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Wireless Propagator: BT: FMC Across the Pond

Over the holidays I kept busy reading the news reviews of 2006 and predictions for 2007. Don't worry, I won't subject to you to my own top-10 list, but I will confirm that FMC (fixed-mobile convergence) is on it. If your e-mail inbox is anything like mine, there won't be a day this year on which the term 'FMC' won't pop up in some newsletter.

Earlier last year I mentioned BT's enterprise fixed-mobile convergence offering. At that time, it wasn't fully developed. Over the past few weeks there has been an abundance of news concerning BT's consumer and SME-focused Fusion, so I thought I had better catch up with Rakesh Mahajan, BT's director of mobility, and get an update.

BT's FMC service is labeled Fusion, but it's actually made up of three market segments. The first two, consumer and SME, are served by BT Retail and offered only to the U.K. market. The consumer version, made available in mid-2005, provides residential customers a mobile phone that uses GSM cellular outside and Bluetooth in the home. One number rings customers wherever they are, and when a customer is at home, calls can be originated from the associated mobile phone for the same price as a regular landline call. BT provides a Bluetooth access point and the customer is required to have both a BT landline and its broadband service. Initially available on only one phone, the Motorola v560, Motorola's RAZR v3 has since been added.

Just last week an updated version of BT's Fusion for consumers was announced. It substitutes Wi-Fi for Bluetooth, and three new Wi-Fi-capable handsets were introduced: the Nokia 6136 and Motorola A910, both available now, and the Samsung P200, which is on the way. Additionally, access to the FMC service was extended from just the home to BT's OpenZone, a national network of over 7,800 Wi-Fi hotspots. The advantage of using the Wi-Fi connection over the cellular is reduced airtime costs: You can talk four minutes on the Wi-Fi network for every minute of the cellular plan's network minutes. Both the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi versions use UMA to connect back to a GSM core.

Introduced in mid-December, the SME version of BT Fusion functions essentially the same way as its consumer Wi-Fi version. Targeted at smaller businesses, there's no PBX integration, but it does offer a larger broadband pipe that's less over-subscribed than typical residential service. Plus, it includes a free data bundle that includes 20 megabytes per month of GPRS data. This service is geared to small but highly mobile companies that desire single-number access but want to avoid the high per-minute rates of cellular airtime when employees are in the office.

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