The Marriage of WLAN to GSM

By Eric Griffith

August 22, 2002

Transat and Intel hope that the smart cards of 3G GSM phones could become the trusted device identifiers in the future of public hotspot roaming, leading to one bill for all use.

Transat Technologies of Southlake, TX, a developer of wireless data communications technology, has a dream. The company wants to, in the words of their President and CEO John Baker, help mobile carriers "move into smart card type technology for authentication and billing on WLAN networks."

With backing from 400-pound gorilla Intel, which is also a strategic investor in Transat, they may have a fighting chance.

Transat and Intel will work together to let users of smart card enabled products, such as GSM mobile phones, also use that same card for advanced authentication on other systems, such as public access hotspots.

The plan is for Intel computer products running on networks with Transat's embedded software to be able to roam across different wireless networks and, in the end, receive only one bill. The roaming and authentication would be based entirely on that used by 3G/GSM mobile phones using smart cards embedded in the product accessing the network. A "home location register" (HLR) will verify the identity of the user and collect the billing information, even if the person logged in at a different network. The 'remote' network is paid for use by inter-operator bulk settlements, just as today's cellular voice networks are.

So a laptop user with the smart card embedded could log on at a hotspot and have their authentication routed through a Transat Wireless Access Internet Node (WAIN) server to the GSM network, which, in the end, would bill the customer.

Transat has issued proposals to standardization bodies like the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to make GSM smart cards into "trusted" devices. Today's smart cards in phones are the unique identifiers. "There's no phone number on just one phone in the GSM world," says Baker, "so you can shift it around and roam networks."

There's no reason the smart card can't be used for more than identifying you for voice traffic, says Baker. A smart card could provide a service profile so you can do things like high speed data or video conference calls, with multiple profiles are in a card.

Today's Wireless LANs are not very mobile phone friendly, at least until Nokia and Qualcomm get some products out that support 802.11, so Baker admits "We're looking at how to make laptops and PDAs trusted devices, so essentially this is looking at using the smart card in the laptop."

Transat has been testing the products in Switzerland since January.

"We're trying to make using WLAN technologies as easy as using mobile phones," says Baker.

Eric Griffith is the managing editor of 802.11 Planet.

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