Friday, June 17, 2005

New system integrates landlines and cellphones

New system integrates landlines and cellphones

The world’s first combined phone service, which allows a single handset to switch between cellphone networks and domestic fixed-lines, was launched by BT in the UK on Wednesday.

Called BT Fusion, the service means a handset works like a typical cellphone when outdoors, but automatically and seamlessly switches onto a user’s domestic account when they are home - even in mid-call.

To achieve this, the phone uses a Bluetooth wireless connection to relay the call to a broadband hub in the home. This hub can also be used as a wireless router for home computer Wi-Fi networks.

According to BT, the benefits to customers - besides having a combined landline and cellphone bill - is that calls made at home will be priced at domestic rates and with the same quality of a fixed line.

Making house calls

Another feature of the new service is that it will allow customers to switch to their domestic account when at someone else’s house, a BT spokesman told New Scientist. The cost of the call will be charged back to their own account but they will benefit from domestic rates even though they are away from home, he says.

But this will only be possible if the house they are in subscribes to the same service and has given permission for the hub to be used, by way of an access code.

Some homeowners could face problems, however, because Bluetooth signals are relatively weak, the spokesman concedes. If a user’s home is particularly large, or spread over several floors, then they may end up using the cellphone network more often than desirable because the hub’s signal is too weak. But he adds: “In a fairly typical home there should be no problem.”

Risk of confusion

“I think having a single handset is the way forward, or at least being reachable at one contact point,” says Nico MacDonald, a design and technology strategist with the London-based consultancy Spy. But it has to be clear to the customer which network they are using, he says, and there is a danger that billing could become even less intelligible than current phone bills.

Initially the service will only be available to 400 households which will test it before its national launch in the UK in September 2005.

But by this time BT may have some competition. According to cell network provider Orange, it has been working with France Telecom to develop a similar service which will also be launched towards the end of 2005, but will include added features such as video calling between landlines and cellphones.

 

Source:

http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn7526



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