Monday, July 31, 2006

Nokia with nascent wireless technology

The world's largest mobile phone manufacturer has set up an Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) pilot system in 50 homes in the city of Oulu, Finland, and has introduced a new dual-mode handset for seamless handover of voice and data connections between GSM networks and wireless LANs.

With UMA systems wireless operators can extend their geographical coverage into low-density rural areas without installing costly GSM base stations, relying on hotspots instead.

Seamless Switchover

Moving seamlessly between a variety of networks and associated specifications means that consumers and enterprise employees can initiate a session -- be it a wireless phone call, VoIP call or Internet search -- without worrying about where they are or what service is available.

The Nokia 6136 phone switches from a cellular to a Wi-Fi connection when it picks up an available wireless network. Or, the connection is transferred from Wi-Fi to GSM if the caller moves beyond the reach of a wireless LAN.

Among the other companies rolling out UMA systems is global wireless operator BT, which is offering the Fusion device, manufactured by Motorola, It lets users seamlessly switch between wireless and broadband networks.

"I think we will start to see more products like this in the near future, because telecom operators are keen to not let their future opportunities be subsumed by the mobile players," said Yankee Group analyst John Jackson.

Putting the Pieces Together

But demand for fixed-mobile convergence services remains unclear, Jackson said. "The advantage is offering a single point of contact in the home, and while users are out and about."

Annual global sales of dual-mode mobile phones, which can connect to conventional GSM/CDMA mobile systems or Wi-Fi networks, should top 100 million by the end of the decade, according to ABI Research, driven by support from carriers such as BT and Korea Telecom.

IDC analyst Abner Germanow suggested that Nokia's carrier customers view UMA as a fixed-line replacement that can improve reception in homes where it may be spotty. "This is a pretty small experiment, but they have to start somewhere," he said. "They have a few dual-mode handsets available are putting the pieces together for larger UMA deployments."

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