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Orange brings converged service to table

The first competition in the convergence space is likely to kick off in November, with both BT and France Telecom’s mobile unit Orange introducing similar products at the same time.

Mobile operator Orange gave details on its forthcoming fixed mobile convergence service Monday, which will allow its customers to use a mobile handset to make calls over broadband.

While not first in the UK, Unique is the first service of its type to arrive since BT’s Fusion offering.

Initially, Orange will have three handsets to choose from – the Motorola A910, Nokia 6136 and the Samsung P200. When at home, the mobile handset connects via wi-fi to the Orange Livebox hub and calls are routed via the internet. Outside of the ‘home zone’ the handset routes calls via Orange’s mobile network.

BT’s Fusion service works on a similar premise – the technology is known as Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) – but to date, Fusion has only been able to offer “home zone” calls over Bluetooth, as wi-fi-enabled handsets are not yet available.

But BT has previously said it will roll out the Motorola A910 as soon as it becomes available, which means competition in the UMA space is likely to kick off proper in November, when both operators launch similar services.

Orange also plans to launch the service to its customers in France, the Netherlands, Spain and Poland at the same time as the UK.

BT meanwhile, is expected to introduce the corporate version of its Fusion service in Italy in early 2007, followed by a phased international roll out in Germany, Benelux, Spain and France.

But speaking to telcoms.com earlier this year Carrie Pawsey, telecoms analyst at Ovum, said that BT’s Fusion still faces issues such as billing integration with Vodafone, BT’s cellular partner.

Through its integration with France Telecom, Orange’s Unique customers will receive a single bill from Orange for converged calls and broadband access.

But on a side note, analysts believe that UMA offerings have been hamstrung by a lack of available handsets, as BT’s long wait for a wi-fi-enabled device testifies.

In the interim, other operators such as Telefonica Moviles, which have gone down the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) route to drive their wireless VoIP strategy look set to steam ahead in the future.

Although UMA is 3GPP standards-based, SIP and IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) implementations are thought to have a longer term and much clearer evolutionary roadmap.

Ovum analyst John Delaney also lambasted the current trend towards FMC services as nothing more than a bandwagon technology, with a very limited handset choice, and lack of true seamlessness in network handover.

FMC service subscriptions are dwarfed by comparison to ‘home zone’ services, which benefit from fixed mobile substitution and allow subscribers to make cheap mobile calls from the cell their house is in.

“With these offerings, customer can have any (mobile) phone they want, and seamlessness is not an issue because no network handover takes place,” said Delaney. And subscriber uptake has been significant. T-Mobile, for instance, reported that seven months after the launch of its @Home service, it signed up 700,000 customers.

By way of contrast, in May, nine months after launch, BT’s Fusion was reported to have about 30,000 customers.


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