SPECIAL REPORT: Mobile Convergence

On the Road to Convergence

Beginning January 20 your already high tech government is getting ready to be even more high tech.

According to Government Insight's “Top 10 New Expectations for Government”, Prediction #6 is “The U.S. President's high tech communication style will accelerate an anytime, anywhere communications boom.”

In making their predictions for an anytime, anywhere communications boom, the analysts point out that President Obama will be the first President to use a laptop and BlackBerry to communicate in real time through handheld devices. The premise is this will lead to even more use of these and other mobile devices by more government staffers.

The Language of Telecom

It has been said by some in telecom that there are lots of languages one can learn: Spanish, French, Chinese or Telecom. As in government, it's a world of acronyms. Here are the meanings of just a few key telecom terms.

FMC: The ability to access multimedia applications from a variety of end-user devices while roaming across a range of fixed-line and mobile networks.

IP PBX: An IP PBX is a private branch exchange (telephone switching system within an enterprise) that switches calls between VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol or IP) users, a VoIP user and a traditional telephone user, or between two traditional telephone users in the same way that a conventional PBX does.

MPLS: Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) is a standards-approved technology for speeding up network traffic flow and making it easier to manage.

Integrated-service provider: An integrated-service provider provides both fixed and cellular services, in contrast to fixed-only or cellular-only providers.

Unlicensed wireless (UW): Unregulated 802.XX wireless networks include networks that are often also referred to as Wi-Fi, WLAN, home Wi-Fi, metro Wi-Fi, and the emerging category of mobile Wi-Fi. Bluetooth and cordless DECT phones could also be included in this category.

Licensed wireless (cellular): Licensed cellular wireless networks include GSM and CDMA-based networks; subsequent extensions into data, most commonly 2.5G (EDGE) or 3G (EVDO, UMTS, HSPDA, HSUPA); and 4G networks such as LTE, satellite, fixed WiMAX, and mobile WiMAX.

Fixed networks: Generally refers to fixed-line-based networks such as ADSL, fiber to the home, fiber to the node, traditional telephone networks, and cable.
Having the President as an advocate and user of technology will certainly hasten the deployment of next-generation broadband for the enterprise. That next generation will leverage the wireless spectrum and promote the technologies/applications that enable converging voice, video and data communications to be delivered anytime, anywhere in your enterprise to your users on their increasingly powerful hand held devices.

Fixed Moblie Convergence (FMC) represents the coming together of all networks, content, applications, services, devices, and management creating a unified mobile workspace with call continuity and one-number ring to all devices. 

In turn it will help you better manage onsite, remote and virtual workers and help the government attract a generation called to provide public service.

Destination Convergence
After years of talking about the future, the future is nearly here. The federal government - along with the rest of America - is entering a new phase of convergence, using the increasing power of handheld devices that can access robust services across multiple networks. Your mobile converged service will deliver media - voice, data, and video- to your office and/or handheld device, anytime, anywhere.

The related goal of all this network convergence is to integrate all of these services to an IP-based network; one that takes full advantage of the increased capacity that IPv6 based government networks will provide in the coming years.

These networks will allow you to access converged voice, video and data services from a single “DID” (direct in dial) number from a phone at your desk or on your mobile communications device. No matter where you are, with fixed mobile convergence or FMC capabilities, you will have the power of your office PBX enabled telecom services at your disposal.

A Long Time Focus, A Long Time Coming
“Convergence of voice, data and video is a topic that has been discussed since I first came to GSA in 2002 and even before,” explained Karl Krumbholz, GSA Director of Network Services and Networx program manager in a recent interview with 1105 Government Information Group Custom Media.

“We talked a lot about it in the way the Networx program was going to be employed and how we were going to offer converged services,” said Krumbholz. “It has been coming for a long time.”

Krumbholz told 1105 that lingering latency and quality of service issues have been solved and we are now at a point where the technology is available and that it is migrating into government.

“We are in full adoption phase,” Krumbholz declared. “Although convergence is now here, it doesn't mean fully implemented. Far from it, it will be some of years before full convergence actually takes place.”

For government, the journey towards full convergence is underway. But there are challenges. For example, Krumbholz observed that while it's possible theoretically for agencies today to put their voice, video and data all on their data network, in most cases agencies have not done that as yet.

Reasons include being educated about the benefits, agency politics and issues over security, the difficulty of managing a converged voice and data network, network security and bandwidth. And according to Krumbholz, while many are migrating to VoIP, they are not necessarily fully converging their networks' capabilities.

“I believe it will happen in time,” said Krumbholz. “But it will happen in stages, where they gradually go to VoIP and then gradually to a converged network.”

Pursuing Fixed Mobile Convergence
The concept of fixed mobile convergence (FMC) - centers on the ability to access multimedia applications from a variety of end-user devices while roaming across a range of fixed wireline and wireless networks.

FMC appeals to both the management and user communities. Enterprises see FMC as a way to improve employee efficiency which may also help reduce telecom costs. Users see having a single work access number that provides more application power and eliminates having to use their personal mobile number for business.

That makes a lot of sense to Frank Tiller, GSA's lead technologist for Networx. “I think people are aggressively pursuing mobile devices that can support multimedia,” said Tiller. He describes the growth of FMC as fulfilling a vision of mobility where typically inside a building your carrier has cells where you can pick up service. Then as you move outside you move to campus types of solutions (WiFi/WiMax) and to then to bigger cells (towers) as you travel from your office so you can stay constantly connected as you move around.

According to Tiller, what makes this different is you can get the same solutions when you plug into your wireline phone at your office. You get both and you are always connected.

“So you have one device where you have ability to collaborate; where you see an object, you can talk about it or run videos at the same time,” said Tiller.

Krumbholz added, “What we have seen is increasingly wireless technology offers an extension of the desktop to anywhere you want to work. You are actually getting full broadband capability on your computer disconnected from your desktop at some distant location whether at airport or on park bench. And gradually that same capability is migrating to your personal device. Now can access your complete data and voice requirements any where you are, anytime.”

The enablers for FMC are in place - digital IP networks, digital wireless devices and digital media. Customers are beginning to value convergence as it enables them to easily bring together their communications, information, entertainment media, and transactions.

That's where FMC is taking us. Industry is ready to take government there. Government managers just have to get on board.

Learn about Mobile Convergence in SNAPSHOT articles that examine the FMC value proposition, its benefits along with how government can implement and buy FMC services.