Sowing the seeds of seamless roaming

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 (such as general packet radio services and

1XRTT) and internal wireless 802.11 networks.

Improvements in customer response and employee productivity are driving this trend, says Susan Dineen, executive advisor of management, entertainment and media, with Markham, Ont.-based Fox Group Consulting.

“”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,”” she says.

She says organizations must look at this as an enterprise communications strategy, and that means they must develop a detailed migration plan.

“”We recommend vendors that understand the converged world and who can provide multi-vendor interoperability and strategic alliances,”” she says.

But it’s still an immature market, she says, because different manufacturers are making devices with different standards.

Regardless of the issues that must be worked out, seamless roaming services are starting to pop up in other parts of the world.

BT 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 Motorola mobile phone. 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 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 has to be ubiquitous from any device I’m using.””

Pump up the volume

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.

Three years ago, it was all about trying to reduce costs, says Fleming. Today, the discussion is about 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 voice mail sitting in my inbox waiting for two or three hours.””

Meanwhile, HP is offering Open Roaming for automatic roaming between network technologies, allowing users to maintain a continuous session with their mobile applications. It’s distributing the HP iPaq Pocket PC h6315 in the U.S. through T-Mobil, and 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.

“”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 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), a group of vendors and carriers that aims to accelerate the entrance of telecom operators into the convergence market and ensure vendor support by creating consistent convergence product requirements.

“”The ultimate objective is to produce seamless services that can move between 802.11 networks and mobile networks,”” says David Neale, vice-president of new product development with Rogers Wireless.

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 out on the mobile network.””

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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