Following successful trials of Wi-Fi/mobile phone convergence last year, services are likely to be rolled out commercially in 2006, new research has predicted.
Analyst firm Frost & Sullivan noted that, with fixed-to-mobile convergence underway and fixed and mobile services set to merge, the question in the industry is whether absolute power in the telecoms world will reside with fixed providers or mobile carriers.
The debate is not only about the sector most likely to win and implement the business models to support their strategies, but which technologies are available to support the new services.
Fixed/mobile convergence is very beneficial for mobile carriers as it enables them to continue their fixed-to-mobile substitution.
Such services will allow users to connect to Wi-Fi networks, countering issues such as poor indoor coverage, and offer mobile carriers the chance to charge less compared to voice calls, Frost & Sullivan pointed out.
But fixed line providers also benefit as they aim to reduce fixed-to-mobile substitution. This is possible when fixed line operators enable users to connect to public hotspots on a dual-mode client device, thereby overcoming the mobility factor.
"In the battle for dominance in the communications industry, mobile carriers fear that converged solutions could have a negative impact on their voice revenues," said Luke Thomas, senior telecoms research analyst at Frost & Sullivan.
"This has forced them to opt for Unlicensed Mobile Access [UMA] technology. Fixed-line providers, on the other hand, have chosen an approach centring on IP Multimedia Subsystem [IPMS] and Session Initiation Protocol [SIP]."
UMA is a legacy-based system for GSM service providers and creates a 'back tunnel' to applications running on their core networks.
An IPMS/SIP approach enables both voice and data applications to run over IP, rather than locking it into the mobile carriers' legacy networks.
Thomas explained that, although UMA did not initially support SIP, both SIP and IPMS can now be deployed on top of UMA.
The analyst believes that the use of SIP over UMA is "plausible" as a short-term fix, since UMA is part of the access network and independent of IMS, thereby making it incapable of providing a fully-fledged IP solution.
Although using UMA dual-mode handsets in connecting to a Wi-Fi network offers users a differentiated service, Frost & Sullivan believes that it will only attract customers if it is cheaper than a voice call.
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