular operator in Asia could save as much as $300 million by building a two-tiered network, installing WiFi networks inside buildings instead of erecting more towers.

A New Service Model for Mobility
Migration to VoIP is inevitable and the move to fixed mobile convergence is gaining momentum. Advanced FMC solutions harness these trends, bringing together VoIP, cellular and SIP to enable a new type of service model for mobility that allows users to roam seamlessly among home and corporate WLANs, WiFi hot spots, and cellular networks with one dual-mode handset, one phone number, and one set of telephony features. By using a SIP-based approach to FMC, users can also gain from the advanced applications that will improve the way they communicate.

David Schwartz is director of marketing for Persona Software.