Thursday, December 06, 2007

TI Changes Horses

As reported by Unstrung Wednesday, Telecom Italia (TI) has shelved its UMA-based Unica service offer in favor of a ‘home grown’ SIP-based solution.

The article goes on to say that TI is re-launching Unica using a SIP client available on one phone, the Nokia E65. Ironic since the UMA-based Unica service was thought to have a ‘limited availability of handsets.

The new service is part of TI’s quad-play push. My Italian is a bit rusty, but after reviewing the web site, I believe that subscribers of the new Unica service must have TI Mobile (TIM) GSM service, as well as TI’s fixed-line VoIP service Alice.

The new Unica service is about putting Alice on the E65 device.

It’s not the same

I believe this is a key element that was overlooked in the article and in TI’s decision. UMA-Unica and SIP-Unica are actually very different services.

The UMA version of Unica was about delivering mobile services over IP and broadband -- make the mobile service work better and cost less when the subscriber is indoors and connected via Wi-Fi. UMA is a mobile centric service for fixed-mobile substitution.

The SIP version of Unica is about putting a fixed-line VoIP service (Alice) on a handset. The subscriber ends up with two services on one phone. One is the traditional GSM service; the second makes the E65 behave like an in-home cordless phone for the Alice service. You won't find this service marketed on the Telecom Italia Mobile site, it's only on

In the end, the SIP-Unica service has no technical barrier to entry. Any user can download any SIP client onto any E65 device. TI has chosen to package this up into a service. This is the same business model as Truephone. From a regulatory perspective, any operator (actually any person) can provide the same service.

It’s clear the UMA and SIP versions are different services and will appeal to subscribers with different needs. The UMA-Unica comes from the mobile division, the SIP-Unica from the fixed division.

The bigger question is: what type of demand is there for a mobile phone with a fixed-line VoIP client? We all remember how successful T-One was.

A final thought

It’s clear UMA technically works and operators are deploying it successfully (Orange, T-Mobile, Telia,…). The problems with the UMA-Unica were not technology based. The issues with Unica were internal. Those watching the mobile market saw countless articles this year about TI’s unfortunate political struggles.

Changing the underlying technologies of the Unica service won’t solve the politics. In fact, putting the fixed division’s service on the mobile division’s device is likely to make things even more contentious.

What do you think?

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