You don't have to be a communications junkie to have picked up on the fact that BT is going mobile in a big way.
Numerous advertisements on station walls and in the press promote Fusion handsets — dual-mode devices designed to switch between the normal cellular network and Wi-Fi connections — for the home and for business. Although the initial Fusion devices were unattractive by current standards, newer models being introduced offer a more compelling mix of form and function.
The company is also the driving force behind the Wireless Cities initiative, which will see twelve urban centres across the UK turned into "hotzones", a widening of BT's existing Openzone Wi-Fi hotspot network.
It is also no secret that BT is pushing hard for spectrum to be made available for the long-distance wireless technology WiMax when Ofcom launches auctions later this year. At the recent 3GSM conference, some sources even suggested that BT regretted having pulled out of the mobile game by selling off BT Cellnet, now known as O2, and was in effect trying to roll out a new mobile network using unlicensed wireless spectrum instead of GSM or 3G.
Last week, ZDNet UK spoke with BT's head of mobility, Steve Andrews, to discuss these and other issues.
Q: BT has been increasingly busy in the mobile sector. What is your strategy?
A: The mobility strategy is focused on three core segments of the market: consumer, BT Business [for SMEs], and the corporate enterprise market. Our strategy is founded on building from a customer's requirement of always being connected. What we're aiming to do for our customers is allow them access to applications — services such as video and, of course, voice — in the office or out and about. What we want is that customers can always be in touch with whatever they want to do with a device.
To achieve that, we are wirelessly enabling, wherever possible, BT's fixed network. That means wirelessly enabling at particular places where customers are likely to have intensive communications.
And this is where Fusion comes in…?
The first part of our strategy has been a hub strategy for the house. We now have almost a million hubs installed in people's homes and offices, about 800k of which are consumer hubs. That means people can connect now to BT's broadband network wirelessly with a whole raft of devices.
We also extended our Openzone offer for applications and services to consumers, so you can take whatever you like doing at home out and about to thousands of locations. We are now extending our strategy to Wireless Cities.
The consumer offer is absolutely focused, given that we've got the infrastructure, to applications and services that are attractive to customers to use. We spent a lot of time working on making mobile phones broadband-centric with Fusion. There will this year be over a hundred Wi-Fi-enabled phones.
How many models will BT make available?
At the moment we are working through our ranging of how many BT will have — we are planning that now. The second thing is that you will start to see an increased focus on the applications, such as linking BT Vision and other services into our mobility platform.
In the enterprise area, we're doing a lot of work with Microsoft to allow Microsoft applications to be used out and about — email and VoIP-type services, IM and field force automation applications. We have a product that we've developed with Microsoft [the HTC Excalibur, or S620] — we're the first to integrate [SIP-enabled] VoIP into that.
We will also extend hosted email, which we already offer, to the mobility proposition. So push email for the Microsoft phone will come out with that phone, as will Windows Mobile 6.
One of the big problems with dual-mode handsets has been battery life, particularly when running power-hungry applications. Has this now improved?
The battery life is not bad but needs improving. We're still doing more work to improve it. For the launch, we will achieve the threshold of using it for a day, charging it at night-time. We also have extended battery packs in trial at the moment.
We have various segments of the market that we're pursuing with mobility. We will have field force automation applications...