Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) allows mobile operators to offer their mobile services over Wireless LAN and other such technology. So basically what it means in short is operators can now offer cheap VOIP calls.Inspite of operators worldwide embracing this technology as one of tools to fight both pure VOIP providers (Vonage, Skype etc) and other Convergences challenges I would argue in this posting that this may not be the answer nor stop operators from being just a bit pipe providers like today’s ISPs.
T-Mobile in US and Orange in Europe are first few big operators to launch UMA services but many other operators are planning to do same in the future .So from end user perspective what it means is for example if you subscribe to this new T-Mobile Service by paying 19.99$ per month + your regular mobile plan cost+50$ for new handset that supports this technology+WLAN Router from T-Mobile +of course you need to have some sought of broadband connection at home after having these thing, what you get is that you can make unlimited phone calls within US when you are in home or near any T-Mobile wi-fi Hot spots .So you may be wondering what is new you get from this technology compared to using regular VOIP service like vonage or from cable operator what you get unique is that you can seamlessly move between home and outside and your mobile phone uses appropriate technology seamlessly .
Mobile operators after rapid growth in 90s are facing this problem that their basic voice business revenue is slowly down as voice traffic is moving to VOIP and at same time they are not able to generate any new killer data service which could yield better margins faced with this solution they teamed up with network infrastructure vendor to come up with this UMA technology which basically allows operators to utilize wide availability of broadband at home and provide VOIP services themselves at the same time keeping close control over who enters their network .For more details you can visit www.uma.org .
Though it looks like perfect solution for operators problem I would argue that this doesn’t serve end-user (i.e. consumer well) and hence their success will be limited at best .Basic reasons are
Cost: Cost of UMA service is still huge compared to other solutions like Cable VOIP providers or pure VOIP players like vonage .The reason is pretty obvious Mobile operators had to invest on new UMA equipments and subsidies UMA phone cost.
Smartphone’s: In future when there is wide spread availability of smart phones end-user can install skype or Google talk kind of VOIP clients as they do on PC and they have VOIP solution at no extract cost and more over this solution would work every where unlike UMA which works only in home and other restricted environment .Check www.fring.com if you have Nokia S60 Smartphone you can download free Google talk and skype client.
Unlimited data Plans: Soon operators will start launching widely fixed prices mobile data plans like what is available in broadband connection when this happens coupled with Smartphone availability makes UMA irrelevant. Already some operators like T-Mobile in US and Vodafone and orange in Europe have started offering this kind of plans but as it becomes popular it becomes even more cheaper for example in Finland you can get 1Mbps unlimited mobile data plan from Elisa for 30 euros.
So in short my argument is Mobile operators can invest and build these networks like UMA or IMS to offer services in controlled way but because the services they are offering can be delivered independently also without these kind of specialized network infrastructure at much cheaper price their services will not take off and finally they will be forced to just provide data connections (Data pipes) and let the consumers choose which service they would like to use in similar way to internet .I hope they release sooner than later and save money buy not building these kind of specialized networks .