UC – FMC usurper or saviour?

As enterprises move through their comms journey, should FMC still be on the cards, or has it been beaten to the budget post by other more compelling technologies?

Fixed Mobile Convergence (FMC) – essentially the process of bringing together fixed and wireless technologies to offer service through one handset has been around for a while. However, as yet it has failed to set the business world alight. Part of this failure may be attributed to lack of an optimum working environment in which FMC could truly thrive. Intuitively, FMC is best suited to a high mobility environment. While mobile workforces have existed for a number of years, in the form of sales and field staff out on the road, for example, it is only relatively recently that mobility has been brought more into the overall business processes, and the need for really true mobility has ramped up across many organisations, as workers become more mobile and dispersed. Additionally, implementing FMC within the business can be a daunting prospect, particularly when deciding exactly what FMC should look like, where it should reside, and what it should deliver. To expand on this point, FMC has a number of different flavours, including merging office and mobile numbers onto one handset (twinning), and dual mode – using WiFi enabled phones to take advantage of the corporate Wifi network to both improve coverage and reduce costs. This alone is not without its problems, as many company wireless networks are not able to handle the extra burden of voice calls, and would require extensive upgrades.

As a result of these factors, FMC has typically been seen as a nice to have rather than essential, and securing budget against this has been difficult. Moving forward, however, potential drivers for FMC services are the high and growing proportion of outgoing business calls that involve mobile, even when a fixed line is readily available, and the increasing degree of mobility required. Supporting this results in higher costs to the business and is putting added pressure on communications budgets. This will only get worse over time, as the need for mobility spreads within businesses, making it essential for companies to look at ways of dealing with spiralling costs.

But has the driver come too late for FMC? Already, we are seeing increasing take up and interest in complementary technologies such as Unified Communications, which provides integration of different types of communications, such as voice, email, instant messaging, audio and videoconferencing, within a common interface, in real-time, and which lay the foundation for a compelling migration path for businesses, as opposed to just providing enhanced flexibility to voice. Both FMC and UC serve a similar purpose in that they both deal with the issue of fragmented communications, and do not directly compete in terms of what they deliver. However, given the much broader reach of UC, in a world of tightly controlled costs, and ensuring implementations that are relevant to the business and deliver significant benefits, UC could just have the edge. Of course, UC has suffered in the past from being misunderstood, but companies are gradually beginning to get to grips with what it is all about along, with the benefits it brings.

Maybe, but maybe not, given the need for increased mobility, mobilising UC applications is where businesses will probably see the biggest impact, as UC allows everyone in the business to benefit from more streamlined, collaborative communications. In particular, UC will allow mobile users the benefits of integrated presence, messaging and conferencing facilities previously not easily available to them. Given this shift, and the cost issue associated with increased mobility requirements already mentioned, FMC clearly has a part to play in the UC stack, and provides a good opportunity for market players to revisit their offerings. Providers such as Avaya, with its oneX Mobile UC offering, along with its recent partnering with dual mode mobile UC player DiVitas networks, are already tuned into this fact. There are still issues to be resolved, however. With the DiVitas solution for example, the one key UC feature not yet available is that of presence, although this is on the cards for the near future. Similarly, there are issues with handsets – most notably a lack of support for Blackberry, which will doubtless irk many businesses. And of course, there is still the earlier mentioned issue of how the wireless LAN handles the increased voice traffic – something which has to be addressed by the business. Clearly from a user perspective, these are not necessarily paltry, but equally, they not insurmountable, and any decision will need to balance these ’cons’ against the potential benefits.

Issues aside, FMC provides an enhancement to the UC stack that has the potential to increase the overall value of the investment – in particular by reducing pressure on call costs, businesses will be able to better embrace the UC applications that will in turn, drive productivity. While FMC might not be a primary consideration for businesses moving forward with UC, it does provide a natural fit, and it is worth seriously considering the extent to which it can be incorporated and the associated benefits it will bring.

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