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Fixed-mobile convergence could solve UC services gap

With fixed-mobile convergence, enterprises might finally have a way to ensure their employees have full access to UC services on their mobile devices.

For years, enterprises have faced a problem with their business phone systems: Employees prefer to make calls on their mobile phones. This creates a number of issues, among them:

  • Employees sharing their personal phone numbers and using personal devices for business communications, such as texting.
  • Lack of integration between personal calling and messaging with CRM systems.
  • No compliance controls, which can put regulated companies at risk of fine or legal action.
  • Inability to display a company name as the source of the mobile call.

Up until recently, unified communications (UC) providers attempted to extend their services to mobile devices by offering a variety of features, including call forwarding of business calls to mobile devices or provisioning of mobile apps to company-owned or personal mobile phones.

These apps are typically optimized for mobile devices but provide users with full access to calling, messaging and even video meeting features. But, for many users, having to open a mobile UC app to place a call is a bridge too far. Instead, individuals find it easier to simply place a call using the native calling app on their mobile devices, creating the concerns listed above. A 2020 Metrigy study of 525 companies, for example, reflected how few employees used mobile UC apps to make calls. Though almost half of companies had deployed mobile apps, fewer than 6% of employees used them for calling.

But, for many users, having to open a mobile UC app to place a call is a bridge too far. Instead, individuals find it easier to simply place a call using the native calling app on their mobile devices.

Erasing the barriers between networks

Enter fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) for UC. In a nutshell, FMC erases the barriers between fixed and mobile networks. In an ideal world, with FMC, employees can use the native dialer and messaging applications on either their personal or company-provisioned phone to place calls and to send messages, with full integration with the enterprise UC platform.

Until recently, FMC options haven't been widely available. That is now changing. Vendors such as Microsoft (Teams Phone Mobile) and Cisco (Webex Go) now offer FMC services, as do service providers AT&T (Cisco) and Verizon (Microsoft) in the United States. In Europe, Enreach offers FMC as part of its UC as a service (UCaaS) platform. For customers that only need calling, Verizon offers One Talk, which supports mobile, softphone and desktop phones.

Strong buyer interest

FMC interest is growing, according to a Metrigy study published in 2023. The "Workplace Collaboration: 2023-24" global study of 440 companies found that almost 37% planned to deploy FMC, with another 32.6% currently evaluating future deployment.

Chart showing how organizations plan to adopt fixed-mobile convergence.
Organizations are evaluating fixed-mobile convergence services.

FMC use cases

Fixed-mobile convergence for UC can be used in a number of situations, including the following:

  • Replacement of desktop phones with mobile phones, potentially saving money in hardware and support.
  • Field workers who need a mobile-first option.
  • Mobile workers within facilities, ranging from factories to hospitals to warehouses, who aren't tethered to a desk.
A new era of fixed-mobile convergence for UC

Evaluating FMC

IT and business leaders evaluating FMC should be aware of a number of concerns:

  • Replacing desktop phones with mobile phones requires that mobile phones are usable in all office locations. This may require investment in wireless infrastructure to ensure adequate cellular signal strength or that devices can support Wi-Fi calling.
  • Current FMC services do not provide the same level of 911 location and notification support required of nonmobile VoIP services. For instance, a 911 call made from a FMC device is handled by the mobile carrier, does not generate notification to on-site personnel as required by Kari's Law and may not potentially provide a dispatchable location as required by RAY BAUM's Act. Should an employee in a secure building use a mobile phone to call 911, there is a risk that security personnel are not aware of the call or don't know the location of the call, thus thwarting the responsiveness of emergency workers.
  • FMC feature sets vary. Some support text messaging; some don't. Some enable users to configure their personal mobile devices as business phones. Others require a dedicated mobile phone configured to support a UCaaS provider's service.
  • Calling plan prices are highly variable. Some providers charge extra for FMC support; others include it with existing business calling plans.

FMC lets companies extend existing calling and messaging services to the devices employees primarily use for their communications needs and to do so while meeting business security and policy needs.

Evaluate FMC based on cost and features. But keep in mind the potential limitations of emergency calling capabilities and the need to ensure adequate signal strength throughout your organization's facilities.

Irwin Lazar is president and principal analyst at Metrigy, where he leads coverage on the digital workplace. His research focus includes unified communications, VoIP, video conferencing and team collaboration.

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