By Tim Walter, Executive Head of Marketing at Nashua Mobile
Convergence is one of those buzzwords we have all heard numerous times over the past 15 years, but it is now a reality in many segments of the technology market. The lines between once-disparate services such as voice and data have blurred, while the boundaries between traditional IT and telecommunications are disappearing.
Now, telecommunications users increasingly expect seamless access to a range of data and applications using any number of devices – notebooks, tablets, desktops, smartphones – using whatever access technology is most accessible and affordable – be it Wi-Fi-, 3G, or ADSL – at a specific place or time. But the convergence revolution is just beginning.
Here are a few converged applications and technologies we can expect to become important in the next year or two:
1. 3G to Wi-Fi offloading
The move towards fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) – which is about having access to a set of consistent services through fixed or mobile access to fixed or mobile, public or private networks – is well underway. Wi-Fi offloading will be one of its next manifestations.
We can expect to see hand-off of 3G traffic to Wi-Fi campus area networks becoming a reality in South Africa as users look for ways to save money on their data bills and operators look to optimise traffic on their cellular networks. With congestion on 3G networks in urban centres growing as data prices fall, many users are having a poor user experience with cellular connectivity.
With the necessary technology rapidly maturing, the time is becoming ripe for the operators to offer 3G to Wi-Fi offload as an option to their subscribers. The complications of billing for services are being ironed out and we can expect to see hotspot operators and cellular networks coming up with some interesting business models of Wi-Fi offloading in the months to come.
2. TV-on-demand and video-on-demand
The broadband revolution is going to reach a television set near you, and sooner than you think. Although South Africans have so far been starved of video-on-demand options such as Netflix and Hulu, we can expect that to change soon.
Already, we are seeing televisions with Internet connectivity shipping in South Africa and it is only a matter of time before we start to see services to go with them. Broadband costs need to fall a little and infrastructure needs to be upgraded to make TV-on-demand and video-on-demand a reality, but there are some positive changes underway.
3. Cross-industry payments
Telecommunications service providers are in an ideal position to serve as billing agents. They can offer a converged bill for services like electricity payments, toll fees, train tickets, music and more, allowing a consumer to get just one bill from one provider for a range of services. This will turn the mobile phone into the payment channel of choice for many consumers and the companies they deal with every day.
Though convergence has long been spoken about, the technology only recently started to reach maturity. With the investments that network operators are currently making in high-speed cellular data services, national telecommunications links and international submarine cables, we can expect to see more exciting services come down the line.