After writing about Motorola’s work with Danish telco TeliaSonera, I decided I needed to do a little more research on how operators are delivering fixed-mobile convergence (FMC). For years I’ve heard people talk about IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) as the basis for FMC services. Since IP voice is just made up of packets like any other IP data, the idea with FMC is that you’d be able to access phone calls on any IP device and manipulate the voice data to do things like record and tag conversations, convert voicemails to text for email delivery, and sort and search the content of archived phone calls.
Great stuff. But apparently IMS is so complicated that despite years of work, I don’t think anyone has yet launched a commercial IMS network.
Enter Unlicensed Mobile Access, or UMA. UMA is not nearly as sexy as IMS, but for wireless carriers it’s potentially an easy road to new revenue. Before you even get into converged services, UMA makes it possible for wireless carriers to offer simple home phone service. This is terrible news for wireline telcos, who, as Om Malik points out, are already seeing disastrous declines in voice revenues. But for wireless carriers, it means new income for very little upfront investment.
I talked to Motorola exec Dave Gaetani who explained to me how UMA works. Essentially UMA is an over-the-top technology. It requires one new piece of equipment at the carrier end called an Unlicensed Network Controller. That controller connects to a user’s home Wi-Fi network via a gateway device (like the Motorola RSGu3500) and translates Wi-Fi signals back to the cellular core network. In this way, wireless carriers can offer VoIP service in much the same way Vonage does. All a customer needs is a gateway he can plug his home phone into. The carriers handle all VoIP traffic over existing cellular infrastructure.
So far T-Mobile appears to be the only UMA operator in the US. But then again, a lot of our operators already have their own wireline businesses already.