Imagine taking a conference call in your office, then walking out of the building to drive across town to a customer meeting — without ever dropping the call. That’s the promise of seamless roaming, which will allow users to roam between cellular networks (like general packet radio services and 1XRTT)

and internal wireless 802.11 networks.

At the end of the day, it’s about improving sales, responding to customers faster and making employees more productive, says Susan Dineen, executive advisor, management, entertainment and media, with Markham, Ont.-based Fox Group Consulting.

“”With this converged world, people don’t want to lose calls anymore,”” she says. “”They want to use one device, and that one device will be used on their desk, throughout the building, outside the building and as a mobile device as they move around.””

She says organizations need to look at this as an enterprise communications strategy and develop a detailed migration plan. But she adds it’s still an immature market, because different manufacturers are making devices with different standards, and it’s not easy to use more than one device for the same application.

Regardless of the issues that need to be worked out, seamless roaming services are starting to pop up in other parts of the world. British Telecom recently announced plans to launch a seamless convergence service for U.K. broadband customers; it will use a high-power version of Bluetooth on a mobile phone from Motorola. And Korea Telecom has already launched convergence services on a dual-mode Bluetooth CTP/cellular handset from Samsung.

In Japan, Avaya has provided Toshiba with 12,000 session initiation protocol (SIP) phones behind an Avaya Communication Manager. “”A lot of these end points are third-party end points,”” says Tracy Fleming, convergence specialist with Avaya. “”That’s where we see this going — it’s got to be ubiquitous from whatever device I’m using.””

Avaya will resell Motorola’s CN620 handset, which works on both cellular and wireless LANs. It will be launched in the U.S. in first quarter of 2005; a Canadian launch date has not been set, but will likely occur six months after the U.S. launch.

Three years ago it was all about trying to reduce costs, says Fleming. Today the discussion is around improving communications in business processes — where one technology doesn’t replace another, but brings all available technologies under one roof. “”If my customers can get to me faster, I can respond faster,”” he says. “”It dramatically cuts down on voicemail sitting in my inbox waiting for two or three hours.””

HP is offering what it calls HP Open Roaming for automatic roaming between network technologies, allowing users to maintain a continuous session with their mobile applications. It’s offering the HP iPaq Pocket PC h6315 in the U.S. through T-Mobile; it plans to roll out the iPaq in Canada in the first quarter of 2005. The iPaq can be used for voice, e-mail, Internet access and instant messaging. It includes built-in GSM phone capabilities with integrated GPRS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

TWO DIFFERENT WORLDS

“”You need an infrastructure that will essentially switch the calls between one network and another,”” says Victor Garcia, chief technology officer with HP Canada. The iPaq allows users to make a phone call through a GSM network; when the device detects the presence of a Wi-Fi network, it automatically switches the GSM call to a voice over IP system. “”It can do that, but it is not an out-of-the-box functionality,”” he says.

That requires connectivity between the wireless carrier and the voice over IP carrier.

“”If it’s not one and the same, if a company has its own voice over IP and it’s using, say, Rogers Wireless, then there’s switching that has to happen behind the scenes to pass that call over,”” he says. “”That infrastructure is not in place today.””

Rogers Wireless is a member of the Fixed-Mobile Convergence Alliance (FMCA).

“”The ultimate objective is to produce seamless services that can move between 802.11 networks and mobile networks,”” says David Neale, Rogers’ vice-president of new product development. “”The two worlds are really very different. The mobile world is designed exclusively to enable total mobility, to maintain continuous sessions of both data and voice. In the Wi-Fi world you can’t do that.””

It’s still early days to talk about commercial product, he says. “”Most of us are still in an evaluation area, but you can see that the end point will be to produce devices that allow seamless access to voice and data services whether you’re on an enterprise network or whether you’re out on the mobile network.””

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