Theres no doubt at all that you meet a much classier sort of chap, using a mobile phone.
What I mean is: If you get a call, and its from a mobile, why, you just naturally trust the person more than if theyre using an ordinary phone. Dont you agree?
OK, I give up. That was my last attempt to make a sensible justification for paying British Telecom for calls at mobile rates, using my home phone. And it just doesnt work, does it?
Heres the BT Fusion proposition: You have a single phone, which works as a GSM mobile when youre out and about, but which switches to become a VOIP phone, using Internet telephony, as soon as you arrive at your home.
Heck, wonderful! Internet phone calls are free, so… who could object?
Small print: No, these Fusion Internet phone calls arent free. They are “up to 95 percent cheaper than equivalent off-peak mobile phone calls.”
The more you look into the Fusion idea, the harder it is to fathom what on Earth is going on.
For example, Fusion doesnt work on an ordinary broadband connection.
If you already have a cable modem or an ADSL line, you will probably have to cancel it; BT Fusion requires you to have a BT Broadband ADSL line.
And the same goes for your cheap phone service; BT Fusion calls have to be billed to a standard BT phone line.
The phone is, at least, wireless; but despite the fact that most people who would be interested are likely to have a Wi-Fi network at home, Fusion doesnt use Wi-Fi. It uses Bluetooth.
So you have to have a special Internet wireless hub, provided (free!) by BT, which does Bluetooth telephony.
It also does Wi-Fi, which means that if you didnt have Wi-Fi, now you do. And if you did, you now have two Wi-Fi networks, and have to start fooling around with channels.
Theres nothing wrong with the phone. Its a standard Motorola GSM phone, with a little extra software in its Bluetooth stack, which means it can be a cordless phone.
It is, at the moment, unique; if you dont like the Motorola, youre stuck.
However, if you use the phone at work, it remains a cellular phone. Because the thing works over Bluetooth, putting a hub in the office will be of use to only six people maximum. Thats all the hub can register.
And only three of them can talk simultaneously; you have to have one hub for every three of the office staff who are likely to be on the phone at any one moment.
When youre out and about in the streets, of course, it switches to the GSM network. But you cant use your existing mobile provider. It has to be contracted to Vodafone, BTs Fusion partner.
All incoming calls are charged to the caller in the way that is normal in the U.K. Unfortunately, they are charged at standard mobile phone call rates—calls to mobile phones are among the steepest tariffs available.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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