|Issue:||Europe I 2007|
|Topic:||The dimensions of convergence – simplification, control and innovation|
|Organisation:||Convergence Business Group, Alcatel-Lucent|
Jerome Albert is the CMO of the Convergence Business Group at Alcatel-Lucent. Mr Albert previously served as the Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Alcatel’s Mobile Communications Group. Before joining Alcatel he worked at the Bull Group where he was marketing and business development manager for the company’s distributed computing architecture solutions. Prior to that, Jérôme Albert served as a marketing consultant, assisting a small group of French high-technology start-ups in product launches, management of distribution channels and international business development activities. Jérôme Albert holds a Masters degree in the marketing of high technology-based products and services.
Converged communications services are gradually replacing existing systems. Connecting different services and devices, they bring the affordable, flexible services users need at home and in the office. At home, convergence brings – and interconnects – phone service, television, gaming and the Internet via fixed and wireless networks. At the office, next-generation converged systems reduce complexity and operating costs, make sophisticated home and office systems available to workers in the field, and offer a host of new business services to improve efficiency.
What do end users expect from communications services? They are looking for simplicity, diversity and practicality; both at home and in the office. Convergence, by connecting different services and devices, is the answer to their needs. There is no single killer application in this brave new world of convergence. Instead, it is a ‘cocktail’ of products and applications that will dominate the communications landscape. For end users, convergence is about enjoying blended lifestyle services that enrich their lives and help them to communicate better. It is about simplification, control and innovation. Convergence begins at home Convergent applications are appearing now, and the consumer electronics supporting them is arriving at the shops. Terminating the broadband connection to the house, the home gateway is the magic box that manages all the functions and facilities made possible by digital high-speed Internet protocol, IP, networks. All communication and entertainment devices – phones, televisions, gaming consoles, PCs, laptops, video and hi-fi equipment – will be connected to the gateway via fixed or wireless networks. Content will be accessed and played out on mobile or fixed screens anywhere in the house or anywhere within range of a wireless network. Convergence creates blended services by connecting what were disparate services and devices. Telcos, equipment manufacturers, software developers and systems integrators are putting the fun back into home entertainment by exploiting broadband digital IP networks and open-standard Internet web services. The ‘one phone’ dream Telephones are becoming more user-friendly. They are now feature-rich, multi-media access devices and distinctions between fixed and mobile networks, and the handsets that access them, are breaking down. New dual-mode, wired/wireless phones allow seamless switching of calls between networks according to whether the individual is out or at home. These phones will also be easy to personalise and people will have one ‘follow-me’ contact number for all communications – whether at home, work or on the move. In addition, people can mix and match services adding voice features to computers and televisions, and data/video functionality to phones. One real-world example is BT Fusion, a fixed/mobile service for residential customers that was launched in June 2005. BT Fusion users have a single phone that, when in the range of a special base station – the BT Hub – allows routing of incoming and outgoing calls through the hub instead of the mobile network. Up to six handsets can be configured to work with the BT Hub and up to three handsets can make calls at the same time. What about IMS? Convergence implies a user-centric environment that people can quickly, simply and dynamically tailor according to their personal preferences and that they may choose to share with a group. It is about easy and consistent access using the same systems/log-ins regardless of the device. IP Multimedia Subsystem, IMS, technology makes it easier for operators to upgrade networks to support converged applications and offer seamless interoperability between multimedia content. Since all user data is stored in a common location and provisioned from a single point it can be accessed by any device on any network. Real-time information about each connection makes it possible for users to create ‘buddy groups’, share information and add presence awareness (know who is available). In the television world, channel presence highlights who within the group is watching what and whether they are free to share experiences. Individuals can rate and recommend programmes, subscribe and comment on content either via personal on-screen avatars or by using the remote control to dial up and talk. In the world of mobile phones, presence awareness makes it possible to discover which member of a group is available or nearby. Mobile phones are ubiquitous but people want to control who can contact them and when. They want to create priority lists, manage messages and content, and dynamically switch profiles between personal and professional modes. Making it easy extends down to supply and billing. Cost conscious consumers are well informed, fickle and willing to exercise their options to switch if suppliers do not meet their needs. However, most prefer not to deal with numerous companies; they are more interested in a one-stop-shop approach and paying one bill from one provider capable of meeting all their communications needs. Offering converged services, with a superior quality of experience and attractive tariffs, will increase customer retention and make switching less desirable. Convergence in the office One of our recent surveys revealed that 96 per cent of employees cite communication tools as rather important or very important. The problem is too much of a good thing: 38 per cent of the workforce use five or more communication devices, 25 per cent receive more than ten office voicemails a day, and 72 per cent will need to reach someone urgently but won’t have their contact information on hand. A quarter of all employees spend at least 25 per cent of their time in meetings, then when they are free, must spend a lot of time sorting through messages. Fragmented access to communications in the workplace causes delay and reduces productivity. Convergent business applications can alleviate that pain by delivering a goodie bag full of new networks, platforms and applications – all designed to increase efficiency and functionality, while reducing the cost of doing business. Opening up a world of possibilities, easier to use converged solutions are gradually replacing existing systems as companies seek to save on running and maintaining separate networks for voice and data. Replacing traditional circuit switched systems with a single converged IP network carrying multimedia traffic is, however, a gradual process. Overlay networks, seamless upgrades and new managed services agreements protect investments and reduce the total cost of ownership while ensuring access to the latest technologies. Interoperability, flexibility, agility and linked communications are all important requirements. Next-generation converged architectures are designed to cut through complexity and reduce operating costs while supporting new, more efficient ways of working. Most companies have already taken the first evolutionary step by installing an IP-PBX to enable features such as Voice over IP, VoIP, and soft phones. Since soft phones can be configured from PCs, all ‘adds, drops and moves’ are a simple point and click operation. Multimedia calls can be initiated from desktops and, by clicking on icons or drop-down menus, people can share and amend files in real time. Installing web cameras adds video conferencing to the mix. Productivity is improved since employees spend less time away from their desks. Keeping in touch with remote or mobile workers is made easier by convergence, since they can be reached on one number and calls can be switched automatically between fixed and mobile networks. Instant messaging, emails, text messages, voice and video traffic can all be routed over any network and accessed by any device giving employees more ways of communicating. Individuals can configure the system and change when and how they can be contacted as their needs vary throughout the working day. Calls or text messages can be re-directed to other numbers, printed or read by a ‘personal assistant’. Priority lists can be created easily and diaries co-ordinated and shared between mobile and fixed devices to avoid duplication. Similar flexibility extends to creating new products and services. Since all applications are based on open standards, IP web services technology can be used to combine existing IT and Internet content into new, targeted applications quickly and cost effectively. Less structured and more dynamic converged platforms make it easier to find, use and share corporate data with different applications so designers can create, build and combine different open standard services and applications in new and exciting ways making them available via corporate intranets. Multimedia applications can be played out on, or accessed from, any fixed or mobile network or device. Contact centres already rely on converged IP applications and direct links into corporate databases to resolve customer enquiries quickly. If a call needs to be transferred, the appropriate information is available to avoid customers having to repeat details. Screen pop-ups display personal data related to each customer detailing their history – and, therefore, value to the company so agents can offer the right levels of service. Although the move to next-generation networks and converged ways of working is likely to be more of an evolution than a revolution, operating in an increasingly global and competitive economy, companies cannot afford to ignore these more flexible, efficient and cost-effective converged communications systems. From convergence to user-centric communications Largely uninterested in underlying technologies, people want easy-to-use and customisable devices, a single contact number, secure links and feature-rich services and content. Most people want innovative products, but few want to decipher complicated systems, duplicate and re-key their information or struggle with different ways of accessing that information. Convergence should address these challenges and deliver a superior quality of experience that makes technology more convenient and gives users more control, allowing them to create a secure and personalized communications environment that lets them use technology in the ways that suit them best.