Fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) is a concept to be applauded and if it achieves its aims, it is set to make all our lives easier.  The noble aim of FMC is to marry the convenience of mobile with the high quality and speed of fixed line communications.

The basic promise of FMC is that when a mobile handset is in the office or home the phone will route calls through the existing landline or broadband connection rather than via the mobile network. When a user is away from the home/broadband connection, calls get routed over the mobile network. By linking (or converging) the two it is expected that cost savings can be delivered to the user and only one bill for fixed and mobile communications will be created.

Although not too many providers are actually converging fixed-line and mobile access technologies, a large numbers of service providers including NTL/Virgin Media are ‘converging’ their fixed, mobile and broadband offering under a single brand. The goal is that providers become a one-stop shop for communications services, which in turn gives customers the simplicity of a single bill.

Even at this level, service providers are well aware of the challenges inherent in bringing together so many different offerings under one umbrella and the headaches involved in trying to consolidate a multitude of OSS/BSS platforms.

But despite the effort, the benefit of a single bill is limited, providing only a minimal benefit to the consumer. This is why many triple- and quad-play providers have had to offer massive discounts in order to attract even a respectable level of interest in their offerings.

What consumers want is value for money, simplicity of billing and the simplicity of being able to use the same handset wherever they are sounds like a real bonus. It is these elements that the operators must deliver, with or without FMC. This is what consumers really care about. They certainly don’t care about convergence and how a call is routed and do not want to fiddle with settings every time a call needs to be placed.

Service providers therefore need to focus on providing value and convenience to the user to stay true to the real benefits of FMC. If FMC is to be successful, operators should not disappoint consumers by overselling or underdelivering its service offering.

FMC is not about bundling different services together. It relies on the collaboration between a number of technologies, which to date operated somewhat independently – similar to a jigsaw coming together. This is true not just for fixed and mobile operators, but also for equipment and handset manufacturers. As a result, FMC is taking place in different stages and coping with all these complexities has been an uphill task for the OSS/BSS piece of the jigsaw.

BT Fusion, one of the first FMC offerings in the market, has experienced teething problems such as a shortage of WiFi handsets and take up numbers have so far been slow. A user needs to be in range of a BT OpenZone or have a HomeHub to use the service – this may have caused potential users to shy away. As BT has no mobile network of its own, it has had to rely on its large WiFi network to divert voice traffic onto an IP network.

As the problems of BT have revealed, setting up an FMC solution can require substantial investment in networks, in the OSS/BSS platforms and dual mode handsets (WiFi/GSM), resulting in long lead times and delaying the commercial launch of the service.

While the industry resolves the difficulties of FMC, service providers would be wise to look at alternative ways of providing a similar service to customers without throwing out existing OSS/BSS platforms.

One way to achieve this could be to use existing mobile networks and offer cheaper calls at specific locations, for example when a user is at home. Location based technologies on mobiles are now accurate and reliable enough to set up a specific ‘zone’ for consumers whereby they can set different tariffs for the customer – dependent upon a caller’s location.

Technology exists to make this work with existing 2G/3G handsets with no need for network adaptation, feeding the relevant data directly to existing billing systems. When a user moves outside the established zone, be that their home or office, the handset sends an SMS to the server to update the new status – and this new status is also made available to downstream systems such as billing.

This architecture gives operators a greater level of flexibility to develop new and more cost effective tariffs based on a user’s location within predefined zones – without the OSS/BSS complexities.

Operators cannot afford OSS/BSS roadblocks, or any other delays, if they are to keep customers from churning. To prevent defections, service providers need to look at other technologies that will allow them to offer the benefits of Fixed-Mobile Convergence now, so consumers do not feel let down.

Update: this post has been featured at FindTech Insights.