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Thursday, August 17, 2006

T-Com's dual-mode offer.... actually, I think it's on the right track

I noticed a couple of posts from Andy Abramson and Richard Statsny about the new FMC dual-mode offer from T-Com in Germany, based on their custom-made TC300 handset.

Richard & Andy are pretty ambivalent about the proposition, referring to it as "fake FMC" because it uses call forwarding, and essentially combines two separate services (a mobile phone, and a fixed-VoIP connection with a "cordless" handset) in one device, rather than a one-number, one-service device of the type proposed by UMA enthusiasts.

I'll take a contrarian stance. I actually think this (along with NeufCegetel's attempt in France) is closer to the leading edge of FMC/dual-mode than some other propositions. It's about taking a home broadband service + VoIP + SIP, and leveraging the handset's form-factor by adding on cellular, rather than vice-versa (taking a cellular service, and leveraging broadband by adding on cheap local WLAN connectivity).

It uses two numbers rather than one - a distinct advantage in markets like Germany where there is a very low penetration of outbound cellular calls vs fixed, and very high fixed-to-mobile termination fees. Nobody wants to call from a fixed-line phone to their friend's mobile number at an extortionate rate per minute - they'd much rather call a fixed-line number. This is why the established German "Cellular HomeZone" services, like O2 Genion and Vodafone ZuHause also feature dual numbers.

The device itself is quite sleek - certainly among the nicest/smallest dual-mode phones out there. I understand that T-Com actually got a proper industrial designer to create a "want one" shape & look, and it shows. The corollary is that it's too small/light to feature a big battery, so I can quite believe that using WiFi drains the battery. (Someone told me the handset is made by FoxConn in Taiwan, but I haven't had confirmation of this).

It doesn't feature "seamless roaming". Big deal. This is one of those things that gets attention FAR beyond its actual importance. People will use it on what, 5% of calls? At best, it's a nice-to-have. At worst, it's a distraction. Sure, in the long term it's important, but for early dual-mode services, it should be priority #17.

In my view, T-Com has made a sensible decision to prioritise the introduction of SIP, rather than get sucked into the "roaming by any means" philosophy by hitching themselves to the dead-but-still-warm UMA.

Speaking to T-Com, my understanding is that this is definitely pitched as an initial, basic, entry-level phone. It's a "new" WLAN home cordless phone, which also has a cellular connection. Coming from the fixed/IP side of the Deutsche Telekom, it has good WLAN pedigree features like WPA2. No, it doesn't have whizzy mobile-phone colour & camera & multimedia.... but who cares? It looks quite cool, and that makes up for its lacking megapixels. There will apparently be follow-ons using handsets from Nokia's N-Series or others coming in the future.

Even more clever is T-Com's ability to sell the product into non-broadband homes. It can act just as a "WLAN cordless phone" attached to an ordinary PSTN (or ISDN, this is Germany...) line, again doubling as a basic cellphone when out & about.

Instead of hooking everything back to a mobile HLR & seeing the WLAN as a cellular "extension", it uses a mobility management function located in the T-Com fixed network, almost using the T-Mobile network as a sort of "internal MVNO" rather than having a fully-integrated network core. It's a very fixed-network operator view of FMC, and one that I think makes a lot of sense. To my mind, FMC is a great tool for the more aggressive fixed/IP/broadband/VoIP service providers looking to re-substitute minutes from the lazier, legacy, IP-phobic mobile operators.

Overall, I rate this pretty highly as a first attempt at FMC. It will be interesting to see what T-Com's 2nd and 3rd iterations are like, especially as Deutsche Telekom moves to a converged core network over time.

1 comment:

Martin Geddes said...

No only that, but it also preserve the price discrimination effect of landline vs mobile, and isn't very suitable for enterprises (again, price discrimination between user classes). One phone/one number makes the operator economics worse, not better.