|Europe I 2009
|Fixed mobile convergence for business
|Cable & Wireless
Andy Evans is the CTO of Cable & Wireless; he joined Cable &Wireless Europe, Asia & US as CTO responsible for Network Infrastructure and Strategy, Service Platforms, Information Technology, Security and Hosting. Mr Evans served previously as Marconi’s Chief Technology and Information Officer. Prior to Marconi Mr Evans served in a variety of executive posts including at FLAG Telecom as Chief Technical Officer and as Vice President of Marketing and Strategy; as Head of Strategy & Partnerships at Netscalibur, a pan-European business Internet service provider; and at McKinsey & Company as a Senior European Telecommunications specialist. He began his career in telecommunications at British Telecom where, as a Senior System Design team leader, he developed one of the world’s first real-time network management systems. Andy Evans received a 1st Class Honours degree in Engineering & Electrical Sciences from Cambridge University and an MBA from Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, with High Distinction. He is a Chartered Engineer and a Fellow of the Institute of Engineering & Technology.
Fixed Mobile Convergence, FMC, traditionally uses WiFi with expensive dual mode handsets to connect to the fixed network. WiFi-based FMC uses so much power batteries only last 30 minutes and, when built around a PBX, are vulnerable to single point failures. GSM-based FMC, however, uses existing GSM handsets, so you only change the SIM card. It uses licensed spectrum and can offer businesses that install picocells on their premises better quality, great cost savings and a host of other benefits.
Recently, whilst reading a daily newspaper, I noted more than 20 femtocell trials are currently underway in Europe, with particularly high profile pilots being implemented by Vodafone and O2. Femtocells and picocells have been in the news a lot recently. Current debate has looked at the role of femtocells in consumer mobile communications and how they can help mobile operators work more efficiently, but perhaps the more achievable opportunity receives very little attention. The time is now right for enterprises to take a serious look at this technology and evaluate what it can do to deliver on the promise of Fixed Mobile Convergence (FMC) services to business users. While the industry dabbles with ongoing consumer trials, we believe it is the enterprise market that offers the best fit for in-building GSM technology. An entirely innovative and new approach for FMC is based on low power GSM. This approach is in complete contrast to the usual converged services like BT Fusion – which operate using WiFi and dual mode phones. The industry needs to think again about backing WiFi for achieving FMC, now that picocells enable standard GSM technology to be used to deliver convergence that is high quality, reliable, secure and user-friendly – and at competitive cost levels. What is wrong with WiFi for FMC? WiFi has a place in the networking landscape, but not for FMC – it’s a good Local Area Network (LAN) technology for transmitting data and, due to a large push in the industry by the major players, has become synonomous with FMC. Despite the prolonged hype over WiFi FMC, we don’t believe its a viable option for enterprises wishing to implement FMC to carry sensitive, business critical voice traffic. There are several key reasons for this: 1. dual-mode (WiFi/GSM) smartphones are an expensive ‘rip and replace’ solution, costing around £100-£200 per handset. GSM FMC operates with any existing GSM handset. You only replace SIM cards, not the whole handset fleets. Let’s face it, most enterprises have over 5,000 employees; 2. WiFi access points interfere with one another, and so QoS cannot be guaranteed. This is not the case with GSM, which has been developed with sophisticated algorithms to ensure smooth communication between the device and the transmitter; 3. WiFi is power hungry – it transmits at full power all the time. This requires the device to transmit at full signal strength. We end up in a situation where battery life for dual-mode phones will only last 30 minutes of talktime; 4. often WiFi solutions are built around the PBX, which leaves them vulnerable to a single point of failure. With a private mobile network, there’s no such risk for critical voice traffic; 5. roaming with WiFi is tricky. One way roaming built into most WiFi solutions mean users can’t always seamlessly roam between the mobile and WiFi networks – making usability a challenge; and 6. WiFi is unlicensed and is less secure for transmitting voice and data. Companies can become suseptible to data loss, and that’s a really key focus for the government and industry right now. These drawbacks relate to WiFi’s design. It’s intended to transmit data between PCs – and PCs aren’t mobile. Hence poor voice QoS and interference, all impacting the user experience. GSM offerings, on the other hand, combine new technologies for an alternative approach. In the office GSM-based FMC service uses the guardband-GSM spectrum. It can be deployed in buildings via picocells to create onsite mobile networks dedicated to each customer. Traffic is carried over converged IP backhaul to a next-generation network (a multi-service platform, or MSP). It is the first time Guardband spectrum has been used to deliver such a service. Because we’re talking about GSM and licensed spectrum, it delivers improved QoS, tighter security, and removes cost. In-building network mobile coverage is as good indoors as it is outside. Mobile calls are even possible in previously un-serviced mobile black spots like the lift. Outside the office This innovation is all about simplicity. There is a need to guarantee seamless national connectivity. When calls are not in-building or on-site they are picked-up by the mobile operator’s network, it’s that simple. No calls are dropped, even during conversation. GSM-based Fixed-Mobile Convergence and the enterprise? Picocells will save businesses vast sums. For the first time FMC offers guaranteed QoS and the SLAs large enterprises need to adopt this technology. Cost savings Guaranteed reliability and increased strength indoor mobile signal enable fixed-line phones to be removed. Without desks tied to fixed phone points, you suddenly need less space. Less space equals lower rent. For example, for a typical 500 person office with a ten-year lease up to £25m could be saved. Office staff make approximately 30 to 50 per cent of mobile calls when they could use a fixed phone. This has been the case since the mobile entered the world of business. People will not change this behaviour – the convenience of a mobile is simply too alluring. However, these costs can now be managed. With a private mobile network, cost savings can be generated from intelligent backhaul. If both voice and data traffic is backhauled from the customer site over the provider’s MSP, for example, a call to a colleague working on-site with a company mobile can be free of charge. The synergy of the end-to-end network allows the provider to pass savings on to the customer. Happy and efficient colleagues Investment in new technology is often expected to increase staff efficiency. Business is keen to make staff available. Due to increased mobility, only around 30 per cent of today’s business calls reach the recipient on the first try. Convergence between the fixed and mobile networks changes this. Staff have a single phone, single number and single voicemail – drastically increasing their connectivity levels. This trend towards always-on connectivity does not simply bring productivity improvements; it helps to retain young talented employees. Forrester Research highlighted that younger generations want connectivity. Of those that are part of generation Y (aged 18-28), 82 per cent own a mobile phone, 72 per cent send text messages regularly and over 90 per cent own a PC1. The research also concluded that technology and connectivity is embedded in everything the younger generation does. Older generations apply it specifically. Meeting the expectations of this new breed demands convergence with simple usability. Innovation in business operations When you control your own mobile network you can use it to its greatest effect. For example, companies can send mass text alerts to the workforce. Specific teams could receive a voicemail from a team leader at the start of the day. The applications of GSM FMC technology stretch to a wide variety of sectors. Retail is a good case in point. The retail sector With a private mobile network, retailers can differentiate their services, providing special offers to loyal customers. It is even possible to segment the service by store and region. Imagine if every retail employee could have a mobile. The possibilities for the sector and its customers are vast. Previously, the industry often struggled on with just one desk phone per branch. This meant the store manager was often tied to the office and not operations, certainly not the best way to deal with customers. FMC can empower all workers with mobiles and thus improve productivity. Alerts informing employees of stock shortages, branch visits and urgent product recalls are all popular applications. Combining the solution with customer relationship management (CRM) and queuing technology allows colleagues to recognise the value of customers in a queue. In a retail bank, you would not want a high value mortgage customer waiting for 20 minutes. With appropriate FMC solutions, you could automatically prompt colleagues to prevent this. FMC is a major breakthrough. It gives users the freedom to be productive on the move, and offers business the chance to reduce costs. This has not always been the experience of WiFi based systems. We now enter a period where picocells combined with the correct engineering know-how and the appropriate fixed data network can enable FMC simply. Anyone who wishes to follow the lead and offer this service will need to ensure they have the four key parts of the jigsaw in place: suitable GSM spectrum, a national GSM roaming agreement, a cutting edge next-generation fixed network and a state of the art GSM platform.