First Real Steps for Cellular/VoFi Convergence

Announcements emanating from 3GSM in Barcelona portend a wave of affordable dual-mode telephony devices.

By Ted Stevenson | Posted Feb 16, 2006
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Like to combine the ubiquitous availability of cellular mobile calling with the potential cost savings of IP-based Voice over Wi-Fi? We thought you would.

Over the past several years, a number of companies—and groups of companies—have been doggedly pursuing a variety of approaches to melding cellular mobile and VoFi calling. At this week's 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona, an outpouring of announcements indicates that these long-term labors are beginning to bear real fruit.

BridgePort and friends
Chicago-based network infrastructure vendor BridgePort Networks announced two separate demonstrations at the show—one in conjunction with broadband solution provider, PCTEL (also headquartered in Chicago), the other with Singapore-based smartphone provider E28 Ltd.

Both demos involved the seamless handover of calls between GSM and Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11) networks, using BridgePort's NomadicONE IMS [IP multimedia subsystem] Convergence Server.

The handover methodology conforms to IMS technical requirements, known as Voice Call Continuity (VCC), recently defined by the 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project), a collaboration among worldwide telecommunications standards bodies.

In the PCTEL demo, the co-star was that company's Roaming Client-VE software. Roaming Client-VE runs on mobile devices running Pocket PC 2003 or Windows Mobile 5.0 operating systems, and lets users place and receive Wi-Fi or GSM calls over a single phone interface. When necessary, calls are seamlessly handed from one network to the other, based on best available network connectivity and/or user preference.

E28 Limited's 'low-cost' candy-bar form Linux Mobile-based smartphones were also used to demonstrate Voice Call Continuity-compliant handovers in conjunction with BridgePort's NomadicONE server. In addition to Wi-Fi (802.11b), the feature-laden phones support three GSM/GPRS bands, delivering up to three hours of talk time—on either network type.

Through the partnership, BridgePort and E28 have created a market-ready, end-to-end solution for cellular/Wi-Fi convergence using IMS.

Kineto and UMA adoption
A competitor with BridgePort's IMS Convergence Server—Kineto Wireless's Unlicensed Mobile Access or UMA (the name of Kineto-developed convergence technology, as well as a trade group formed to promote it)—also figured in several announcements this week.

Comneon GmbH & Co., a wholly owned subsidiary of chipmaker Infineon, announced the selection of Kineto's UMA Client technology for integration into its mobile 'mobile software platform,' which consists of Comneon's GSM/GPRS/EDGE/UMTS protocol stack and its application framework.

The resulting solution should allow handset makers to bring UMA-enabled handsets to market quickly.

Comneon's UMA-enabled Comneon Protocol Stack Solution was demonstrated this week at 3GSM in the Infineon pavilion, based on the Wi-Fi-enabled Mobile Phone Platform MP-EU, featuring Infineon's wireless-LAN-and-EDGE chipset.

A similar announcement came out of TTPCom, a UK-based supplier of digital wireless technology, which unveiled a Kineto collaboration to 'pre-integrate' UMA capability with TTPCom's portfolio of GSM/GPRS/EDGE protocol stacks.

Again, the resulting software platform should facilitate development of mass-market handsets cellular/Wi-Fi handsets with seamless handover capabilities.

San Jose, Calif.-based fabless chipmaker GCT Semiconductor also announced a voice over WLAN solution "to support the early availability of UMA-based dual mode handsets." The solution incorporates "key portions" of Kineto's UMA Device Client—along with some proprietary GCT power management technology.

GCT is also working with cellular platform providers—including TTPCom—to ensure its solutions are integrated into cellular platform reference designs for near-term, rapid, and low risk adoption.

In other words, a lot of folks are busying themselves building dual mode phones and phone components that will combine some flavor of Wi-Fi with bleeding edge cellular technologies—at mass-market price levels.

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