SPECIAL REPORT: Mobile Convergence

Implementing Convergence

When describing FMC to an end user, it sounds like an implementation of acronyms - PBX, MPLS, VoIP, SIP or WLAN.

Along with the implementation of acronyms is a converging of devices that can range from mobile phones with video cameras to dual-mode handsets supporting both Wi-Fi and cellular network connectivity; and mobilizing applications such as e-mail, instant messaging, and customer relationship management.

But while the user may not understand all of the technology, they do understand that how they feel about their personal mobile device determines how much they use - or don't use them.

The implementation of FMC merges services in the fixed-line and mobile telecom worlds and reflects a true integration of underlying network and associated management infrastructures.

The Fixed Mobile Convergence Association (FCMA) concurs. They say for the customer the convergence of mobile devices is what is going to make FMC work - and desirable to the customer.

“Over the next 2-3 years, “integration of devices and federation of user identities” will increase this person-device-service coupling. For the consumer living in the pervasive networked world, the differences between the market players and access technologies (fixed or mobile) must be invisible. There is a significant 3-4 year trend towards convergence”.

While the marketplace will drive the increasing power and capabilities needed for full convergent handheld devices capable of handling voice, video and data, IT and telecom managers - along with their carrier partners -- are currently moving their agencies towards FMC implementation. Here's just a few of the things they are looking at according to some of the industry's leading providers.

According to Hewlett Packard, there are two paths to fixed-mobile convergence: UMA vs. IMS. UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access is preferred primarily by mobile carriers, as it operates effectively as an extension of the mobile network, keeping call control in the hands of the mobile carrier.

Many industry analysts view UMA as a tactical, intermediary step on the part of mobile carriers who are not yet ready to convert their extensive Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) and General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) core networks to IP, an IMS prerequisite.

IMS (IP Multimedia System) is preferred primarily by carriers (typically fixed) that already have extensive IP backbones in place, as it keeps call control in their hands and runs VoIP and SIP without major impact on their networks. Its primary advantages over UMA are its scalability and applicability to a much broader range of underlying access technologies.

Its reliance on SIP-based signaling simplifies the introduction of multi-service combinations, e.g., instant messaging plus voice. It also provides telecom managers and the carriers more sophisticated billing new services to track usage of data, voice and video. And at the service-control layer provides platforms for policy and security (identity and session control).

FMC Path
According to Cisco, another critical element on the path to FMC is the advent of WLAN infrastructure capable of supporting mobile voice with sophisticated roaming capabilities and implementing 3G architecture.

As it is, FMC implementation is happening now in your agency. It has been occurring in increments. Here's what's been going on:

*Basic network infrastructure convergence: already well underway.

*Addition of enterprise wireless LANs, followed by voice over WLANs: partly to well underway at most large enterprises.

*Introduction of managed FMC services: underway since 2006. Carriers and carrier partnerships begin to roll out the first managed FMC services, providing mobile users with the ability to roam seamlessly between wireline and wireless networks. This end to-end approach enables carriers to enforce, monitor, and report on quality of service (QoS) metrics, helping them demonstrate SLA compliance, and optimize network utilization and performance.

*Tighter integration of fixed and mobile network infrastructure and back-office systems: underway since 2007, with broader adoption expected in the beginning of 2009.