BT planning Fusion phone for business

The telco claims the business version of its Fusion fixed and mobile handset will be based around Wi-Fi

BT plans to launch a voice-over-IP version of its Fusion fixed and mobile convergence service for enterprises next year when it expects to have sorted out existing technical and billing challenges.

The initiative, which is being run as a separate project to the original Bluephone aka Fusion programme, will be based around WiFi/SIP dual mode handsets that can hand calls over across multiple access points scattered throughout the organisation.

SIP, the session initiation protocol, is a signalling technology used for locating remote users and establishing interactive communications.

Steven Evans, the chief executive of BT Mobile, explained how the VoIP version of Fusion will work: “Your IP PBX would have a number of pico or radio cells hanging off it and each would have an access point at the centre. These radio cells might have less functionality than the hubs launched on Wednesday because in an enterprise, you might have six to 20 pico radio cells and they wouldn’t need Ethernet.”

The current Fusion hubs include Ethernet ports, and support for WiFi Unlicensed Mobile Access, which enables subscribers to roam between cellular networks and unlicensed wireless networks such as Bluetooth. They will, in future, also support WiFi SIP.

“Once you get to WiFi SIP, you’re essentially offering VoIP, although you can break out from that onto PSTN and mobile as required,” said Evans.

But he added that the reason why the VoIP version would not appear until 2006 was the challenge in getting “radio, switching and PBX technology to work together. This is a critical path item and so ultimately decides when we can bring it to market”.

Another less critical issue, however, is integrated billing. While customers will currently receive a separate bill for Fusion on top of their existing broadband one, Evans considers the ability to offer enterprise customers a single bill as essential.

“As far as enterprises are concerned, they want integrated billing. In the consumer market and the low end of the business market, it’s not a pre-requisite because people are used to having different bills, but in the enterprise, I don’t think you’ve got that luxury,” he said.

Over the next 12 months, BT expects to see “as much potential from the small business market as the consumer one” for its existing version of Fusion, particularly in organisations with up to six staff in the retail or professional services space, for example, estate agents.

Evans said that the telco would come out with more specific small business-oriented packages and pricing in September, when Fusion becomes generally available. New pricing options are likely to include monthly subscriptions, business rate calls and bigger bundles of shared minutes.