A new fixed-mobile convergence system for establishing private mobile phone networks was unveiled on Tuesday.
The system — launched by Private Mobile Networks (PMN), a wholly-owned subsidiary of enterprise telephony software company TeleWare — is the first to take advantage of the low-powered GSM spectrum auctioned by Ofcom in April of this year.
Steve Haworth, TeleWare's group director, told ZDNet UK that the network could be deployed simply using one laptop and one picocell — a small, low-powered GSM transmitter.
"You can plug this mobile network into the back of any PBX [private branch exchange], or it could be delivered as part of a hosted network," Haworth said on Tuesday.
The hosted option, which is due at the end of March next year, is expected to be particularly suited to smaller businesses. Standalone installations for larger corporations will become available in January.
One advantage of such a system is that it does not require any investment in new handsets, as the network is entirely GSM-based. Other fixed-mobile convergence systems tend to use Internet Protocol (IP) handsets connecting with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, as demonstrated in BT's domestic Fusion offering.
A converged fixed-mobile system should allow companies to cut down on their phone bills. Mobile calls made while in the office will be routed through the local IP connection rather than an external carrier, then seamlessly switched to the carrier's network when outside the office. This solves the problem of poor in-building GSM coverage, and could saves on call costs by up to 40 percent.
But Haworth suggested the system's true merit lay in its assimilation with the functionality of an enterprise PBX — such as integrated voicemail, access to company directories, inbound and outbound call recording and call hold and transfer.
"If you just look at it as a way of getting cheap phone calls then the value diminishes," said Haworth.
Analyst Dean Bubley of Disruptive Analysis told ZDNet UK that TeleWare was better placed than its potential competitors to introduce such a scheme, due to its history of working with enterprise customers.
"It is going to be easier, coming from enterprise telephony, to add mobile than doing it the other way round," Bubley said, adding that the system's reliance on legacy GSM handsets was another key advantage.
PMN's operations director, Dean Parsons, said TeleWare's aim had been to create "no user experience", meaning the user would not notice a transition between micro and macro networks.
He also claimed PMN could reduce roaming costs by between 40 and 60 percent, as the phones are able to use a callback feature to route calls through the company IP connection even while in another country. However, the callback facility can only be used for voice, leaving the issue of data roaming charges unaddressed for now.
Parsons even suggested that there might be some income, which could offset some infrastructure costs, to be gained by outside callers ringing a phone on the PMN system. PMN has its own "intelligent number range" and all GSM phone networks are permitted to levy a mobile termination charge for receiving calls. The details of such a scheme will be negotiated with the system integrators who will resell the product, Parsons said.
A pilot installation of the system is already operational in one university, said Parsons, and the company is working with the Ministry of Defence in areas with poor or no GSM coverage.
Teleware paid just over £1m for the spectrum, which resides in the 1781.7-1785.0 MHz band, paired with 1876.7-1880.0 MHz, although Haworth suggested that PMN may seek partnerships with some of the other winners in Ofcom's auction.
These include BT, Mapesbury Communications, Cable&Wireless, Colt Mobile, Cyberpress, FMS Solutions, O2, Opal, PLDT, Shyam Telecom and Spring Mobil.