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Is fixed-mobile convergence worth the bother?

And what exactly does it mean, anyway...?

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Whether fixed-mobile convergence is for you in the near-term depends in part on how you define it, but for most, there's no rush.

While a fair number of companies are testing FMC products, few are making large-scale purchases and many aren't expected to for several years at least. On top of that, mobile carriers generally are reluctant to do anything that drains revenue from cellular minutes, so don't look for them to push FMC down your throat.

To step back, it's hard to find agreement on what the term FMC even means, or on how it relates to the even more confusing term of "unified communications". Here, we're talking about FMC in two senses.

The first recognises that many enterprise users have both a wireline desk phone and a wireless cellphone, and makes the cellphone, in effect, an extension of the corporate PBX. The second sense focuses on allowing calls to shift between enterprise wireless LANs and cellular networks: the cellphone becomes useable reliably within the enterprise, adopts some PBX features, and offloads some cell minutes to the WLAN.

The vendor white papers on why these are wonderful steps in the evolution of Mobile Man could fill the Library of Congress. One phone number! One voice mail system! Faster response time! Lower cellular bills! Improved productivity! Yada yada yada.

The FMC believers

And you will find plenty of IT professionals who believe passionately in FMC for precisely those reasons, especially as more phones become available with both cellular and Wi-Fi interfaces. "I don't see FMC yet in large enterprise deployments, but it's getting there," says David Bucciero, director of technical services at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. The college just launched a Wi-Fi/cellular test project.

"Users are saying 'here's my primary device: figure out how to make it work with everything else," says Jack Gold, principal at J. Gold Associates, a research and consulting firm. But these users tend to be highly mobile workers for whom frequent contact with customers or managers almost defines their job.

"Making your cell phone an extension of the PBX is easy to do," says Craig Mathias, principal for Farpoint Group, a mobile consulting firm. "And it makes an awful lot of sense. For one thing, it gives [cell phone users] access to the enterprise dialling directory."


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