Robust growth forcast for enterprise FMC

Some interesting numbers from ABI Research, which has turned its focus to the enterprise fixed mobile convergence (FMC) market. It forecasts that the number of FMC voice connections is set to grow from 6.3 million in 2009 to 27 million by 2014, representing a healthy compound annual growth rate of 27%. The numbers include mobile connections routed through the fixed network via in-building picocells and femtocells, and enterprise voice-over-WiFi deployments.

Forecasting numbers for nascent markets is always a tricky business; the accuracy of long-term predictions improves with the amount and quality of the baseline data available, and certainly for picocells and femtocells the technology has not been commercialised long enough to generate much in the way of meaningful results. Not to say that ABI's forecasts are wide of the mark, but it will certainly be interesting to see how they are modified as the technology becomes more commonly deployed.

Enterprise voice-over-WiFi is perhaps on more solid ground. Indeed it is the maturity of WiFi that has seen it become a standard feature in smartphones, meaning that a key enabling technology has found its way into the hands of enterprise customers somewhat by stealth. According to the analysts, the "attach rate" for WiFi in smartphones will grow from 45% in 2009 to 90% in 2014, paving the way for wider deployment of voice-over-WiFi by corporates (lack of WiFI handsets was previously deemed a barrier to adoption).

Enterprise Briefing recently discussed FMC, and noted that voice-over-WiFi presents its own challenges for businesses. The primary issue is that in order to support voice traffic, a WiFi network has to be deployed which is capable of providing the necessary quality-of-service, which is an altogether more complex proposition than a data-only network - and also requires significant capital expenditure. In addition, this infrastructure only benefits users when on-campus, not when travelling or visiting customer sites, which is when voice costs are likely to be at their highest.

Voice-over-WiFi is really likely to come into its own when it can be used with open hotspots to reduce mobile bills for staff, in the same way that VPNs have enabled secure enterprise data access from WiFi networks in hotels and airports. By extending enterprise telephony features through this alternative access method, significant savings can be made - especially when taking in to account the bills incurred by roaming users (mobile costs for corporate are discussed here).

ABI dubbed downloadable consumer VoIP applications such as Skype and Truphone "wildcards" in the enterprise FMC market, noting that the use of these with WiFi or unlimited data plans does not deliver suitable quality and reliability - "for now". But their availability will lead to increased acceptance of VoIP in the mobile market, "leading to some interesting opportunities and challenges for the mobile supply chain". Surely enterprise-grade VoIP applications must be on the roadmap, enabling mobile users to connect to the corporate IP voice network, with all of the flexibility benefits and cost savings this can offer.
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