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Fixed mobile convergence (FMC): How far we've come, how far we need to go

The fixed line industry is nearing the final stages of two significant transformations. First, the conversion of analog networks, infrastructure and devices to digital. Second, the convergence of voice, data and video. This is evident in the recent moves by telephone companies offering television and video content and by cable and satellite companies offering traditional voice and Internet service. The underlying technology driving this convergence is the use of IP networks as the common transport.

Similar to the advent of mobile devices and networks, which has drawn end-users to accept and even demand various digital services, the fixed line industry is working to complete a reliable digital last-mile network and infrastructure that supports a broad scope of applications. In tandem, device manufacturers are moving past dumb phone terminals to VoIP phone systems that include screens and software-driven capabilities, giving these new terminals the functionality of a small computer.

As an example of clear convergence occurring despite the difference in the network capabilities, several fixed line telephone companies in Europe are offering SMS capability to their fixed line customers.

But, like any complex technology, there are inherent challenges. The cost of deploying converged digital systems is still high, and will need to come down to draw greater interest and adoption. There is no single identifiable compelling application that will justify the investment

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in a converged communications system. There are employee productivity and unified infrastructure benefits to the converged communications approach. Today's early adopters share a long-term vision for their networks and a desire to future proof their systems. These companies are replacing outdated analog systems with digital systems that offer greater scalability and ease in integrating new applications over time.

Another challenge surrounding convergence is the retraining of end-users. End-users can be reluctant to accept new applications in their daily routine, causing many companies to introduce one new application at a time. Acceptance and training can be accelerated by ensuring that interfaces are similar and consistent across applications and that common formats are supported.

It is here that converged systems show an advantage. In addition to allowing administrators to consolidate separate networks into one, more manageable network, end-users benefit from consistent or similar interfaces on their fixed line and mobile phones as well as access the same repository of data regardless of device.

But, the most critical step in this evolution remains interoperability. As interoperability from back-end to device is reached through standards, companies and end-users will show greater confidence in the convergence of voice, data and video and will drive the industry to focus more and more on the user experience.

And, as the last mile of fixed line network is converted to high speed digital access, converged services will begin to reach their full potential.

About the author:
Sanjeev Sawai is the vice president of research and development at Envox Worldwide (www.envox.com), a voice solutions provider. With more than 15 years experience in the development of telecommunications and embedded systems, Sawai is responsible for investigating and evaluating new standards and emerging technologies in the voice solutions market.

This was first published in August 2005

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