BT's convergence con-Fusion

Convergence has great promise for telecommunications, but BT's new Fusion handset leaves most of that potential untouched

The launch of BT's Fusion handset has been widely trailed as an industry-changing event. At last, a mobile phone that works at home without touching the expensive mobile networks - one, moreover, that works over broadband. And everyone knows that broadband telephony is very cost effective, right?

Not in the world of BT, where Fusion calls from home to a landline cost as much as they do from any landline. Calls from home to a non-landline number - mobiles, 0800, 0845? Full mobile pricing.

Let's look at this for a second. In the worst case - you calling another Fusion phone when both ends are at their homes means paying mobile rates plus the monthly fee for a VoIP. What's more the call is being carried over a broadband service you're both already paying for - and, since that has to be BT Broadband, you're paying for fixed line rental as well. In other words, BT has got you to pay three times for a service that is normally too cheap to meter. The only convergence happening is the contents of your wallet converging with BT's bank account.

On top of that, you currently have no choice of phone -- more are promised, says BT -- with no picture messaging from home -- it'll work soon, says BT -- and no choice of broadband provider. Why so? Because it's a BT Broadband service and BT wants it to be a special treat for its customers only, says BT -- or, one might suspect, because it's easier to market such a dog to a captive audience.

The most frustrating part of BT Fusion is that convergence is clearly a good idea, especially in business where it should be an essential component in an integrated messaging environment that encourages new services alongside better cost control. Furthermore, it makes most sense where each component -- mobile network, broadband supplier, local hub and mobile phone -- can be selected individually, working together with standards such as Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) . More features, more choice, lower cost: now, that's a proposition.

BT Fusion as it stands fails miserably to match up to the potential of the technology. That's very disappointing, given the length of time BT's been working on this. The good news is that this leaves the market open for people who have the idea that a good product should give customers a good deal.