Why Vendors Can't Sell FMC
The sale of dualmode handsets is a good measure of consumer and operator acceptance. The VP of business development for Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK)'s multimedia unit, Janne Kari, says his company has sold 347 million singlemode wireless handsets over the past year, but only about 39 million "convergence devices."
Kari says Asian operators are now rolling out dualmode services, that European operators are just getting going, and that North American ones have yet to seriously address the service. (See Deutsche Telekom Cancels FMC Service.)
Representatives from Nokia, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), BridgePort Networks Inc. , LongBoard Inc. , NewStep Networks Inc. , and Pirelli SpA (Milan: PECI.MI) have varying opinions on what might drive operators and consumers toward the technology in the future.
FMC services access resources on both wireline and wireless networks and can move content to fixed or wireless devices. The first FMC service is dualmode phone service, in which calls move back and forth between WiFi networks and cellular networks without interruption. Panelists here said future versions of dualmode will extend that voice capability to data and multimedia services.
The panelists here identified two main issues slowing down adoption of FMC services.
The first problem is IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS). Many large incumbent carriers are now trialing IMS technology and are faced with putting together an interim solution for offering dualmode services. To do this, many are using SIP-based technology to enable something called "voice call continuity" (VCC), which refers to a basic handoff between a cellular network and a WiFi network. The operators are considering an "enabling technology" -- just a stepping stone to more feature-rich IMS based services.
The second problem, at least in North America and Europe, is lack of consumer demand. In spite of some obvious benefits like cheaper phone bills and having one phone number and one address book for all networks, many consumers have no idea what FMC means or why it's good for them. The vendors represented here didn't seem well prepared to tell them.
"Consumers are waiting for you to tell us what we want," one audience member told Cisco's senior manager of the Linksys business, Tony Wan.
Wan says he thinks consumers will demand FMC applications that enable sharing multimedia content among cellphones, set-top boxes, and PCs. "When a WiFi phone comes into the home it should be a fully participating member of the home network," Wan says. "Content that is located in the home should be able to be shared with that device, whether that content is on a set-top box or a PC."
Wan believes consumers will ultimately demand FMC services because of their innovation, not because of their price. "Service providers need to move beyond the bundle," Wan says. "They need to move past services that are tied together but really don’t have much innovation."
Andre Moskal, CTO of NewStep Networks, says that consumers want FMC to enable voice services that are just simpler. Moskal says consumers want fewer phone numbers, one address book, and one central voicemail service. He says they want access to all these services from both their home and mobile phones.
With consumer wants unclear and IMS stuck in carrier labs, network operators focus on selling what they know. "The incumbents are just interesting in signing up new subscribers; that’s what they're all about," says LongBoard CTO Bill Leslie.
— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading