Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Just What Is Wireless Convergence?

Wireless convergence, from a customer point of view, means that:

"I have a device (handheld, portable,.. mobile) with no wires. This device is able to connect to the best wireless network available (WiFi, Wimax, GPRS, 3G, HSDPA). I can consumpt any product (music, video, messaging) that I've purchased, but the service is delivered adapted to the performance of my device (CPU, memory, storage) and the performance of the network: so it's seamless".

So that implies:

- Advanced devices. The question then becomes: Which player in the market is the natural provider for this device? Is it a mobile handset vendor, or a consumer electronic vendor or a computer/PDA vendor? Apple, HTC, Nokia, Samsung, Philips, everybody has a different point of view.

The goal of Wireless Convergence is to enable a single wireless device to interact seamlessly over multiple wireless networks. Clearly, this means that it is able to send the same bits over multiple kinds of wireless networks.

This is a fairly utopian dream if the complete wireless communication spectrum is considered as well as all kinds of wireless networks. There are so many technical issues that this can probably never be done.

Interestingly, there are many multi-radio devices available today commercially. However, they do not fall under this category, since the radios are used for different goals. Thus, the better way to look at it is to consider the similar but competing technologies and look for a method of convergence.

In reality there is no such thing as Wireless convergence.

Transmission media define the material that is used to enable the connectivity of the service .... and this can be wired or wireless.

There are services and applications that are portable across the devices that operate on these wired and wireless network .... which when employed with device adaptation can claim to offer a NGN but really all that we provide is terminal / device adaptation.

And there is the convergence of the industry specific applications offering terminal / device adaptation.

When people talk about wireless convergence they often mean the things mentioned above. They also often mean some form of multi-mode RF device that switches between the RF layers of the device in some intelligent sense, but this is not wireless convergence.

No, wireless convergence does not exist. It was dreamt up as a term in many boardrooms to describe many distinct phenomena, but usually it is better to describe each phenomena (and its distinct manifestation) rather than to encapsulate them under a convergence theme.

To really understand wireless convergence, it makes sense to look at what has happened to wireline services.

Early wireline was strictly voice, with some service enhancements (caller ID, voicemail, etc.) The internet changed that and soon we began looking to our wireline connections to do more. Early wireline providers such as AOL and Compuserve, provided full application and content to the users. Users were charged per minute usage rates for these services. As wireline services evolved, the ISP changed from content and application providers to simply internet connection providers. The model of running an application on the machine to access the internet (e.g. AOL's software) fell away and just about everything on the device (pc) began to use the connection. The old wireline services such as phone use is now falling away for VoIP services completing the transition to wireline becoming just a connection point and nothing more.

Wireless evolution is following this parallel, no longer are wireless providers a service provider, but instead they are network providers. Wireless used to be a per minute service, but many offer monthly unlimited plans now. The service platform is falling away as devices trend towards the smart-phone style platforms. No longer do we need MMode, HomeDecks, and other launching platforms that mimic AOL of the 90's.

In my opinion, the convergence will be complete when you purchase a wireless device only for the connection, and you are allowed to chose your own voice (and other service) providers ala cart. While cross technology devices (gsm/wifi/wimax) are a part of the evolution, I don't think they're required for convergence. And contrary to what some may say, UMA (unlicensed mobile access) is an excellent example of the handoff between network topologies that exists today.

Also in my opinion, the biggest roadblock to convergence is not the technology, it's the corporations involved. It's too difficult to let go of the service model as it's usually where the margins are the highest for the provider. But that is the price of combining technology evolution with making money. Someone has to pay for all of our new toys.

Convergence is, at the end of the day, a user accessing any content on any device on any network at any location. With next gen service delivery platforms that sit at the intersection of networks, applications, OSS/BSS systems, and subscribers, we are getting closer. There is extensive work being done, outside of IMS (another long stroy) that is working to standardize the services environment for platform/network interoperability. Of course, this assumes that subscriber data is transparent across networks and platforms, and is accessible by 3rd party app providers who are in partnership with the service providers. OTT/UGC is another issue altogether, not tied into convergence but tied into the business model.

Convergence will get here, just not in the time, shape, form, or way that is 100% of how we think it will get here.

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