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When will 802.11 and cell service integrate?

Jul 05, 20042 mins
Network SecurityWi-Fi

Q: In reality, how close are we in providing seamless service to users by integrating the corporate wireless LAN and the public cellular services? – Alvin, Chicago

The Wizards gaze deeply into their crystal ball and respond:

Robert Myers, Chantry Networks

The answer to this question can vary greatly depending on the type of service or application that is being deployed. Take for instance the market attention that is being given to Voice over wireless LAN (VoWLAN) as an application that will drive the usage of WLAN to new heights. The likely extension to that is linking it directly with a cellular voice service.

There are many issues to solve to enable this application to be seamless, some technical and some not. For the market to be successful it needs dual-mode handsets from the major players, and although several have stated this direction, the timing for availability of these devices is 2005/2006. It also needs to solve the issue of call control, or who actually owns the call (the enterprise or the cellular operator); this is a more complex issue that will require business models that don’t exist today.

Although many technology vendors are working to solve these issues it will still be several years before we see the widespread adoption of seamless wireless voice services. On the other hand, for data services the issues are less complex, dual-mode data devices are available today, and for some applications complete seamless roaming is not a requirement. A device can simply roam from one network to another and reconnect to the service they want.

Dan Simone, Trapeze Networks

While some cell phones are hitting the market with support embedded for both 802.11 and cellular technologies, technical and business issues remain. Not all cellular carriers have the necessary billing structure and roaming agreements in place to support 802.11 services. Also, issues remain for how to handle a caller who roams from the cellular technology to a WLAN served by another provider. Carriers need to support a broad range of roaming agreements amongst multiple providers to make such transitions seamless. Users will likely enjoy more restricted roaming, such as from one carrier’s cellular service to its WLAN service, sooner, but even that technical handoff remains some time out.

Look for pilots of this technology in 2005, with broader support and improved handoff in the 2006 timeframe.