Seamless Switching

By Guy Kewney  |  Posted 2005-06-20 Print this article Print

I could go on; feature after feature seems to be designed to be a really good deal for BT, and a really poor deal for the customer. So why on Earth would BT expect people to go for this deal? As far as I can tell, the nub of the proposition seems to be that if you dont have good cellular coverage in your home (something like 20 percent of mobile phone users), then BT will effectively extend the cellular network indoors, by switching the call seamlessly.
In order words, you dont have to say: "Ill probably lose you, Im just going indoors—if I do, Ill call back." You just carry on talking, and the network recognizes that youre now doing an Internet VOIP call.
But it carries on charging you for the mobile call that you started with. Oh, and the whole service costs 10 pounds a month, before call charges. The mystery is probably explained by two facts. First, this is a market research exercise, not a product. The real product will be a Wi-Fi based cell phone, announced for office use later this year, and probably not shipping until this time 2006. The second point is more significant: I think BT has suddenly twigged that it is about to lose one of its major assets—the phone number system. Well, "suddenly" overstates it, probably; this project has been under development for a very long time under the "Bluephone" label, and is more than a year later than expected. But a year counts as "suddenly" in BT. The problem facing all the worlds telcos, not just BT, is that were going to be using IP addresses, not phone numbers, pretty soon. Phone numbers are where telcos make their cash. If I can talk to you just by clicking on your Skype or Yahoo Messenger or AIM or MSN identity, then the only reason for having a phone number is so that people without VOIP phones can call you. When everybody has VOIP, why would they bother. But it has taken the worlds telcos an inordinately long time to realize that theyre making themselves redundant. Had they worked it out when the first Bluetooth phones appeared, they could have embedded the phone number infrastructure permanently into Internet phone calls, by allowing CTP (cordless telephony profiles) in cell phones, and charging a (smallish) fee for terminating incoming calls. But its too late. By the time BT finally gets its Wi-Fi component integrated into Fusion, and one or two other telcos follow suit (they will), the avalanche of people moving to completely free broadband voice will have swept these foolish attempts to stem the incoming tide away like a tropical storm in the Caribbean. Theres still some money to be made, offering seamless switching; but whether it can be made profitably by anybody except an ISP, Id hate to say. Certainly, I wouldnt invest my pension in a business founded on that idea. Contributing columnist Guy Kewney has been irritating the complacent in high tech since 1974. Previously with PC Mag UK and ZDNet UK, Guy helped found InfoWorld, Personal Computer World, MicroScope, PC Dealer, AFAICS Research and NewsWireless. And he only commits one blog—forgiveable, surely? He can be reached at Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on mobile and wireless computing.


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