Mobility's One-Day Wi-Fi Pilot

By Ed Sutherland

August 14, 2002

A California company may have just the product for the growing number of wireless operators looking to catch a ride on the quick-moving 802.11 trend: One-day Wi-Fi.

Mobility Network Systems, a four-year old Wi-Fi developer in San Jose, CA, announced it has been able to add 802.11 features to Canada's Rogers AT&T Wireless by integrating its Mobility's flagship WiFiRAN (WiFi Radio Active Network) into Rogers' 2.5G/3G GPRS wireless network.

Rogers AT&T Wireless has 3.5 million subscribers across Canada.

Crossing a Barrier

The largest barrier for any new wireless product is "the ease of implementation by network operators and the ease of use by subscribers," Bill Howe, president and CEO of Mobility Networks, said in a statement.

Naveen Dhar, vice president of marketing and development for Mobility, says the three-week Toronto pilot program highlights the need for wireless phones and Wi-Fi to interact in a seamless manner. Dhar points to the recent wave of carriers gathering under the Wi-Fi banner as reason to clean up 802.11's security and recognize "the need to treat [Wi-Fi] like a real telecom-grade" technology.

By integrating Wi-Fi into a carrier's network, subscribers are able to take advantage of GSM's built-in security features and encryption. Dhar said Mobility is targeting corporate users and business travelers moving between GPRS phones and Wi-Fi hot spots to access a WLAN.

Wi-Fi's Big Advantage

The "big advantage of Wi-Fi is it's already out there," says Dhar. Carriers in the past have needed to create a network, deploy the devices, then attract customers.

Although Dhar would not say whether the three-week pilot program with Rogers would lead to the Canadian carrier becoming one of the first customers for Mobility's WiFiRAN, prospects look good.

"Customers are already lined up," according to Dhar. Talks are underway with North American carriers and following the summer lull, two European carriers will conduct trials of Mobility hardware.

"They like to offer one system, rather than two different technologies," explained Dhar.

Scheduled for availability in the fourth quarter of 2002, WiFiRAN will soon include support for UMTS, the European version of 3G, Dhar says.

Connecting Carrier and User

WiFiRAN uses hardware at two points in the Wi-Fi carrier chain. One computer, the Radio Access Controller, talks to the operator. Another, the Radio Link Manager, is placed at a hot spot, controlling access and acting as a gateway between a cellular carrier and a Wi-Fi user.

Dhar said that the carriers' perception of the impact of Wi-Fi on wireless wide area networks has shifted. While initially, carriers feared Wi-Fi would take a bite out of 3G profits, the latest view is 802.11 may be a promising revenue stream for cellular operators.

In its recent report, the UMTS Forum, a promoter of global 3G efforts, indicated carriers not involved in the Wi-Fi movement may be hobbling their own bottom line.

Ignoring Wi-Fi's potential "poses a risk to 3G operators that choose not to participate," said Dr. Bernd Eylert, chairman of the UMTS group.

The UMTS Forum believes WLANs could add $2.8 billion to the total 3G revenue. Telecommunications analysts at BWCS estimate the market for public WLANs could generate $7.3 billion by 2006.

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