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The Year of Living SeamlesslyThe Year of Living Seamlessly

April 1, 2006

7 Min Read
The Year of Living Seamlessly

By Tara Seals

IMAGINE A WORLD WHERE the typical cordless home phone is your only phone. Its a remote handset, souped up with mobile phone keypad features, and you take it everywhere. Not only does this fantastic device work with the office system, the cell network and at home, but it roams between the three transparently and saves money in the process.

It may sound like something out of a Hollywood dream palace, but these types of integrated services are becoming reality sooner than anyone thought. Welcome to 2006, the year of seamless mobility.

Click to Enlarge

Source: Sage Research/Chadwick Martin Bailey

Seamless roaming between Wi-Fi and cellular networks using a dual-mode device is the first round in the fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) game, with deployments expected later this year. The devices connect to Wi-Fi networks where available (home, office or hotspot) so that voice calls are transparently converted to VoIP, and data sessions gain more bandwidth. Put simply, the user conveniently gets one device, one number, one bill and one feature set to use whether at home, work or somewhere in between, along with extra features like presence capability and buddy lists. Leveraging Wi-Fi also counters issues such as poor indoor cell coverage and slow download speeds outside of 3G markets, and using VoIP where possible means lower monthly bills and fewer cell overages.

Adding real credit to the buzz, dual-mode is something that operators want to bring to market. It gives mobile carriers with Wi-Fi-based services an even better way to lure consumers away from fixed lines, plus it solves indoor coverage issues. Wireline operators like the FMC concept too, seeing a way to reduce fixed-to-mobile substitution by enabling users to take their VoWLAN-enabled home phones on the road.

Click to Enlarge

Source: Sage Research/Chadwick Martin Bailey

Immense opportunity awaits partners that tap into the concept early. Dealers can offer your Average Joe consumer the convenience of one phone and one number whether home or out and about, along with the ability to offload wireless minutes to the cheaper VoWLAN service where available.

Enterprises and SMBs are interested as well, especially as mobile use continues to escalate. For instance, in one Avaya Inc. and Motorola Inc. trial with Chicago-based food distributor Anthony Marano Co., sales executives have to be available to customers no matter where they are. And with a facility that spans 300,000 square feet, the technology helped reduce costs in a company that had been using mobile heavily.

While on the Wi-Fi network, users have access to all PBX functions. That is why we found it such a compelling product, says Chris Nowak, IT director at Anthony Marano.

Indicative of the trend, enterprise VoWLAN usage is expected to grow dramatically during the next three years. In its Mobile Communications in the U.S. Workplace report, InfoTech predicts annual U.S. enterprise VoWLAN revenue will reach $1.1 billion by 2010, with dual-mode cellular/Wi-Fi devices contributing the bulk of the revenue. Cellular/Wi-Fi devices are driving this growth, says Jeanine Sterling, vice president and program director of InfoTechs enterprise mobility program.

Not only does the number of companies purchasing dual-mode devices increase dramatically but adoption of this handheld within these companies is expected to ripple quickly through once a critical mass of models is available.

Also, an 1,800-member focus group study from InfoTech found that 30 percent of those companies are implementing some form of VoWLAN today, and that is expected to more than double to 77 percent by year-end 2008.

For vendors and providers, the implications are clear, says Sterling. The main growth area is the dual-mode device and the infrastructure to support it. In light of the enterprises desire for streamlined, converged communication, dual-mode cellular/Wi- Fi handhelds are perceived by customers as the next logical step.

Further pointing to a wide release later this year for the technology, technical issues in multimode scenarios largely have been resolved through vendor and service provider initiatives providing the dedicated bandwidth necessary on the WLAN for voice QoS, for example, or resolving differences between cellular and Wi-Fi network rules.

In fact, the last remaining gating factor for FMC in general and cellular-Wi-Fi handoff in particular, the biggest initial constraint is the price of dual-mode handsets and limited model options. However, that will change as the year goes on. Viable handsets even now are coming into the market from Asian manufacturers, says Tom Kershaw, vice president of next-generation services at VeriSign Inc., which has been conducting an extensive trial of hand-offs with several universities, including The University of Michigan. I think we will get into sub $200 to $300. That is what the market is waiting for. … Now we are starting to see the second and third rounds [of handsets] coming to market, so 2006 we think will be the year that handsets are available in bulk, Kershaw says.

Every major manufacturer has a dual-mode device planned, and this years 3GSM conference saw a parade of prototype and production handsets, waiting for carrier orders. Also, prices should drop as volumes ramp. Motorola Inc. for instance has a goal of pricing the devices similarly to a highend desk phone.

Meanwhile, advance work is being done on the service front by major operators a device is only as good as the network, after all.

Cingular Wireless has announced it will roll out a package of integrated services across cellular, fixed-line and WLAN networks.

Also, an ongoing trial coordinated by BellSouth Corp. tests the use of dual-mode Wi-Fi/mobile handsets in a corporate setting at Grey Advertising in Atlanta. The trial involves the Avaya IP PBX, Motorola products for Wi-Fi and hand-offs (with Proxim Wireless Corp.), and the Cingular mobile network (owned by BellSouth and AT&T Inc.). The trial started in August 2005 and BellSouth expects to deploy a FMC service sometime this year.

Meanwhile, Sprint Nextel Corp. has said it plans to provide an integrated communications service package to its fixed and mobile customers, and those of its cable company customers, starting late this year.

And Verizon Business is testing the market for FMC-like services with a suite of wireless and wireline solutions that combine the Verizon Wireless footprint with the Verizon Business IP network (enhanced by the recent acquisition of MCI) for enterprise mobility and business continuity applications.

There also is opportunity for dealers beyond the device and service. Behind the scenes, the multimode phone or laptop intelligently chooses whichever available network has the best capacity and QoS; a wireless gateway at home and in the office can connect the remote phone to a fixed line or PBX, and the phone can roam through Wi-Fi hotspots and cellular networks seamlessly, otherwise. Bundling the Wi-Fi installation and accompanying hardware/software and management can make for a sticky, value-packed sale.

Dealers getting into dual-mode devices may get a preview of bigger blockbusters to come. The telecom world is abuzz about fixed-mobile convergence enabled by the IMS architecture, and eventually FMCs promise of feature transparency and seamless mobility across wireline (DSL, fiber, cable) and wireless (3G,Wi-Fi and WiMAX) networks means cool new services for users, new sources of revenue for carriers and plenty of opportunities for dealers.

BellSouth and AT&T already have signed IMS-related deals with vendors; BellSouth has said it plans to roll out VoIP soon with an eye to converged services like programming a DVR from ones mobile phone.

Charlotte Wolter contributed to this article.


Anthony Marano Co. www.anthonymarano.com
AT&T Inc. www.att.com
Avaya Inc. www.avaya.com
BellSouth Corp. www.bellsouth.com
Cingular Wireless www.cingular.com
InfoTech www.pbimedia-infotech.com
Motorola Inc. www.motorola.com
Sprint Nextel Corp. www.sprintnextel.com
VeriSign Inc. www.verisign.com
Verizon Business www.verizon.com

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