Despite engineering issues and an unproven business model, fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) will play an important role in the emerging "digital home" sector, according to a Motorola Inc. executive.  Speaking at The Strategy Institute’s Digital Home Summit in Toronto on February 22, Charles Dougherty, corporate VP of the mobile electronics manufacturer, said Wi-Fi equipment needs to advance somewhat before FMC – technology that lets users seamlessly jump from wireless hotspots to cell networks – becomes ubiquitous. As well, the dual-mode, Wi-Fi cell phones available now are not user-friendly.  "They’re clunky," Dougherty said. Batteries must be big enough to power the thirsty onboard Wi-Fi radio as well as the cellular gear, so the handsets are heavy. "Consumers will not accept a step backwards." That said, Wi-Fi advancements spell some relief. Emerging IEEE standards like 802.11n, 802.11e and 802.11i provide faster data throughput, better quality-of-service and stronger security than commonly used hotspot technology affords. And handset makers like Motorola are working on smaller batteries. "The evolution is happening very quickly," Dougherty said. The "digital home" refers to in-house networks that connect the myriad electronic devices, home-management systems and appliances that the average family uses today.  So connected, the devices can speak to each other – an icon flashing on your TV set might indicate that the laundry’s done, for instance.  But Dougherty said FMC would help extend the digital home experience well beyond the domicile’s walls. The technology could give users external control over their home devices, and support content shifting – the ability to watch DVR-saved programs on the mobile phone, for example. According to a survey conducted by Decima Research Inc., Decima Reports Inc.’s sister company, the digital home concept is not completely foreign to Canadians, but there is room for improvement.  The research firm asked 1,094 people for their opinions; 46% were somewhat familiar with the digital home. But just 11% were very familiar and 43% were not familiar. As well, just 6% of respondents said they would purchase a digital home system today. But 65% said they might acquire a digital home system down the road. "Canadians are intrigued by the concept," said Rick Nadeau, VP of telecommunications at Decima Research. "They can see themselves adopting it in the future." Numerous factors drive FMC, Dougherty said. VoIP is priming the consumer market to think of the data network as a viable voice platform. The proliferation of not just broadband but also Wi-Fi hotspots, both in the home and in public spaces, provides some of the requisite infrastructure.  The cell phone has convinced users that content should be portable: they expect email, voice messages, text messages, video, everything, everywhere, thanks to this powerful little device. As well, intuition urges FMC along. People move from natural Wi-Fi haunts like living rooms and offices to natural cellular areas (read: outside). Users want their handsets to work as well in any environment. FMC’s main bugbear might be the business model: no one is quite sure how it will come about. Will wireless service providers jump on the technology? Or will wireline carriers use it to bolster their sagging voice revenues? Will handset makers like Motorola be the customer’s prime go-to vendor?  "It really comes down to the business arrangements," Dougherty said, explaining that they’re not set in stone. "Who owns the customer?…There’s really a battleground."