Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Converging on divergence

Late last year I wrote a couple of times, both here and in notes to clients, that it would be interesting to observe how nominally "integrated" telcos would spin the convergence topic in 2006, because for such companies it highlights fundamental organizational silos with irreconcilable conflicts. Here's one case (I can't find an English version on the site, though I was emailed one earlier today). In the press release, T-Mobile Germany's MD remarks, "Our sister company within the Group, T-Com, has provided us with a great deal of support in the development of T-Mobile@home, which is one of the major convergence products of Deutsche Telekom."

Now, this is an add-on service for T-Mobile customers, under which they can make discounted calls to the fixed network within a 2km radius of home (by now a familiar scenario in Germany, which makes a product like this inevitable for T-Mobile) for an additional €4.95 per month. Within the defined home zone, it also offers a fixed line charge for the calling party on incoming calls, and for Friends & Family numbers within the home zone, calls are free when using speed dialling. Moreover, a second SIM in a separate handset dedicated to a "HomePhone" function, bearing a fixed line phone number, operates like a sort of PBX, ringing up to two other handsets within the 2km home zone.

All of this sounds really cool, but I'm not sure it's necessarily a converged service as such. No doubt, there's some fancy signalling going on between the fixed and mobile networks, and I assume that the two are sharing incoming call revenue to the fixed number (or maybe it's all going to the fixed unit as a political concession, or perhaps T-Mobile is simply buying numbers from T-Com - I will have to check this out). However, it seems like precisely the sort of thing that would make even the most stalwart T-Com customer seriously consider ditching the fixed line for good. I guess the one saving grace is that German broadband is 98% ADSL (despite increasing aggression from the cable players), so for the foreseeable future, anyone with an interest in an internet connection is going to be stuck with a copper line. On the other hand, and this is going to be interesting to watch, I feel that products like this and the UMA offerings (some variant of which T-Com will also introduce) are going to drive consumers to increasingly question the rationale for continuing to pay a PSTN subscription in order to get broadband.

In the DT example, if my mobile phone can be used or called at fixed line pricing within my home zone, on the basis of a fixed line number which maps to my mobile, then what the hell do I need a real fixed line connection for? If two units of the same company are working together to deliver the service, and I am a customer of both, then aren't they to some extent selling me the same thing twice? In the case of BT Fusion, if my mobile handset and my broadband connection are working together to give me fixed line pricing at home, then isn't my PSTN number redundant (perhaps with the exception of incoming calls - but that should be my choice). It was highly professional of the T-Mobile executive to give propers to T-Com in the press release, but I smell trouble ahead.

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