Fixed-mobile convergence held back in Ireland

16 Jun 2005

Because of the ongoing issues surrounding Ireland’s dismal local loop unbundling (LLU) performance and the fact that the two main mobile operators are blocking the advent of mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), Ireland could miss out on the latest fixed-to-mobile convergence trend, a spokesperson for BT Ireland warned.

At a high-profile press event in London yesterday, BT launched the world’s first combined fixed and mobile phone service entitled BT Fusion, combining broadband with mobile.

BT Fusion works just like a mobile phone when you are out and about, but switches automatically and seamlessly onto a BT Broadband line when you get home. The service can offer customers significant savings by allowing calls to landline numbers to be charged at BT landline rates of 5.5p for up to an hour for all off-peak calls and 3p a minute at peak times. For example, a BT Fusion 10-minute off-peak rate mobile call from home will cost up to 95pc less than the same call using a typical mobile competitor package.

Calls over broadband in the home mean users can make a mobile call but with the quality of a fixed line and worry less about the signal being lost or dropping out. A recent survey of BT Broadband customers revealed that as many as 19pc had experienced problems with mobile coverage in the home.

Ryan Jarvis, chief of convergence products at BT Group, told that the company is launching the service with the Motorola V560 and will also be launching a service based on the Motorola RAZR device with Wi-Fi devices set to follow. The company is also working with Samsung and Nokia on Fusion fixed-to-mobile convergence products.

Jarvis explained that a special access point installed in the home uses Bluetooth wireless technology to switch the BT Fusion handset seamlessly to the broadband line, even in mid-call. “BT Fusion is really about fusing the broadband service with the mobile service; about having a single device and being able switch seamlessly over the mobile network to get low prices. It is about having the best of both worlds.

“This is a ground-breaking development and just the start of things coming down the line. We are planning a particular range of products for SOHO workers and we are going to deploy more business-oriented tariffs as well as a high-end corporate product. Convergence is at the heart of what BT is about right now, from the consumer up to the biggest corporate customer,” Jarvis said.

A spokesperson for BT in Ireland warned, however, that without the advent of MVNOs and the resolving of the ongoing LLU crisis Irish consumers will be unable to take advantage of developments in fixed-to-mobile convergence. Both Vodafone and O2 are resisting MVNOs through a complicated legal process whereby hosting MVNOs is not a part of their license agreement. The LLU case between ComReg and Eircom is also awaiting an outcome in the High Court.

The BT spokesperson said that fixed-to-mobile convergence is on top of the agenda of Irish corporates and for this reason it is vital it can provide such services. “We aim to be one of the first out of the trap when the MVNO issue has been decided,” the spokesperson said.

Ryan Jarvis acknowledged that without LLU or an MVNO agreement products such as Fusion can’t be launched in the Irish market by licensed operators like BT, despite the fact that incumbent operator Eircom is a member of the Fixed Mobile Convergence Alliance. “I can’t comment on the Irish market. However, we are seeing convergence being rolled out aggressively in other marketplaces.”

By John Kennedy