BT's mobile-cum-VoIP phones: Ready for business

Leeds the way
Written by Jo Best, Contributor

Leeds the way

BT's Fusion service - where one device acts as both landline and mobile phone - is about a year old in the consumer market. Now, the telco is letting it loose in the corporate world under the cunning title BT Corporate Fusion.

Using fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) tech, BT's Corporate Fusion will allow business customers to use their phones as normal GSM mobiles when out and about and switch to routing their calls over wi-fi once they get inside their premises.

BT's dual-mode service is currently being trialled with Leeds City Council, with two of its premises getting involved in the project.

Adrian Fegan, head of ICT Operations at Leeds City Council, said adopting FMC is a critical part of the council's voice strategy.

He said the technology increases operational efficiency by cutting telecoms spending - a key consideration for an organisation funded by the taxpayer. And added that it gives the council the opportunity to be more responsive as employees can be both mobile and contactable.

BT Corporate Fusion is scheduled to go live in the UK in Q4 and the telco plans to bring the service to a number of other European countries from early next year. Pricing for the service and the new Nokia handsets expected to be added to the Fusion portfolio are yet to be announced.

Take-up of the Fusion service has been lacklustre in the consumer market, with just 30,000 BT customers signing up to get their converged services. Analysts believe BT will have an easier ride selling FMC to the enterprise, however.

According to Yankee Group senior analyst Nicholas McQuire, small businesses in particular could prove fertile ground for FMC. "Overall it's a good move for BT, the question is what the service wrap and pricing plan will be and how they'll market it. In the residential space, there perhaps wasn't the real requirement for dual-mode," he said.

Mark Newman, chief research officer at analyst Informa Telecoms & Media, added: "The relationship [the telco] has with large enterprises means BT is extremely well placed to offer mobility. It really depends on how a business manages its mobile communications. If it's controlled by the CIO and it's forced down, it's quite appropriate. If it's highly decentralised, there might be some resistance."

BT itself has hinted that decentralised telecoms could be a problem for Corporate Fusion users.

Tom Craig, BT's president of IP networking, told silicon.com that if the LAN used to carry Fusion's VoIP calls is not managed by BT "there is a design risk". He added, however, that businesses often pick BT for the job, calling it the "path of least resistance".

More banana skins may lurk for BT - what of corporate users' demands for advanced data and telephony services, which could be a problem with so few devices? Yankee Group's McQuire said: "[Corporate Fusion] will pull BT more into doing those solutions, which they don't have a history of doing. The applications are key and BT will need to think beyond that." Email could indeed be a problem, with BlackBerry-maker RIM calling dual-mode "half-baked".

However, BT currently has the first-mover advantage, with no other telco in the UK having launched a dual-mode service.

Not for long, however. Cable & Wireless has bought a spectrum licence and is already running trials of an FMC service on its own campus, with a pilot project to be launched at a customer's campus this autumn.

Jim Marsh, UK CEO of C&W, has been coming out with fighting talk, saying the company will get the drop on its rival in the FMC market.

He told silicon.com: "We're approaching it in a different way. We have got customers who have given us all of their telecommunications needs and we're going back to them and saying 'here is a way you, our customers, can get better service for your employees and save money'. Why wouldn't they?

"We're not going to hit market with a massive PR campaign and a funky new name, we're going to say, here's a way to get better service for cheaper."

silicon.com's Gemma Simpson contributed to this report

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