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Wireless convergence: Will CPE or carriers drive it?

Apr 19, 20062 mins
Cellular NetworksNetwork SecurityWi-Fi

* Different models for unifying Wi-Fi and cellular nets

Cellular and Wi-Fi networks are moving closer to gaining overlapping capabilities. Mentioned in the last newsletter was the Enterprise Mobility Solution from partners Motorola, Avaya, and Proxim, still in early trials. This approach uses CPE to handle signal handoff between the enterprise Wi-Fi network and a carrier’s cellular network, putting enterprises in control of wireless network unification.

Seamless roaming services for consumers are also en route – perhaps. Carriers and handset makers have been cooperating on phones that support Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA). UMA-enabled devices and networks allow user phone calls to bridge the two types of networks transparently using IP while the carrier remains in control of the service and likely charges different rates when the user is on different networks.

UMA-enabled devices made an appearance at this month’s CTIA Wireless show in Las Vegas: Samsung Electronics rolled out the UMA-enabled t709 phone at the event, while Nokia’s 6136 and Motorola’s A910, which were introduced in Europe in February, were demonstrated.

But carriers and handset providers are still working on roaming software among disparate wireless networks. Some analysts I’ve talked to expect them to achieve “soft handshake” capabilities by year-end. Most U.S. carriers haven’t made announcements, though, about if and when they will make UMA-based roaming services available. Cingular Wireless has said it is “looking at” the technology.

Some users are skeptical about the emergence of converged carrier-based services, because of a lack of business incentive for carriers to hand over minutes of revenue to alternative networks, such as the Wi-Fi enterprise network.

“We don’t have a positive outlook for its success, because we believe that our wireless vendor partners don’t think it’s in their best interest to…[let] minutes of revenue fall off their network,” says the global network architect of a worldwide consumer goods manufacturer.

He predicts there “won’t be a rich array of devices from our service provider that support GSM and 802.11.” However, he’s not interested in managing a gateway for signal handoffs himself on the company’s premises.

“That’s too complex operationally. Our operational preference is to buy [combined cellular and Wi-Fi services] as one clean managed transaction from our wireless operator,” the architect says.