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CONNECTED COMMENT (24/05/05)

 

Last weekís launch of BTís new Fusion hybrid mobile-cordless telephone brought back memories of the ill-fated OnePhone dual mode GSM/DECT phone that made a brief appearance in the late 1990s. It seemed like a good idea at the time but handsets were bulky and had to be manually switched between cordless and mobile operation. Fusion is a very different animal though, and it brings the long awaited and much talked about convergence between fixed and mobile phone technologies one small step closer.

 

BT Fusion is the product of a two-year development programme called Project BluePhone, which not only marks BTs return to the mobile phone market but promises to build on its broadband business and help alleviate the steady decline in fixed-line revenues. Nevertheless BT faces a formidable challenge, getting the concept across to consumers, not to mention explaining the convoluted charges and within hours of the launch it was being cynically dubbed con-Fusion...

 

The basic idea appears simple enough, and BT Fusion cellphones work like an ordinary mobile phone, using the Vodafone network when the user is on the move. The launch model will be a modified version of the ultra slim Motorola V560; other models from Nokia and Samsung are expected to follow next year.

 

When the phone is within range of a Fusion base-station or hub, (20 to 25 metres indoors) it drops the cellular line; a Bluetooth connection to the hub takes over and switches seamlessly to a fixed-line link using a BT Broadband connection, resulting in lower call charges.

 

Fusion phones are permanently logged on to the userís hub but they can also temporarily register with other hubs by entering a PIN number and any calls made will appear on the phone ownerís bill. Up to six phones can log on to a hub with three of them being used to make and take calls simultaneously. As an added bonus a Fusion hub doubles up as a Wi-Fi router allowing wirelessly enabled PCs and laptops to share the broadband connection.

 

BT has worked hard to simplify the charging structures but Fusion customerís phone bills could make lengthy and interesting reading. To begin with Fusion users need a fixed phone line and a subscription to a BT Broadband package costing £10.50 and £17.99 a month respectively.

 

Initially two tariffs will be available to the 400 early adopters taking part in trials ahead of the September launch. Fusion 100 comes with 100 any time, any network minutes for a launch price of £9.99 per month and Fusion 200 has 200 minutes of call time for £14.99 a month. A secondary handset subscription, which shares the bundled minutes of the main subscription costs £9.99 per month. The launch packages will include a free Motorola V560 and the hub, though BT point out that this is an introductory offer and prices will almost certainly change when the full service is rolled out later in the year.

 

Calls to owners of Fusion phones are charged at mobile rates, irrespective of whether they are at home or on the move. Calls from a Fusion phone to a landline number, when in range of the hub, are charged at 3p a minute at peak times and 5.5p an hour weekends and evenings. Calls made in the home to mobile numbers will be deducted from the bundled any network minutes and thereafter at normal mobile rates. If the call is made outside of the range of the hub it will be charged at mobile rates, even if the phone subsequently moves back into range. However, if the call is begun whilst connected to the hub and the user moves out of range the call continues to be charged at the fixed-line rate.

 

Fusion is clearly an interesting development but complex charging aside BTís decision to use Bluetooth could prove to be its Achilles heel. A range of 25 metres is only barely adequate for use in and around the average home, let alone the end of the garden -- conventional DECT cordless phones have a 100 metre range. Fusion phone owners will need to keep close eye on their handsetís screen icons to see which type of connection they are using to avoid hefty bills. Itís not the only solution to fixed-mobile convergence either and it will be interesting to see how it compares with a new generation of medium-range Wi-Fi enabled cellular phones that we can expect to see over the coming months.

 

rick.maybury@gmail.com

 

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R. Maybury 2005 1606

 

 

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