A hot topic among wireline and wireless carriers as well as those considering IP multimedia subsystems is “converged services,” or the ability to deliver identical voice and data services across several networks and devices.
The underlying infrastructure is starting to develop, but consumer-friendly devices aren’t finding their way into the market as quickly as it might be hoped. Today, the ultimate personal communication/computing device is the cell phone, which is, for now, tied to a single network. T-Mobile Hotspot@Home
While other devices start to catch up, cellular handsets that also operate on Wi-Fi are now the leading edge of converged devices. The first commercial application in the US is T-Mobile USA’s Hotspot@Home, which is under trials in the Seattle area.
To use the Hotspot@Home
service, customers need a T-Mobile-supplied Wi-Fi router and one of the available cellular/Wi-Fi handsets. The phones automatically switch to Wi-Fi operation when within range of their home Wi-Fi network or any of T-Mobile’s hotspot locations. Calls made over Wi-Fi are free and have no domestic long distance charges. Consumers Say: Services, not Technology
A recent survey by In-Stat found near complete indifference to the technologies underlying converged services. Of the 1,002 respondents, 31% were interested in cellular/Wi-Fi handoffs and as many as 39% were interested (and 34% were not) in a converged cellular Wi-Fi device.
It was the services that are enabled by converged devices that really got the attention of the survey respondents, though. When asked whether they would be interested in getting landline rates when using their cell phones at home — the basis for T-Mobile’s Hotspot@Home offering — the interest was unprecedented; 56% were extremely or very interested. Only one in eight were not at all interested in special pricing when at home. What It Means: Convergence Is A Means To An End
Despite the wishes of so many of us who are involved with the technology industry, consumers, even early adopters, have little interest in technology unless it provides tangible, measurable benefits.
When it comes to converged handsets and infrastructure, consumers yawn. However, there is great excitement about the pricing benefits that carriers could potentially offer.
It’s also interesting to note that the service in which consumers are most interested—home-zone pricing—does not require a converged Wi-Fi/cellular phone at all. The same pricing plan could be offered by using location services that identify when a cellular user is close to home, something Vodafone Germany does with its popular 3G ZuHause (“at home”) service. So-called “femtocells,” miniature cell sites, could also provide at-home pricing, although that technology is not yet commercially well-developed.
The crucial lesson here is that technology should be considered as a way to provide customers what they want and are willing to pay for. There are a number of ways to provide home-zone pricing and cellular/Wi-Fi convergence is only one of them. In-Stat’s December 2006 report Consumer Demand for Cellular/Wi-Fi Services (#IN0602912MCM) provides greater detail about converged technologies and draws on three different large-scale surveys as well as reviews converged technologies and carrier offerings, including T-Mobile’s Hotspot@Home available online at: http://email.in-stat.com/cgi-bin4/DM/y/h4OF0HWMdu0K560DwUn0En