Telcos urged to ditch homezone restrictions

26 Sep 2006

Telecom operators intent on providing fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) services such as homezones should not limit consumers to just one or two handsets but should open consumers up to a variety of choices, an Ovum analyst said yesterday.

Ovum principal analyst John Delaney was commenting on the news that Orange and France Telecom will be unveiling an FMC service called Unik next month. He described the lack of a choice of more than three handsets is a weakness.

“It has the same weaknesses of the other current FMC offerings on the market or in development. These include a very limited handset choice and lack of true seamlessness in network handover,” said Delaney. “So long as the inherent drawbacks of current FMC implementations remain, I believe that Orange is unlikely to be any more ‘unique’ in terms of customer uptake than in any other characteristic of its FMC service.”

Orange’s new Unik service will be launched on 6 October in France and will then be extended to other European markets, including the Netherlands, UK (where it will be called Unique), Spain and Poland.

The hybrid phone will support voice over IP calls when in Wi-Fi coverage and GSM calls when not. Orange France customers will use their regular mobile number for the service. Two handsets will be available at launch, the Nokia 6136 and Samsung P200, followed by the Motorola A910 in November.

Delaney labelled the FMC as something of a bandwagon that various operators are jumping on. The Orange service joins BT’s ‘Fusion’, Deutsche Telekom’s ‘T-One’ and Telecom Italia’s ‘Unica’ in the line-up of fixed-line incumbents’ bids to reverse the current trend for voice minutes to migrate from fixed to mobile networks.

At present the idea of homezone services is a tantalising one for mobile operators like Vodafone and O2 in the Irish marketplace. In recent months the Commission for Communications Regulation published a consultation on homezone services.

Delaney said the approaches taken by Orange and BT don’t compare favourably with a more open approach by Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile in terms of homezone tariffs.

“With these offerings customer can have any (mobile) phone they want and seamlessness is not an issue because no network handover takes place. Such fixed-mobile substitution (FMS) services have racked up some impressive subscriber figures. T-Mobile, for instance, reported that seven months after the launch of its ‘@Home’ service, it signed up 700,000 customers.

“Contrast this performance with that of FMC. In May, nine months after launch, BT’s ‘Fusion’ was reported to have about 30,000 customers. Telecom Italia’s ‘Unica’ is limited by regulation to 30,000 customers for the first six months after launch. And although it is too soon for Deutsche Telekom to release any customer figures for ‘T-One’, I do not expect them to be significantly more impressive.”

By John Kennedy