BT to launch combined desktop and mobile phone in Europe

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The days of the office desktop phone seem numbered. In a world first, BT Group has developed a mobile phone service with the same functionality as an office fixed-line phone.

The phones will be available to large corporate customers early next year and could lead to significant cost savings for users.

Steven Evans, BT's chief executive of wireless broadband, said: "This is a first. If a company provides you with this mobile handset, effectively it will have the same power as a desktop phone. We have a window of opportunity to take advantage of this technology to drive the acquisition of new customers in Europe as well as the UK."

He said the phones will be sold in countries such as Germany, Italy, Spain and France to gain further momentum in the information communications technology market.

The new service will allow employees equipped with the handsets to perform functions such as conferencing, call-forwarding and diverting calls to team members when in meetings. It will involve a customer's wireless local area network, usually used for wireless laptop access. The handsets will connect to the network using wi-fi technology and will act as normal handsets outside corporate premises. Mr Evans said about 70 per cent of large UK enterprises already have some form of wireless network.

Companies will save costs, he said, because all mobile calls between internal users using the wi-fi handsets will be free if the employee is within the company's premises. This includes calls made across a company's sites and possibly across international offices. Money will also be saved when connecting outside calls to a corporate mobile. This is because BT's new network technology can deliver a call directly to the new handsets.

The service, dubbed "Enterprise Fixed-Mobile Convergence" for the time being, comes from the BT Fusion service that merges the benefits of fixed-line and mobile phones into one handset. BT Fusion is targeted at consumers and small businesses and has attracted 13,000 users since it launched last year. It charges users at fixed-line rates when they are in or around the home and mobile rates when outside.

To help develop the service, BT has signed up Alcatel, the French network technology company which provided technology for BT Fusion and BT's £10bn network upgrade. Mr Evans declined to name the handset partners BT is working with.

He said customers are increasingly concerned about spiralling mobile costs and frequently complain about the cost of supporting fixed and mobile infrastructure.

Initially, BT expects customers to replace existing mobile phones with the new handsets to eliminate costs. As benefits feed through, more staff could be provided with mobile handsets.