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You Say Convergence, I Say...

In the three days I attended the Mobile and Wireless World conference in Orlando last week, I heard the term "convergence" uttered maybe two or three times – and usually in reference to converging voice and data networks, not in the sense more usual in the telecom industry, where "convergence" refers to unifying fixed voice networks with mobile ones.

Today, IDC released a report which finds that "enterprise telecom managers believe 28% of their employees are using their mobile phone as their primary work phone." Some commentators have seized on this nugget to claim that "Fixed-mobile convergence is gaining pace." It's true, in the sense that mobile workers – in their real-world workaday habits – are forcing a shotgun wedding of cellular services with conventional landline PBXs.

A closer look at the IDC survey, however, finds that fixed-mobile convergence in the way it's usually understood – a technology-driven hybrid in which calls are handed off seamlessly from landlines to 802.11-based wireless networks to the wider cellular system – is not what's gaining pace.

In fact, Nora Freedman, research analyst with IDC's Enterprise Networks group, found that IT managers are actually grappling with a de facto arrangement that's the opposite of the unified communications infrastructure described above. Enterprise IT departments, she writes, are "searching for solutions that extend enterprise PBX and desktop phone functionality out to mobile devices, further enabling employees to work everywhere and anywhere while the enterprise retains control over phone numbers and other calling policies."

In other words, in the absence of a single seamless architecture for enterprise communications, IT managers are purchasing (or devising) stopgap measures that grant some measure of management over heterogeneous, employee-managed mobile devices that "are outside the reach of policy and security control."

What that means for the IT directors and CTOs gathered in Orlando is that, while "fixed-mobile convergence" in its ultimate, unified sense may be a nice goal, it's hardly at the top of their to-do lists. Enabling and empowering mobile workers while meeting the organization's need for strong policies and management is far more urgent.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

daniel.taylor 12/5/2012 | 3:52:55 AM
re: You Say Convergence, I Say... It's refreshing to read a discussion that moves past the fundamental assumption of enterprise fixed-mobile convergence. That assumption, driven largely from the supply side, has been that enterprise IT departments wish to reduce their cellular expenditures.

Freedman's work, and Martin's piece here both address the reality of the marketplace. IT management is resigned to the presence of the cellular telephone and is seeking to provide enterprise services on that device. There are a number of vendors working on this precise issue, and solutions are already in the marketplace.

It's nice to move past this faulty assumption, because fixed-mobile integration is the practical application of the wandering family of convergence technologies.
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