Extract; Comms Business Magaizine; Fixed Mobile Convergence [Comms Business April 2011 Issue]

Comms Business reports from some of the key suppliers in the FMC market to discover what channel ready, simple to deploy solutions are available.

Fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) is the trend towards seamless connectivity between fixed and wireless telecommunications networks. The term also describes any physical network that allows cellular telephone sets to function smoothly with the fixed network infrastructure.

The ultimate goal of FMC is to optimise transmission of all data, voice and video communications to and among end users, no matter what their locations or devices. In the more immediate future, FMC means that a single device can connect through and be switched between wired and wireless networks.

FMC is sometimes seen as a way to reverse the trend towards fixed-mobile substitution, the increasing tendency for consumers and businesses to substitute mobile telephones for hard-wired or cordless landline phones.

There’s a bridge to cross here however. The consumerisation of the office – staff bringing in their own comms devices – smartphones and tablets for example – and asking IT to ‘connect them’ to the network, seems unstoppable right now.

Over half of the responses to a global survey of IT professionals, conducted during a webinar that launched Mitel’s new ‘Freedom’ architecture, were in line with common opinion that mobile phones will become the dominant communication device in the workplace. The research also revealed that most respondents expect that their organisations will move to a ‘bring your own device’ strategy in the future.

As working and personal lives continue to merge, office workers are increasingly utilising personal electronic devices for work purposes. The introduction of tablet devices that can synchronise applications with their smartphone equivalents has also opened up new possibilities and made mobiles all the more attractive as part of a unified communications (UC) strategy.

“Organisations should be establishing their unified communications strategies now in order to prepare for new ways of working that are already on the horizon. With a UC solution in place, such shifts in working practices can be simply and securely accommodated whilst reaping the benefits of reducing costs and enabling flexible working practices that can improve productivity and attract the best staff,” commented Graham Bevington, managing director EMEA, Mitel.

Almost three quarters of respondents also believed that a best-of-breed network approach would achieve a stronger return on investment than being limited to a single vendor.

Bevington added, “We’ve always been passionate about enabling organisations the flexibility to break free from the single vendor model and design a communications network based on best-in-class technologies, and our new Freedom architecture was designed specifically with this in mind. Allowing organisations to tailor their own networks should be a given, and this will become ever more important as the ‘bring your own device’ trend becomes more prevalent.”

Mike Ballantine, Business Development Manager, Aastra Telecom, also sees FMC and mobility as a crucial accelerator to the adoption of UC solutions.

“For many workers the mobile phone is becoming the comms tool of choice and is indispensable for communicating when on the move. This sea change in device use is reflected in the declining sales of conventional desk phones. Canalys, the independent research organisation, estimates that sales of desk phones declined by 19 per cent in 2009 compared with 2008. Resellers need to recognise this new reality so that they can profit from it.

The simplest way to deploy FMC is to provide a client application onto an existing GSM phone allowing it to integrate with call control management system. Users can then benefit from having access to deskphone features on their mobile phones. For instance, they are able to transfer calls, make conference calls and have access to a directory, all from their mobile handset.

This is the path offered by Aastra following significant investment in FMC technology. The result is an infrastructure that is easy to implement and provides the mobile user with full access to call control manager functionality, whatever their location. At the same time the enterprise can monitor user ‘presence’ and can manage costs through policy based least cost routing (LCR) of calls. FMC provides optimum user freedom with optimum comms management and cost control – everybody wins!

The Aastra Mobile Client (AMC) lies at the heart of Aastra’s UC strategy. Aastra’s Mobile Client works with all systems in the Aastra range. This means that Aastra call managers can support mobile working in organisations of any size giving our resellers a clear competitive edge. AMC works with all systems in the Aastra range and supports a wide range of mobile phones and smartphones popular with business users: Symbian S60 3rd and 5th edition (including LG, Nokia, Samsung and Sony Ericsson), RIM BlackBerry 4.5, 4.6, 4.7 and 5.0 and Android.

Aastra’s FMC strategy seeks to work with the trend towards mobile phone usage by focusing on mobility as a crucial accelerator to the adoption of UC solutions. With more and more business done on the move or remotely, it is vital that companies be able to integrate mobility into their communications environment for improved productivity, efficient comms management and cost control.”

Reducing Costs

According to Carl Churchill, Managing Director of Daisy Wholesale, there’s no doubting that the popularity of Fixed Mobile J Convergence is on the increase, driven by businesses focussed on reducing costs.

“While the technology has been a challenge, and on occasion unreliable, we are now seeing some credible suppliers of quality FMC products in the market. The early adopters became the guinea pigs and it’s through their experiences and feedback that new FMC style services, which deliver a more effective experience, have been developed.

“We’re also seeing mobile carriers themselves launch FMC style services, which presents a good opportunity for businesses to reduce the cost of calls in their office. This is a service that the channel should embrace to ensure that they are not losing out on mobile or fixed line revenue in favour of FMC.

“However, to date, the uptake of FMC has mainly been in the corporate arena and not in the SME marketplace in which we the majority of our reseller partners operate.

“We would like to see an FMC solution that suits SME, and we’ve engaged with a series of vendors that will allow us to piece together a solution. The most critical element if making the CAPEX and OPEX of such a platform, is allowing our partners to sell into their existing customers. This is much the same approach that we have taken with solutions such as MPLS VPN. You take what was traditionally a service only really accessible to corporate end users, break down the key components, and build a solution in such a way that it becomes commercially viable for our resellers to sell into their predominant SME estate, which we have done successfully.

“I think it’s fair to say that most people are still finding their feet with FMC and how they position it without encouraging churn in their traditional estate, which they know so well. There’s still a lot of deliberating in the channel about how to best position a service that is going to be able to deliver the kind of customer experience that they want, while making sure they make the same margin and provide a product which they can build a business on.”

Mobile Recording

After Unified Communications comes unified applications – hot on the heels of Fixed Mobile Convergence comes the legal requirement to record mobile calls says Robin Hayman, Product and marketing Director at SpliceCom.

“For all the talk of the imminent ‘death of the PBX’ it’s the continual evolution of value added communication applications that helps to ensure its longevity, wherever the PBX may be situated – CPE, hosting-centre or cloud – and in whatever form it might take.

The mandatory recording of mobile calls requires FMC and Call Recording to be fully integrated processes. By ‘holding on’ to a call when it’s connected to a mobile, the IP- PBX/Unified Communications platform/business telephone system is ideally positioned to bring call routing and applications together. Indeed at SpliceCom we’ve gone one stage further, by utilising Extension Anywhere and Vision on our maximiser platform we’ve unified FMC, Call Recording and Call Management to not only make it easy and cost-effective to record mobile calls, but also simple to search for specific recordings using a wide range of criteria. On the back of legislation, call recording’s been a big growth area for several years now. The latest legal requirements to record mobile calls mean that we’ll see this growth extended to provide opportunities for those able to deliver FMC integrated with call recording as well.”

Hosted Solutions

Fixed Mobile Convergence has been discussed at length in the market place for a while now; mobile twinning has been available for some time. However, Jon Singleton, Director, Skyrack Telecom, says never, until now, has a provider been able to offer a contract-less mobile PBX extension.

“Skyrack Telecom is launching Mobile-X, this month; their own SIM card that works in any 3G phone including iPhones, Android or Windows 7 smartphones. Importantly, there is no software to install and there are no apps, it’s just a standard SIM card. Your mobile becomes part of your Skyrack Office Broadsoft PBX. There is no mobile number and crucially no mobile contract. The Mobile-X user pays a monthly license fee to use the system. A Mobile-X user can dial extension to extension anywhere in the UK on their Skyrack office network; when they dial anyone on the national, mobile or international PSTN the called party sees the users’ office DDI. Another important factor is that the calls are made over GSM and not over VoIP like some solutions where call quality can be a huge issue.

The best things about Mobile-X, that most FMC solution can’t do, are the PBX features. For instance, you can restrict a user to the types of call they can make, so for example internal and emergency calls only or just calls to UK landline numbers. Also, the user can be part of a true PBX hunt group or broadcast group that doesn’t cost anything as a forward to mobile call, it’s not a mobile remember, it’s a PBX extension. Another good feature is mobile busy lamp-field, the receptionist, PA or person answering the phone can see that you are live on a call on your Mobile-X, they can barge in if it’s important or can tell the calling party that you are on your Mobile-X. These are just a few of the features of Mobile-X proving that it’s a PBX and not a Mobile, it just happens to be a Mobile!

For the first time ever the concept of a true VoIP, contract-less mobile as part of your phone system is here, forget FMC this is Mobile Unified Communications. The solution suits the SOHO market, an SMB, SME, MLE or public sector organisation. Organisations can now tear up their Mobile contracts. If a business is up for renewal on their Mobiles they simply take out the old SIM’s, throw them away and insert a Skyrack Mobile-X or Mobile-X Plus SIM and each user has a fully functioning Mobile PBX in their pockets.

The Mobile-X service properly merges landline with mobile, with a system that is proven, can’t be turned off by the big mobile carriers, is here to stay and critically that the Channel can now sell directly to all sizes of business from a one-man-band right up to a very large enterprise customer. In its first guise Mobile-X will just work in the UK, but a complimentary Mobile-X softphone will work anywhere in the World, not to mention of course the standard high end PBX features you get with Broadsoft giving full call control for the whole system over the web. The next version of Mobile-X will work Worldwide.”

Singleton concludes, “Skyrack is now offering channel partnerships to sell the latest generation Broadsoft platform with HDVoIP, Video-C, Office Plus and of course Mobile-X. Margins are very very good indeed for Mobile-X, as you would imagine for a Mobile product!”

Skyrack is working closely with Basingstoke based thevoicefactory, the Broadsoft hosted telephony supplier to deliver the FMC service.

Paul Harrison, Sales Director at thevoicefactory adds: “Together with Skyrack, thevoicefactory has made the great leap forward in fixed and mobile convergence by developing the mobile extension and adding it to the existing rich hosted offering. True integration of desk phone, mobile phone and additional devices allows all calls to be received and managed seamlessly. Put simply, your office number stays with you, wherever you happen to be!”

See Case Study; TESCO (FMC)

Comms Business April 2011 Issue is now available from Comms Business Homepage, or can be accessed here