Convergence can refer to previously separate technologies such as voice (and telephony features), data (and productivity applications) and video that now share resources and interact with each other, synergistically creating new efficiencies.
Convergence in this instance is defined as the interlinking of computing and other information technologies, media content and communication networks that have arisen as the result of the evolution and popularisation of the Internet as well as the activities, products and services that have emerged in the digital media space.
Many experts view this as simply being the tip of the iceberg, as all facets of institutional activity and social life such as business, government, art, journalism, health and education are increasingly being carried out in these digital media spaces across a growing network of ICT devices.
Also included in this topic is the basis of computer networks, wherein many different operating systems are able to communicate via different protocols. This could be a prelude to artificial intelligence networks on the internet and eventually leading to a powerful superintelligence via a Technological singularity.
Technological Convergence can also refer to the phenomena of a group of technologies developed for one use being utilized in many different contexts. This often happens to military technology as well as most types of machine tools and now silicon chips.
Convergence of media occurs when multiple products come together to form one product with the advantages of all of them, also known as the black box. This idea of one technology has become known more as a fallacy because of the inability to actually put all technical pieces into one. For example, while people can have e-mail and internet on their phone, they still want full computers with internet and e-mail in addition. See Concentration of media ownership for the similar sounding phrase of media convergence.
Media convergence is a concept in which old and new media intersect; when grassroots and corporate media intertwine in such a way that the balance of power between media producers and media consumers shifts in unpredictable ways. According to Henry Jenkins who is a highly respected media analyst and one of the foremost leading experts on the convergence culture paradigm, as well as, the DeFlorz Professor of Humanities and the Founder and Director of the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT states that
"the flow of content across multiple media platforms, the cooperation between multiple media industries, and the migratory behaviour of media audiences."Media convergence is not just a technological shift or a technological process, it also includes shifts within the industrial, cultural, and social paradigms that encourage the consumer to seek out new information. Convergence, simply put, is how individual consumers interact with others on a social level and use various media platforms to create new experiences, new forms of media and content that connect us socially, and not just to other consumers, but to the corporate producers of media in ways that have not been as readily accessible in the past.
For example, the Wii is not only a games console, but also an internet browser and social networking tool. Mobile phones are another good example, in that they increasingly incorporate digital cameras, mp3 players, camcorders, voice recorders, and other devices.
However, convergence can have its downside. Particularly in their initial forms, converged devices are frequently less functional and reliable than their component parts (e.g. a DVD may perform better on a traditional DVD player than on a games console). As the amount of functions in a single device escalates, the ability of that device to serve its original function decreases. For example, the iPhone (which, by name implies that its' primary function is that of a mobile phone) can perform many different tasks, but does not feature a traditional numerical pad to make phone calls. Instead, the phone features a touchpad, which some users have found troublesome compared to a conventional phone.
Regardless, an ever-wider range of technologies are being converged into single multipurpose devices.
Since technology has evolved in the past ten years or so, companies are beginning to converge technologies to create demand for new products. This would include phone companies integrating 3G on their phones. Television in the mid 20th century converged the technologies of movies and radio, and is now being converged with the mobile phone industry. Phone calls are also being made with the use of personal computers. Converging technologies seems to be squashing many types of demanded technologies into one. Mobile phones are becoming manufactured to not only carry out phone calls, text messages, but also hold images, videos, music, television, camera, and multimedia of all types. Manufacturers are now integrating more advanced features such as video recording, gps receivers, data storage and security mechanisms into the traditional cellphone.
These paradigm shifts are ongoing in the media, and often occur from time to time as the technology to create better devices evolves. It was predicted in the 1990s that a digital revolution would take place,and that old media would be pushed to one side by new media. Broadcasting is increasingly being replaced by the Internet, enabling consumers all over the world the freedom to access their preferred media content more easily and at a more available rate than ever before.
However, when the dot com bubble of the 1990s suddenly popped, that poured cold water over the talk of such a digital revolution. In today's society, the idea of media convergence has once again emerged as a key point of reference as newer as well as established media companies attempt to visualise the future of the entertainment industry. If this revolutionary digital paradigm shift presumed that old media would be increasingly replaced by new media, the convergence paradigm that is currently emerging suggests that new and old media would interact in more complex ways than previously predicted. The paradigm shift that followed the digital revolution assumed that new media was going to change everything. When the dot com market crashed, there was a tendency to imagine that nothing had changed. The real truth lay somewhere in between as there were so many aspects of the current media environment to take into consideration. Many industry leaders are increasingly reverting to media convergence as a way of making sense in an era of disorientating change. In that respect, media convergence in theory is essentially an old concept taking on a new meaning.
Media convergence in reality is more than just a shift in technology. It alters the relationship that already exists between industries, technologies, audiences, genres and markets. Media convergence changes the rationality in which media industries operate and also the way that media consumers process news and entertainment. Bearing in mind that media convergence in reality is essentially a process and not an outcome, there is no single black box that controls the flow of media into our homes and workplaces. With the proliferation of different media channels and the increasing portability of new telecommunications and computing technologies, we have entered into an era where the media is constantly surrounding us. Believe it or not, today's modern society is already existing within a convergence culture.
Media convergence requires companies operating within the scope of the media to rethink existing assumptions about media from the consumer's point of view, as these assumptions affect both marketing and programming decisions. Media producers have to respond to these newly empowered consumers in today's society to reinvent existing concepts to keep them up to date with emerging trends. Consumers these days do not just want to be on a one way transmission model where they simply receive information. They want to interact with it. They want to create it. They want to participate within it. Media convergence has allowed that to happen and as the proliferation of new communication technologies continues to occur, this trend is here to stay.
Combinational services are growing in prominence, chief among these being those services which integrate SMS with voice, such as voice SMS (voice instead of text – service providers include Bubble Motion and Kirusa) and SpinVox (voice to text). In addition, several operators have launched services that combine SMS with mobile instant messaging (MIM) and presence.
The Text-to-Landline services are also trendy, where subscribers can send text messages to any landline phone and are charged at standard text message fees. This service has been very popular in America, where it’s difficult to differentiate fixed-line from mobile phone numbers.
Inbound SMS has been also converging to enable reception of different formats (SMS, voice, MMS, etc.). UK companies, including consumer goods companies and media giants, should soon be able to let consumers contact them via voice, SMS, MMS, IVR or video using just one five-digit number or long number. In April 2008, O2 UK launched voice-enabled shortcodes, adding voice functionality to the five-digit codes already used for SMS. Mobile messaging provider Tyntec also provides a similar service based on long number, converging text message and voice calls under one number.
This type of convergence is particularly helpful for media companies, broadcasters, enterprises, call centres and help desks who need to develop a consistent contact strategy with the consumer. Because SMS is very popular today with any demographic, it became relevant to include text messaging as a contact possibility for consumers. To avoid having multiple numbers (one for voice calls, another one for SMS), a simple way is to merge the reception of both formats under one number. This means that a consumer can text or call +44 7624 805555 and can be sure that, regardless of the format, the message will be received.
Multi-play is a marketing term describing the provision of different telecommunication services, such as Broadband Internet access, television, telephone, and mobile phone service, by organisations that traditionally only offered one or two of these services. Multi-play is a catch-all phrase; usually, the terms triple play or quadruple play are used to describe a more specific meaning.
A dual play service is a marketing term for the provisioning of the two services: it can be high-speed Internet (ADSL) and telephone service over a single broadband connection in the case of phone companies, or high-speed Internet (cablemodem) and TV service over a single broadband connection in the case of cable TV companies.
The convergence can also concern the underlying communication infrastructure. An example of this is a triple play service, where communication services are packaged allowing consumers to purchase TV, internet and telephony in one subscription.
A quadruple play service combines the triple play service of broadband Internet access, television and telephone with wireless service provisions. This service set is also sometimes humorously referred to as "The Fantastic Four" or "Grand Slam".
The broadband cable market is transforming as pay-TV providers move aggressively into what was once considered the telco space. Meanwhile, customer expectations have risen as consumer and business customers alike seek rich content, multi-use devices, networked products and converged services including on-demand video, digital TV, high speed Internet, VoIP and wireless applications. It's uncharted territory for most broadband companies.
Incidentally, the "mobile service provisions" aspect refers not only to the ability of subscribers to be able to purchase mobile phone like services as is often seen in co-marketing efforts between providers of land-line services. Rather it is one major ambition of wireless - the ability to have access to all of the above including voice, internet, and content/video while on the go and requiring no tethering to the network via cables.
Given advancements in WiMAX and other leading edge technologies, the ability to transfer information over a wireless link at combinations of speeds, distances and non line of sight conditions is rapidly improving. It is possible that one could never need to be connected by a wire to anything, even while at home.
One fundamental aspect of the quadruple play is not only the long awaited broadband convergence but also the players involved. Many of them, from the largest global service providers to whom we connect today via wires and cables to the smallest of startup service providers are interested. The opportunities are attractive: the big three telecom services - telephony, cable television and wireless - could combine the size of their respective industries.
The next level of service might be the integration of RFID into the quadruple play which will add the capability for home equipment to communicate to the outside world and schedule maintenance on its own.
Typically, these services rely on Dual Mode Handsets, where the customers' mobile terminal can support both the wide-area (cellular) access and the local-area technology (for VoIP). Historically (see below) DECT and Bluetooth have been used locally, although there is a clear trend towards WiFi and in the future, WiMax. Implementations of Voice call continuity claim "seamless mobility between VoWiFi and cellular networks and on mobile handsets are designed using a software voice engine. Closed User Groups make it economically feasible to let the cellular net handle local voice calls, allowing the use of cellular-only handsets.
One example of this convergence is the BT Fusion offer in UK, where British Telecom offers a Vodafone handset capable of making calls through the ADSL line via a local wireless connection (in trials and early launch this was bluetooth but the product is now transitioning to using WiFi). Another example is Divitas networks, which offers mobile to mobile convergence (MMC) technology for dual mode handsets, a different approach that uses VoWLAN as the primary means for voice communication while in WiFi areas, routing the calls exclusively through internet protocol to other locations and thereby relying less on the carriers for the voice traffic. The cellular service engages once the WiFi signal deteriorates sufficiently, to provide coverage outside of the WiFi area.
Other examples are provided in France with WiFi connectivity around the base station, by the BeautifulPhone from Neuf Cegetel by the means of a QTek 8300 or Home Zone from Wanadoo with a Nokia handset. Free (French ISP) develops a wifi mesh network of HD freeboxes to be used to provide mobile telephony and compete with traditional cellular operators.
The Generic Access Network (or GAN) is a standard roaming system between WLANs and WWANs. Among the first handsets capable of this switching are the Nokia E series, which will be used by the British operator Truphone starting its service in May 2006. GAN is the name formally used by 3GPP but the technology is also known as UMA and was first developed by Kineto.
At the end of the nineties, some dual mode DECT/GAP and GSM services were envisioned. In the UK, BT Cellnet launched its OnePhone offer in 1999. Ericsson and Sagem have produced a few handset models, and Ascom resold some Ericsson units. Those offers have not taken any sufficient ground and have been stopped.
Six companies, British Telecom, NTT, Rogers Wireless, Brasil Telecom, Korea Telecom and Swisscom have formed the Fixed-Mobile Convergence Alliance (which as of June 2008 has 32 members) with the purpose to encourage the seamless integration of mobile and fixed-line telephone services.
An alternative approach to achieve similar benefits is that of femtocells
T-Mobile offers a HotSpot @Home service, allowing you to connect certain phones to home wifi systems, and make calls over wifi, using their T-Mobile phone number. This is a UMA-based service.
Slovenian mobile operator Mobitel offers a service called M stik which enables users to equip their Internet-connected desktop or laptop computer with the functions of the mobile phone and use it for making and accepting voice calls, use SMS and MMS messaging, and videotelephony.
Firstly, as 'black boxes' are invented and abandoned, the consumer is left with numerous technologies that can perform the same task, rather than one dedicated device for each task. For example, a consumer may own both a computer and a video games console, subsequently owning two DVD players. This does not achieve the streamlined goal of the 'black box' theory, and instead creates clutter.
Secondly, technological convergence tends to be experimental in nature. This has led to consumers owning technologies with additional functions that are harder, if not impractical to use rather than one specific device. For example, Intel has created a Surfboard with an in-built Laptop. Whilst interesting, it would be more practical to use a conventional computer rather than a laptop on a surfboard. Additionally, LG has created a Microwave with a Television screen.. Many people would only watch the TV for the duration of the meal's cooking time, or whilst in the kitchen, but would not use the microwave as the household TV. These examples show that in many cases technological convergence is unnecessary or unneeded, in favour of a specialised device for each task.
Furthermore, although consumers primarily use a specialised media device for their needs, other 'black box' devices that perform the same task can be used to suit their current situation. As a 2002 Cheskin Research report explained:
...Your email needs and expectations are different whether you're at home, work, school, commuting, the airport, etc., and these different devices are designed to suit your needs for accessing content depending on where you are- your situated context.Despite the creation of 'black boxes', intended to perform all of one's tasks, the trend is to use devices that can suit the consumer's physical position.
Conversely, it would seem that hardware is instead diverging whilst the media content on the devices are converging. Media content have become brands that can offer the same content in a number of forms. The main two examples of this are Star Wars and The Matrix. Both of which are films, but are also books, video games, cartoons and action figures. Branding encourages expansion of one concept, rather than the creation of new ideas. This is the opposite of hardware, which has diversified in order to accommodate the convergence of media; hardware needs to be specific to each type of function, otherwise branding would not work. In a 'black box' situation, a consumer would only need to purchase one form of media (say, the Matrix) and would be able to do everything with it.
Technology convergence will continue as a quirky, experimental form of innovation, but it is unlikely that we will ever reach a 'black box' situation.