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Friday, September 28, 2007

Enterprise FMC - 1 vs 2 numbers and SMS

A regular discussion I get dragged into concerns enterprise FMC and numbering. As per usual, many of the 'convergence utopia' slides & pitches I see have the phrase 'one number' prominently displayed. But it's worth delving into this a lot further to assess whether the a single number is actually wanted.... and what other knock-on implifications it might have.

It's worth putting some constraints and background facts up first:

  • In the US (where quite a high % of enterprise FMC vendors are based) there are no differences between fixed and mobile numbers

  • Elsewhere, especially Europe, mobile numbers are visibly different to fixed numbers, eg 07xxx

  • Most people prefer using mobile phones for many calls, especially outgoing calls where the phonebook is convenient. This varies a lot by function, country, age and individual preference, however. Call centre operators and receptionists don't use mobile devices for the most part, for example.

  • A large and increasing proportion of users use SMS for business applications. This comes as a shock to many, especially those from the US. It's typically used for 'casual' messages like 'In taxi. There in 5 mins' or 'Delays on tube, will call you when nearby' or 'Your meeting this afternoon has moved from Booth#1321 to Booth#432'. While it's not mission-critical as such, it has high convenience factor, lots of user inertia, and is much more likely to be received in many cases than email (which of your clients/colleagues have BlackBerries? are you sure?) or IM or even voicemail. But most people won't SMS to a fixed number as fixed-SMS functionality isn't widely understood or 'expected'. In fact many phones' SMS client software won't even allow you to text to a fixed number.

  • People almost never change the numbers in their handset's phonebook unless they absolutely have to.

  • Some calls are made to people, others are made to places. I don't want/expect a mobile number for my pizza, my doctor's surgery, or the customer support & billing department at my mobile operator. Apart from anything else, in some markets it can be seen as 'rude' to expect your customers to dial into a mobile number from a fixed-line when it's not necessary, as it costs much more owing to larger termination charges.

  • I think that not all countries have 'inclusive' cross-network minutes for mobile-to-mobile calls. Again, this increases the costs for your clients or suppliers to do business with you, rather than (say) an 0800 number or a fixed phone. Obviously if you're calling a field engineer or a salesperson or a plumber you expect them to be on their mobile - but many people (and their employers picking up the bill) will resent paying a 10x premium to call an 07xxx number for someone they know is at their desk or perhaps on shop floor.

  • Many workers will have a separate mobile phone for personal use anyway. They may well get a bucket of cheap minutes & not worry about getting reimbursed by their employer. If the user experience & convenience is better, they'll use that device for preference unless there's a harsh proscriptive policy 'use a personal phone & you're fired'.

All this means there's no easy answer. Leaving aside the oddity of the US numbering scheme, all 3 alternatives for FMC numbering have both positives & negatives:

  • One fixed number - allows the enterprise to 'own' the number, routes via the PBX with all its benefits... but has problems handling SMS and the fact that it's almost impossible to 'hide' the handset's real underlying mobile number - which of course will then be stored in their contacts' mobile phonebooks.
  • One mobile number - works quite well for certain roles where employees can conduct all their calls from a mobile. Doesn't work so well in contexts where existing PBXs must be integrated, or where there are reasons for wanting geographic numbers for sites or departments rather than individuals. Issues with inbound call costs, plus issues with how easy number portability is to manage in reality during churn. More difficult to do least-cost routing for enterprises to minimise internation call charges.
  • Mobile + fixed number - Solves the above problems, but possibly higher costs to administer, and makes 'reachability' more difficult. Made even trickier if the user also has a second mobile number for personal use or an email device.

Bottom line: there's no single right answer. It will vary according to geographic market, function(s) of the users concerned - and how proscriptive/flexible the employer is. What I think is the wrong answer is for any vendor to focus exclusively on any one of the above options, unless they have a very specific target niche in mind (eg small businesses in Scandinavia, perhaps).

As an interesting example, it's worth noting that Vodafone's enterprise FMC team have both fixed & mobile numbers on their business cards.


Scott said...

Hmm, I always preferred the US system (no syntactical / tokenizing difference btw mobile and landlines) to the European ones. Makes number portability a lot easier in any case! Also, since it costs me the same to dial any number from my landline (modulo long distance or local), no need to care. With most people having free nationwide long distance and lots of included minutes, it's no surprise that average MOU is much higher in the US than anywhere else I'm aware of... (And also no surprise that texting is not used as much, given the lack of cost advantage and the relatively late deployment of interoperator messaging.)

What I think are interesting services are things such as GrandCentral (recently purchased by Google) that overlay one number on a variety of numbers and automatically apply rules as to which inbound callers ring which actual terminals.

Liviou said...

in Europe the interconnect costs are much much higher to mobile than fix. This should be "fixed" before FMC can be widely deployed.

I think FMC will generalize together with VOIP. Indeed, VOIP is network agnostic. As long as an Internet connection is possible, being from a mobile phone, PDA, PC or fix phone (with an Analog Terminal Adaptor).

Services like Jaxtr, Fringe, Skipe already offer this convergence.
Likewise for texting. The good old SMS will die when ubiquitous Internet connectivity will be completed (HSPA, WiFi, WiMax + all fix access). Email and Instant Messaging will completely take over.

Rem to Scott: Texting is not only a matter of costs but also of culture. It serves different goals than voice call. SMS and email (and IM in some extend) are asynchronous communication. Its less intrusive and less real-time. It therefore nicely complement voice calls.

Frances said...

I live and work in Australia where Telstra (the incumbent) has just discontinued my OneNumber service. The main reason (they say) is not enough customers. In fact, the real reason (I suspect) was plain old interoperability. (Too many SS#7 sub-standards implemented by many parties!).

As a small business owner one really has to think about the cost of calls. Fixed-to-mobile call prices are unregulated in Australia, so the cost of a fixed call to another mobile network may be in the same price bracket as that to a small African nation! (I'm NOT kidding!!)

"Packaged minutes" are usually restricted to "on net" calls, so again, calls to another network leave one at the mercy of punitive interconnect charges.

I think FMC and converged solutions are a great idea, but as one VoIP operator said to me "Who pays for the interconnect charges?" The answer is obvious - the customer!

The US market also differs from many in that B party pays. This enforces a curious behaviour in that one almost NEVER gets to talk to a real person - you get their voice mail service, encouraging you to leave a message and they will call you back. Guess who pays? As a GSM roaming customer in the US, it gets even worse (they get me "coming and going" as it were) The international roaming charges and the B party mechanism amounted to a call costing me around $3.50 per minute (more than to a small African nation!!)

I usually give up at that point and ask them to call ME on a land line somewhere.