AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - It will be years before the much-hyped blending of services that run seamlessly over both fixed and cell phone networks will allow consumers to communicate freely on any device, industry executives say.
Operators have trouble finding customers for combined deals offering fixed and mobile services, which are complicated to set up and lack choice in handsets, industry executives said at a convergence conference in Amsterdam that runs until Thursday.
Germany’s Deutsche Telekom this year scrapped its “T-One” product that allowed consumers to use a single device for cheap calls over a fixed line at home and its mobile network when away. It attracted only a few thousand users.
Neuf Cegetel CEO Jacques Veyrat told Reuters earlier this month that the number of customers of the French, predominantly fixed-line company’s so-called fixed-mobile offer was only a small part of its 150,000 cell phone clients.
Many operators that offer such a service see it simply as a way of binding customers closer to their fixed-line networks, and are reluctant to offer additional services that span other devices and networks.
“We’re offering nothing more than cost reduction at this time,” Sebastiao Boanerges Ribeiro of Brasil Telecom told the conference.
True convergence looks different, said Michel van Veen, business development manager with Cable & Wireless.
“My son uses games, instant messaging and video telephony. He doesn’t really care about the difference between a PC, a laptop or a mobile device. He wants to use services and he doesn’t understand why one will work on one device, and one on another,” Van Veen said.
“That’s true convergence, but it’s not available at the moment.”
But telecoms executives insist convergence is happening and that it can open new revenue streams, particularly with business clients.
Jonathan Collison, Director Convergence of Spanish-based Telefonica’s Czech O2 business, said corporate customers were asking for offers that combine fixed and mobile.
“The corporate world has a better idea what their drivers are — efficiency, improvements and cost,” he said.
ING analyst Damien Chew said companies already benefited from giving staff better access to their email and corporate networks from mobile devices.
A cell phone that can make calls through traditional networks as well as wireless Internet hotspots could save traveling staff a significant amount of money in international roaming charges, he said.
Converged networks, meanwhile, open new revenue streams, said Miguel Joaquim of Portuguese operator Sonaecom.
Joaquim said that providing the kind of functions that a company’s internal telephone system currently offers and integrating mobile services into it could become a billion-dollar market for telecoms companies.
“Imagine you have forgotten your mobile at home. You could then use a voice or web portal to forward your mobile calls to your office line,” he said.
One speaker after another at the Amsterdam conference urged telecoms operators to think less about technology and more about what customers want.
“Consumers don’t care about technology, they just want stuff to work — really,” Van Veen said.