Cheaper calls through convergence — ComReg

30 Aug 2006

Emerging technology that uses a combination of mobile and wireless networks could offer cheaper phone calls to consumers, the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) has said.

In a briefing note issued as part of the regulator’s forward-looking programme, it offered an update on developments in Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) technology, explaining how providers could potentially deliver services using a mix of standard mobile technology and unlicensed wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi.

This could allow consumers to make and receive low-cost fixed calls while in their homes or in the office, as well as standard mobile services while out and about, all on the same handset. According to ComReg, this technology is now available and is being rolled out by telecoms operators in some countries.

“UMA potentially allows users to access low-cost VoIP [voice over internet protocol] calling while in certain places (eg, at home, in the office, at a wireless hotspot) using the same handset that they use while out and about for their mobile GSM communications,” the briefing note said.

Comreg noted that having a single handset for low cost ‘home’ calls and mobile calls, with all calls appearing on a single bill, would be “desirable for business users and home consumers alike”.

Some new equipment would be needed to avail of UMA services (also known as generic access services). A special base station attached to a broadband connection must be installed wherever the UMA coverage is needed, such as the consumer’s home or a business office. The device for taking and making calls would be a combination of a home cordless phone and a mobile handset.

However, just because the technology is available is no guarantee of success, ComReg warned. Commercial offers that deliver customers the same value using existing technologies, such as home-zone services, or family and friends bundles, are already developing the market for fixed and mobile convergence services. This could make it difficult for UMA solutions to gain a foothold, the briefing note said.

ComReg also pointed out that mobile and fixed operators could view this kind of fixed and mobile convergence (FMC) as an opportunity and a threat, but it said that UMA and other FMC technologies have the potential to stimulate competition in the market through new services.

By Gordon Smith