F/MC Watch: A Consumer-Oriented Approach

The first fixed/mobile convergence (F/MC) solutions—which allow calls to move seamlessly between different types of phone networks—were marketed to mobile carriers, who, with one exception, failed to see commercial value in the technology and have not adopted it.

More recently, F/MC solutions aimed at business have appeared, and the technology seems to taking root in that environment.

But now, a Canadian CLEC and VoIP service provider, Iristel Inc., has found a way to bring the benefits of F/MC to consumers – independent of the “major” carriers.

While Iristel’s IP Mobility service is available only in the places where Iristel is licensed to operate telephony infrastructure—which does not include the U.S. or the rest of North America—we see the service as a harbinger of things to come.

VoIPplanet.com recently spoke with Iristel’s president and CEO, Samer Bichay, to get the details.

“This IP Mobility service that we’re launching is basically a ‘single-number-reach’ concept,” Bichay said initially, “but there’s also a lot of logic and a lot of technology that’s running behind the scenes.”

Iristel is actually offering two different levels of Mobility service depending on whether or not you subscribe to the company’s “dial-tone” service (that is, whether Iristel is your primary telephony provider).

For those who rely on other providers for their basic service, whether it’s Bell or Telus or Vonage, Iristel IP Mobility provides both single-number-reach and fixed/mobile convergence—in this case between cellular mobile and wire-line service.

To make this happen, Iristel provides the customer with a phone number that’s associated with one of its switches. This could be a new number, provided by Iristel, or an existing number ported over from another provider. That number then rings all the ‘registered devices’ (mobile phone and wire-line desk phone) when a call comes in.

Once a call is connected through Iristel’s switch, it can be handed over between the networks of the customer’s primary providers.

“You initiate a call in the car, while you’re driving,” said Bishay, by way of illustration. “You get to the office—or your home office—and you don’t want to waste your air time or your battery life any more, so you hop the call to your landline. But you don’t want to interrupt that call, so we actually allow you to hop the call seamlessly—carrier independent—from one network to another to continue your conversation.”

That’s Iristel’s F/MC at work, and as far as we know, it’s the only solution that will bridge the networks of multiple third party phone providers. And, by the way, the call hopping works both ways: You can hop from the landline to your mobile phone just as easily.

And keep in mind that these services are independent of your phone provider—supplementing and enhancing that provider’s (or those providers’) services.

“Now, if you were to get dial-tone service from us, it makes it a more interesting scenario,” Bishay said.

“Because now, instead of it being just a virtual dummy number without a phone line attached to it, it has a phone line attached to it. And it doesn’t have to be just a static phone line like a Bell line sitting at your desk or your office, it can actually be a Wi-Fi VoIP phone, integrated with your GSM line, and you can actually make and receive calls via hotspots anywhere in the world as part of your basic subscription.”

Hotspot-based long-distance voice-over-Wi-Fi calls are naturally a fraction of the cost of normal long distance—especially mobile. But Iristel’s F/MC capabilities can be brought to bear with Wi-Fi VoIP as well.

“For example, you’re traveling in the UK somewhere, you’re in a hotspot in a hotel,” Bishay explained. “You have your [dual-mode] Iristel IP Mobility phone with a prepaid SIM—most people buy a prepaid SIM when they travel, to avoid roaming charges, as much as possible. So, you’re leaving the hotel now, and you want to hop your call from your Wi-Fi site to your prepaid SIM. You can do that seamlessly as you’re walking out of that hotspot—only starting the air-time charges when the call is activated on that SIM card—without any roaming, basically.”

Iristel carries a variety of phones, including several Wi-Fi-only models. The IP Mobility service is built around the dual-mode Nokia E61i, which supports both GSM and Wi-Fi.

“In roughly a month’s time we’re also going to be able to support CDMA on the SIM, so we’ll be doing GSM, CDMA, and IP all on the same device. At that point you can take advantage of [carriers that use] a CDMA type network.”

For the time being, Iristel’s IP Mobility service is only available in Canada, Romania, and Dominica (Dominique). VoIPplanet asked Bishay what the prospects were for rolling this out in the U.S. He reminded us that, due to different regulatory structures in each of the 50 states, rolling out a nationwide telecom service offering is a Herculean task.

However, he assured us that the company is “open to partnering with someone that is a CLEC there that wants to integrate this technology.”

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