Monday, September 17, 2007

FMC Fading?... Depends on the market

Last week posted an article announcing that the “FMC hype is fading”. What they didn’t clarify in the title is that Yankee Group analyst Brian Kotlyar, who made the comment, was talking specifically about the enterprise.

For the enterprise: I agree. The hype around enterprise FMC is fading fast. That’s because enterprises and enterprise solution vendors alike are realizing that what enterprises really want from an FMC solution isn’t a PBX client on the phone, what they really want is the mobile to work better and cost less.

For regular readers of the blog, you will recall that all successful dual-mode handset services have been targeted at consumers. There has been talk about dual-mode services for the enterprise, but they have always missed the mark.

I was at lunch with a colleague the other day who works for an ‘enterprise’ solution provider. Being suppliers of FMC solutions to different markets (Kineto to mobile operators, my colleague to enterprises), we were able to compare notes.

The premise of the enterprise solution is that the enterprise FMC application is overlaid on top of a normal mobile/GSM phone service. There appear to be three basic benefits.

When in the enterprise, calls that come into the PBX are routed over Wi-Fi/VoIP to the handset. Thus employees are ‘mobile’ in the office. Second, when out of the office, calls to the PBX number are routed to the mobile so the employee is ‘always available’. I’m not sure that’s a benefit just yet, I get a lot of calls overnight to my desk number that I really don’t want ringing in my house in the middle of the night. Third, users have a corporate phone book with four digit dialing in the office or out.

While there were several things about their enterprise solution that struck me, two things really stood out:

First, when my colleague is out of the office in GSM, and a call comes into his desk number, the enterprise FMC controller has to hairpin that call out to the GSM network to ‘find’ the employee. The impact on the enterprise is high. Now a call to a PBX extension takes TWO trunk lines, one for the inbound call, one for the outbound call. Not exactly a ‘cost savings’ just yet.

Second, I noticed his phone was using the EDGE network to update/synchronize data with the server in the enterprise. I asked if he needed to get an unlimited data package on the phone. Yes, of course, but he already had the data package because the Nokia e61 he used was for email as well.

Again, I’m not sure where the savings is if an enterprise FMC solution requires users to get all you can eat data packages to enable the service.

It is said that only 20-30% of employees are mobile and have devices/service plans paid for by the enterprise. This is because they tend to be expensive devices (Nokia e61) which require expensive mobile plans (all you can eat data).

I thought the ‘target’ of enterprise FMC services was the ‘other’ 70%, people who could benefit from mobility in/around the office if it was more cost effective. But if the cost of unwiring the ‘other half’ includes the same expensive devices with the same expensive data plans, plus the added expense of an enterprise FMC controller and more PBX trunk lines, I’m not sure where the cost savings is going to come from to make it more affordable.

Analyst house the Yankee Group said this week that even though the publicity surrounding FMC is being succeeded by more recent developments, the technology still has strong potential to shake up the communications market for enterprise voice and mobility. But uptake will only be driven by shifting the focus to FMC's features, rather than its potential for cutting costs.

Focus on features rather than cost? To me, that sounds like trying to make the 20-30% of employees already with mobile service more productive, rather than trying to unwire the ‘other half’.

What would be a good way to get low cost, high performance wireless service to enterprise workers? Wait a minute, doesn’t T-Mobile offer ‘unlimited calling over Wi-Fi’ for just $10/month? But the phones, they must be expensive and costly, right? Well, the Nokia and Samsung handsets are $50 with a two year commitment. There must be an expensive calling packet required, right? No, the HotSpot @Home service is available as an add-on to any $40/month calling package.

Hummm... it looks like there already is a way to un-wire the ‘other half’ of enterprise workers.

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