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The Finnish/Swedish cell giant will offer converged calling: The service will launch in Denmark, and try to convince potential subscribers to drop their wired landline in favor of broadband plus mobile. Motorola will be the equipment provider. The Motorola A910 might be the handset, but this report couldn’t confirm that. The key for this service, Motorola said, is that cost for UMA in the home (the Wi-Fi part of the equation) must not be more expensive than comparable wired landline service.
More rumors, this time that the Nokia 6136 UMA phone will be the second offered model in September: T-Mobile’s launch, perhaps on Sept. 12, of a converged cell/Wi-Fi calling service using UMA (unlicensed mobile access) picks up the latest detail, this time on handsets. Engadget Mobile reports that Nokia’s 6136, a stripped-down phone with basic capabilities, will be offered alongside a Samsung T709 at launch.
T-Mobile has no 3G offering, but the largest footprint of Wi-Fi hotspots in their native network. They also have no U.S. landline or wire partner. Thus, UMA plans in which Wi-Fi at home and at hotspots are charged at an enormously lower rate—perhaps even with unlimited Wi-Fi minutes—has to be appealing as a competitive feature.
Katie Fehrenbacher reports at GigaOm that T-Mobile will launch its UMA service Sept. 12: The service will launch in Seattle, the home of the division of T-Mobile that handles Wi-Fi, and perhaps in San Francisco or Chicago. Fehrenbacher notes that UMA handsets might not be allowed to roam onto arbitrary hotspots, perhaps being locked to home units or approved networks. However, she doesn’t pick up on a related fact: that the WMM (Wireless Multimedia) Power Save mode is a necessary feature for both handset and Wi-Fi gateway to ensure that the handsets have decent talk time.
The Nokia 6136 UMA handset—introduced as a proof of concept, as it’s not in use anywhere yet—offers 5.5 hours of talk time via UMA over Wi-Fi, but only if what Nokia labels U-APSD is in the gateway. That’s a long abbreviation for what is more commonly known as WMM Power Save. This mode, found in many current chips, is a function of providing quality of service (QoS), in that it lets handsets reduce unnecessary transmissions and power use, making voice over IP over WLAN practical with a battery-powered handset.
BusinessWeek reports on T-Mobile’s testing of unlicensed mobile access (UMA): UMA converges cellular networks and Wi-Fi networks with a dual-mode phone acting as the conduit. The best network is used for calls by whatever standard the operator allows or requires and the consumers chooses, if they have a choice. The might mean the cheapest network (Wi-Fi over cell), the best quality (outdoors, probably cell over Wi-Fi, indoors the opposite), or a combination of factors based on a plan.
UMA isn’t rolled out yet, but T-Mobile solicited testers to try phones and Wi-Fi gear for “T-Mobile-At-Home.” According to recent research I conducted, it’s clear that Wi-Fi routers in their present form aren’t ideal for UMA. Instead, a few new standards need to be added to better allow reduced power by UMA handsets and control quality of service. The latter, known as WME and part of the 802.11e standard, is becoming widely available, but the power-control standard for handsets is only in specialized gateways at present.
AT&T is also planning to introduce similar services, whether strictly UMA (a standard) or just a similar converged idea is unclear; it sounds more like a phone with a switch than automated seamless roaming. AT&T is in the middle of acquiring BellSouth, which would also give AT&T 100-percent control of Cingular Wireless, and allow more flexibility in their Wi-Fi and cellular plans for AT&T home customers.
The article also notes BT’s existing similar service (which uses Bluetooth, but will switch to Wi-Fi soon), and Hawaii Telecom’s hybrid wireline/cellular service. Hawaii Telecom uses automatic call forwarding based on location.
Verizon has a slight problem with this service, because they might migrate home landline users to Verizon Wireless, which is minority owned by Vodafone. This would send money out the door to this partner that they would otherwise retain in a landline market. Of course, Verizon could also see a DSL uptake, which the article doesn’t mention, and capture revenue in other markets where they have no landline business. Verizon told the reporter they have no converged calling plans on the table.
If you can move data over it, you’d better be able to test: AirMagnet is known for planning, testing, and monitoring wireless LAN networks, and their latest product logically extends that into voice. The VoFi Analyzer is designed to determine the performance and security of VoWLAN. It’s a new technology and thus existing tools need to be updated or new tools developed for the particular characteristics. What happens if 50 people associated with a couple APs on insufficient backhaul make calls at once? Does the system leak authentication data? And so on.
AirMagnet cites an Infonetics’ report that the market will grow to $3.7b for VoWLAN by 2009. That’s a lot of purchasing decisions that could go wrong. VoFi Analyzer works across the entire VoWLAN chain, from IP-PBX through the network to the phone. It’s not just a tester, but a monitoring tool for quality across an active system. The company scored with an early AT&T connection; that firm is testing the software.
The press release doesn’t mention it, but I expect that AirMagnet is working with VoWLAN systems and handset makers to have secret sauce (or even open protocols) inserted in those products to provide better reporting. Reporting often leads to improvements by tying in streams of performance data to systems that can act on it. A WLAN switch that can read VoIP service data might increase or decrease the power output of a given set of access points, or force associations of laptops to other APs, leaving a voice-heavy area preserved.