Wednesday, 26th June 2019
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Fixed Mobile Convergence and Unified Communications – the essential facts

Fixed mobile convergence (FMC) and unified communications (UC) have been talked about for years, but it is only recently with the advent of cloud-based technology options that the market for these has truly become viable, both for end users and service providers. Various surveys, reports and research studies exist providing evidence of market growth. According to industry analyst and research firm The Cavell Group, the total number of European cloud comms users will grow from 10 million users in 2018 to 29 million by 2023, representing over 21 per cent of the European market. In the UK, cloud communications is forecast to account for 33.41 per cent of employees by 2023. By Bertrand Pourcelot, MD - Centile Telecom Applications.

Removing the dependency on physical equipment has been a catalyst, enabling far greater flexibility and innovation, as well as opening up the market to more service providers, who do not need to own or build their own networks. Traditional IT, telecom – even energy utility resellers – are realising the vast potential of this market. However, it is not just new market entrants embracing cloud IP UC and FMC, but also existing or incumbent service providers (where present, existing SIP trunking relationships can be ported across).

For B2B end users, this means more choice than ever before, with service providers keen for their business. As a result, we are seeing more progressive thinking around pricing and more customised solutions. The flexibility of cloud technology also means that service providers can offer SMEs the kind of sophisticated telecoms that would previously have only been within the budget of much larger enterprise customers.

Apart from technology, another driver is the growing realisation among the industry and customers that the progressive switch-off of ISDN lines across Europe is forcing a rethink of voice and data comms. Moving to IP-based solutions will not be an option and rather than just replacing ‘like with like’ type services, the switch-off of ISDN gives everyone an opportunity to embrace new innovations, including more mobile-centric services, seamless integration with IT applications and true independence of device, network, app or platform.

Mobile first

Let’s look at each of these in more detail, starting with mobility. Traditionally, mobile has usually been a bolt-on or afterthought to a company’s comms services. That has all changed with the latest generation of cloud-based fixed mobile convergence (FMC) technology, which enables businesses of all kinds to adopt ‘mobile-first’ strategies. This makes sense, given that many workers are increasingly mobile, but even office-based workers use their mobile handsets a lot of the time. Within a decade, our mobile phones have gone from being a handy way to make phone calls to become mini ‘offices’, part of how we now carry much of our ‘lives’ around in our pockets.

Here is a good example of true FMC in action: a mobile worker could start a conference call in the car on the way to work, for that same call to seamlessly transfer from cellular to the office WiFi or fixed phone or conference phone without anyone on the call being aware of the transition. Users can also have one voice-mail across all services and devices, even a mobile number that acts as an extension of a PBX. That said, many organisations continue to choose desktop-based IP phones. Regardless of the route chosen, the user is at the heart of the experience, rather than having their comms dictated or limited by networks, applications and devices.

Users are in charge

Services like this can be augmented by presence-based controls, which put users in control of how and when they are accessible in real-time. For instance, they can opt for calls to go to voice mail, converted to an email message, or forwarded to a colleague. Team members can instantly see each other’s availability too.

Via a menu-style app on their handsets, they can share their location, availability and preferences to other users and that information can be integrated with their main business applications, such as CRM, collaboration systems or video-conferencing tools like Zoom. A ‘one touch’ experience means that they do not need to keep switching between different app views, lots of clicks, keystrokes or log-ins.

Buyer beware

While the theory all sounds very positive, there are some considerations that both end-users and service providers need to keep in mind. Here are some of them:

  1. Customisation and fit with existing IT environments – including solid interoperability and integrations with popular business applications, as well as flexible APIs that enable a business to integrate just about any technology into the UC or FMC environment
  2. Predictable and transparent pricing – with no hidden extras, such as maintenance charges
  3. Flexibility – for instance, some markets, such as education or hospitality, benefit from pricing plans that can adapt according to term times, seasonal peaks and occupancy
  4. Tailored to the user or market – cloud-based technology makes it possible for service providers to adapt services, for instance packages aimed at vertical markets, or SMEs that have overseas users who need to be included within the virtual comms network.
  5. Scalability and flexibility – able to grow with a business, plus to add (or remove) users easily
  6. Reliability and security – and a clear disaster-recovery and business continuity strategy
  7. Ease-of-use – this should be a given, but even these days, is not always the case. Minimal or no training should be required, all features should be intuitive and UIs visually simple (for instance, through use of icons), easy log-in processes.
  8. Handset strategies – does BYOD need to be accommodated? Can users get by with just mobiles, or do they need desktop handsets as well? What about softphones? What about native SIM support?
  9. Support services – there is a plethora of choice around UC and FMC in the market. While pricing and attractive packages are important, so is knowing that when there is a problem, there is a team somewhere in the background that can react quickly and get users back in action fast. Cloud-based enables self-service, but it does not mean that problems will not occur.
  10. Evolution – how regularly are features refreshed or new ones added? What is the technology road-map going forward?

Whatever the solution a business or its service provider chooses, there is no doubt that we are experiencing one of the fastest-changing periods of change in the telecoms world, perhaps since the advent of mobile networks back in the Eighties. The next few years will continue to bring more innovation and while it is difficult to predict exactly what the future will bring, for sure the traditional barriers that previously limited comms have been broken down. FMC and UC are no longer just a vision, they are well and truly here.

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