Despite the amorphous name, Fixed Mobile Convergence, or FMC for those in the know, is perhaps the sexiest new thing to come along...if it ever gets here.
Beyond the hype and more than just a technology flash in the trend pan, FMC (sounding like marketing moniker made up by a bunch of big company wonks) will have legs, long legs. And carriers are taking it very seriously.
For lack of a better description (if you ask 10 people what FMC is you'll get 10 different answers), here's a working definition:
Fixed-Mobile convergence is the delivery of communications services based on a combination of fixed and wireless technologies
The basic idea is to give users the ability to make phone calls using any type of network access - be it cellular, VoIP, Wi-Fi, etc.
Most of the attention has focused on the new dual-mode phones (cellular/Wi-Fi) quickly coming out. Carriers are franticly working on ways to switch (on the fly) a cell phone call onto a Wi-Fi network (without the user knowing). Doing this helps them do three important things:
- broaden the footprint and reach of their network and services at a relatively low cost
- augment and improve coverage into buildings
- increase subscriber "stickiness"
The rub, however, is end-to-end management. With Wi-Fi, carriers lose the ability to control service quality over the last 100 feet. Today with traditional POTS, cellular service and even broadband VoIP, carriers can control and manage phone calls. But with FMC, and Wi-Fi, this all goes out the window. Here are some of the problems with conventional Wi-Fi when trying to support voice in the home:
- Best effort only with no traffic prioritization
- The RF spectrum is unmanaged
- The Vo-Fi radius is unpredictable and small
- There's no control over signal path selection
- No synchronization between the AP and handset to optimize battery like
- Omni-directional antenna subject to interference
- No integrated QoS
And next gen 802.11n does not benefit applications that really need consistent delivery of short frames -- like Voice over IP. With voice, as with other real-time media and applications, more bandwidth isn’t the issue; stable, predictable connectivity is the issue.
Smart Wi-Fi was developed to solve these exact problems giving carriers the ability to control and manage the last 100 Wi-Fi feet (email me and I'll send you a decent white paper).
Ultimately, residential Wi-Fi faces a myriad of technical challenges that make performance hard to predict, much less control. When it comes to voice delivery, consistency and reliability are critical. Improvements like MIMO and 802.11n will not make the situation any better for voice -- in fact, higher-throughput data will increases airwave competition and interference.
Carriers must deploy reliable wireless transport that can deliver predictable QoS in a typical home environment.Choosing the right CPE will be critical to satisfy consumer expectations and compete effectively in this lucrative growth market. To do so, carriers must understand factors that influence Vo-Fi QoS and look for innovations that address this application’s needs. APs that not only support WMM, but deal effectively with physical challenges that are a deal-breaker for voice, are far more likely to deliver carrier-grade voice inside the home – and happy subscribers.
If Wi-Fi can be made more predictable, it's the ideal solution in the home for wireless Internet access, IPTV and FMC. The ultimate triple play.