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BT Talks Up FMCA

Add another name to the endless list of industry talking shops: BT Group plc (NYSE: BTY; London: BTA) has officially launched the Fixed-Mobile Convergence Alliance (FMCA). (See Carriers Join Convergence Alliance.)

BT, Brasil Telecom SA, and KT Corp. have been joined by NTT Communications Corp., Rogers Wireless Communications Inc. (NYSE: RCN; Toronto: RCM), and Swisscom AG (NYSE: SCM) as founder members. The announcement comes barely a month after BT denied speculation that it was more than a party of three (see BT Denies Convergence Backing).

“This is a landmark moment in the transition of telecom,” declares Ryan Jarvis, (soundbite) chairman of the alliance and chief of mobile products and partnerships at BT. “Convergence, though long heralded and long talked about, is finally beginning to happen.”

So can we expect a revolutionary organization that will set the standard for converged communications?

The FMCA, not to be confused with the YMCA (or the FCMA, which Swisscom did in its press release) is “a very practical alliance,” according to Jarvis, that will “promote convergence products and accelerate market adoption.” So, it’s a marketing body then.

The alliance plans to “meet directly with handset vendors, sharing our plans and being very explicit about what we want.” Several of the operators have already developed their convergence strategies, and are looking for support and hand holding to speed up their entry into the market.

Customer demand for converged services has created a new market, Jarvis says, and “there will certainly be telcos that move to convergence only.” The alliance represents a large number of those customers, with a joint base of 122 million fixed network and 23 million mobile subscribers.

The FMCA will address multiple devices, including handsets, laptops, and PDAs, that will enable customers to connect to all of their services via Bluetooth and later, WLAN. The devices will connect to fixed networks when the user is at home or in the office, and switch to wireless once they are outside.

The actual standards work is being done separately. BT has also announced that it’s delaying the launch of its Bluephone project to work with Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), LM Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERICY), and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) on a fixed-mobile standard, Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA). (See BT Completes Convergence Trial.)

As convergence gains momentum, several different factions are beginning to appear. France Telecom SA (NYSE: FTE) and Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) announced this week they have started their own little party to research next-generation networks (see France Telecom, Deutsche Telekom Sign MOU)

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is also developing standards that will cover fixed-wireless convergence (see ITU Puts Convergence Center Stage and ETSI Drives Convergence Standard)

The FMCA hasn’t revealed whether it will collaborate with other standards bodies, and is keeping discussions with potential members under wraps, although it says that another 15 operators have expressed their interest in joining.

— Nicole Willing, Reporter, Light Reading

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