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BT Fusion gets Wi-Fi upgrade

Small firms can now use BT's converged mobile devices at Openzone hot spots, Wireless Cities and British Airways lounges
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

BT's fixed-mobile convergence system, Fusion, has now gone Wi-Fi, effectively linking it up with the provider's UK hot spots, municipal wireless networks and — potentially — global hot spots.

Whereas previous versions of BT Fusion relied on Bluetooth for wireless connectivity, the telecommunications firm's upgraded small business offering is based on Wi-Fi, which offers better range and higher bandwidth than Bluetooth.

The idea of fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) services such as Fusion is that, when the mobile handset is in the office or home and thus sufficiently close to the user's broadband connection, it will route calls through that connection rather than via the cellular network. Using a short-range wireless connection in this way brings cost savings to the user and generates only one bill for fixed and mobile communications.

A spokesperson for BT told ZDNet UK on Thursday that the switch to Wi-Fi — which will also be made available soon for the home version of BT Fusion — will make the non-cellular service accessible outside of the office as well.

"Instead of it just giving you a cheap rate call at home, it can now give you a cheaper call at all the 2,000 BT Openzone hot spots and all the Wireless Cities that we're developing as well," the spokesperson said. The Wireless Cities initiative, announced six months ago, will see municipal Wi-Fi extended across the centres of 12 UK cities by the end of the financial year, with the services being rolled out and managed by BT.

The new range of Fusion handsets include the Nokia 6136, the Motorola A910 and soon the Samsung P200, and will also work at any BT hot spots in British Airways lounges around the world. In the future, they should also, like laptops, work on BT's 30,000 hot spots around the world. However, this would be subject to roaming agreements with the countries concerned, said BT's spokesperson.

Wi-Fi is notorious for quickly draining power from handsets. But the BT spokesperson maintained that the devices being distributed would have battery life of at least one day. Upcoming alternatives to BT's method of FMC include private mobile networks, which should avoid this kind of problem.

BT claims that pricing for the service will start at £15 per month, handset included, for businesses that combine the Fusion service with the BT Business One Plan, a triple-play package for mobile, fixed and broadband. The operator also said that an hour's talktime in the office or at an Openzone hot spot would cost only 5p for calls to landlines, 15p for calls to BT mobiles, and 25p for calls to other UK mobiles.

Calls made outside Wi-Fi connectivity are capped at 25p for up to 60 minutes. A monthly GPRS data allowance of 20Mb is also included.

BT Retail also issued new financial guidance to investors on Thursday, claiming that the current financial year will see earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) growth in the teens and further growth in 2007/8, "in contrast to market expectations".

The company also provided a breakdown of its constituent businesses for the first time. Apparently BT Retail has annual revenues of £8.5bn and EBITDA of £738m. BT Business, BT Enterprises and BT Ireland account for nearly 60 percent of that EBITDA, with the remainder coming from the consumer business.

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