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Regulator gives 'home-zone' services the go-ahead

Mobile calls at cheaper, fixed-line rates

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Mobile customers could soon be able to take and make cheaper calls with ComReg giving the green light to operators to offer "home-zone" services.

As part of the new services, callers will be able to use their mobile phone handsets to make and receive calls in or near their homes at cheaper fixed-line rates. Standard mobile call rates are usually charged when the customer is out and about. In other words, the phone would act as a traditional fixed-line phone while the user is within a certain range, transferring to a mobile phone when the customer goes outside the dedicated range.

Geographic numbers, which were traditionally limited to fixed lines e.g. 01, 045 etc, will now be available to mobile operators, as long as they charge the cheaper, fixed-line prices. This means a mobile phone could have two associated numbers - the original mobile number as well as a geographic number like 01, for example.

The regulator is also supporting moves to make geographical numbers portable, allowing existing fixed-line customers to move their telephone numbers entirely to mobile operators for the home-zone service.

"ComReg has balanced its decisions with a clear indication that in the future fixed-line operators who wish to provide mobile numbers will be facilitated, so long as these numbers are used for genuinely mobile purposes. New services, based on a range of emerging technologies, could allow fixed-line operators to 'bolt-on' on mobile access services for their customers," the regulator said in a statement.

"This will benefit consumers by offering greater flexibility in available offerings and in lower priced calls in many cases."

The move towards fixed-mobile communications is nothing new in Europe. Already, several service providers in the UK offer the services to customers, including mobile operator Orange with its Unik product, and BT also offers its Fusion services to UK customers. The Fusion service allows customers to use Wi-Fi technology in their handsets to connect to the BT Home Hub or BT Openzone hotspots to make phone calls.

There are also moves to make this a reality in the Irish market. In April last year, Cork-based Trans Global Technologies announced it was planning to launch its hybrid phone, the Phoenix M1 unit, comprising a wireless base unit/recharger and mobile camera phone with MP3, FM radio, and internet capabilities, in early 2007.

Though good news for mobile operators, this could spell bad news for traditional fixed-line operators, who already find themselves under threat from voice over IP services, as many people are ditching landlines in favour of mobile phones.

Predictions made last year by researchers estimate that some 92 million people will have combined their fixed and mobile lines by 2011, while a survey from Strategy Analytics indicated that almost 20 per cent of consumers in Western Europe only have a mobile phone. The same survey said two-thirds of customers would use their mobile more at home if calls were charged at landline rates.

Copyright © 2007, ENN

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