Enterprise Fixed-Mobile Convergence Can Be Lucrative for Channel

FMC has opened the mobile communications market to channel partners. Here's how to target the enterprise with a smart strategy.

By Rich Watson

Mobility has become a real buzzword today.  It is indigenous in our culture when we see saturation of the cellular phone market in North America approaching 100 percent, and more than 14 percent of all private homes no longer have a legacy PSTN landline, relying solely on a cellular phone for communication with family, friends and others.  The mobile communications market is enormous but, to date, it's been dominated by the wireless carriers themselves. They sell both mobile phones and the service, creating a virtual closed market.  But that is rapidly changing.

Given that mobility is on the rise with consumers and prosumers alike, how is it that VARs and system integrators can participate in the growing communications market opportunity?  The answer is, the growing maturity of the technology, the adoption of several key technologies and the entrance of new solution providers have combined to open up the mobile communications market to SIs and VARs via Fixed-Mobile Convergence (FMC) solutions. FMC has become another buzzword, but it simply means the ability to seamlessly roam between Wi-Fi and cellular services during a call.

By its nature, mobile communications depends on a wireless service; you’ve got to cut the cord from the old desk phone to be mobile.  In the past, cellular phones provided increased mobility for individuals, but VARs and integrators had no chance to participate in these sales.  The advent of widespread Wi-Fi (both public and private) and the availability of dual-mode (Wi-Fi and cellular) phones have changed all this. The market's “closed doors” are now open for exciting channel opportunities.  Selling FMC solutions into enterprise or SMB markets creates lucrative business opportunities once closed to channel partners.

There are two distinct FMC markets:  consumer and enterprise.  The former will continue to be dominated by the cellular carriers who have already begun rolling out their FMC solutions (such as T-Mobile’s @Home service).  The latter, however, is a virtually untapped, huge market that depends upon a multi-tiered delivery system for demand fulfillment. 

An enterprise FMC solution is unique and leverages corporate wireless LAN and PBX investments to control costs and improve associate productivity.  Tailored to the enterprise/SMB, such solutions provide expanded product and service opportunities for VARs and integrators with no direct competition from wireless carriers.  Complementing many current SI/VAR offerings of PBX, networking, or wireless LAN products, enterprise FMC expands sales opportunities to include mobility controllers and associated dual-mode handsets.  Additionally, follow-on professional services and support opportunities afford a lucrative recurring revenue stream from these new sales.

Enterprise-class FMC solutions easily address the pain felt by businesses with out-of-control cellular costs and low productivity caused by inaccessibility.  Wi-Fi “minutes” are virtually free, and analysts believe that some 40 percent of corporate cellular phone calls are made within sight of an office desk phone. An FMC solution would preferentially use the Wi-Fi connection for the call.

Such reduced cellular monthly-minute demand is appealing but it is only part of the FMC ROI consideration.  Another strong factor is “control.” The same way an enterprise business controls its PBX, it can now control policies applied to dual-mode phone usage, allowing it to monitor cellular usage in real-time.  Associate productivity is increased by such solutions through a higher guarantee of accessibility.  Eliminating the old “telephone-tag” loss of time goes a long way to boosting productivity and enhancing customer satisfaction; all part of a soft ROI consideration.

There are several enterprise FMC solution models that can be deployed to meet the diverse business strategies of integrators and VARs.  The most straightforward option is premise installation.  The FMC mobility controller is hosted inside the network, behind the corporate firewall, and managed by the enterprise.  This is the most prevalent model, but a remotely managed model works very well for SIs or VARs locking in recurring service management revenue.  Some FMC solutions coming on the market will support a hosted service provider model,  providing additional opportunities for SIs and VARs wishing to provide true hosted mobile services.

Industry trends favor the channel partner, especially regarding procurement of dual-mode handsets.  Traditionally, carriers were the single source of handsets for their networks and the hardware was often “locked”, preventing use on competing carrier networks.  Fortunately, all of these commercial barriers seem to be coming down.  Several major carriers have recently announced that they plan to support “unlocked” (foreign) phones on their networks, and many of these “unlocked” phones can now be purchased through a new distribution channel rather than just from the carrier retail stores.  While obtaining a Service Level Agreement (SLA) from the carrier is still required to utilize their network, the carrier support of unlocked phones and easing of the procurement of the dual-mode handsets opens additional revenue opportunities for the VAR or integrator servicing the enterprise market..

For the SI or VAR, FMC products offer a way to sell complete solutions complementing their existing product offerings.  Installation of an enterprise FMC solution can catalyze new sales of extended WLAN coverage or upgrades to existing PBX or iPBX equipment.  A solution sell can solidify justification for other network components that may have had marginal value in the customer’s eyes and position the SI or VAR as that important single-source vendor for whole solutions.

 (Rich Watson is director of technical marketing for DiVitas Networks, a leader in mobilizing business applications through  the global reseller and distributor channels.)

TAGS: wireless,Wi-Fi,Enterprise,PBX,FMC

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