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PCTEL Partners for Roaming

In separate announcements this week, wireless access solutions provider PCTEL of Milpitas, CA, has said it will be providing its Wi-Fi Roaming Client software with future Wireless CDMA 1X and GPRS Merlin PC Card modems from Novatel and later this year with GoAmerica's new wide area network (WAN) data service.

PCTEL's software is architected to work with any 2.5G network or Wi-Fi network that it can detect -- that is, any wireless LAN with a publicly broadcast SSID.

"CDMA and GPRS networks were setup for voice services," explains Biju Nair, Vice President and General Manager, Wireless Software Product Development at PCTEL. "Overlaying data has been successful but it hasn't been tested with a large number of users. Cellular providers have a lot of customers -- the problem they'll have is reduced capacity and voice users getting bumped. "Our software will allow customers on a [cellular] WAN that come in range of a WLAN [to] automatically switch, freeing up the resources."

By putting the PCTEL software in a system using a Novatel cellular modem and a 802.11-based client card, users will be able to roam from 802.11a or 11b hotspots to GSM/GPRS or CDMA networks.

Novatel will offer the Wi-Fi Roaming Client software for three years as part of the agreement. The client will be a configuration option integrated in the Merlin Modem Manager software that comes with Novatel clients cards.

How soon until the PCTEL client software will be available to Merlin users depends on the carriers.

"We work closely with our carrier partners and what features they'd like to have," says Novatel CEO John Major. "Where this goes depends on where they want to go."

He said, however, that PCTEL rollout with Novatel products could start as soon as this current quarter of 2002.

Wireless service provider GoAmerica will offer the PCTEL roaming as part of its new Wi-Fi access service for later in 2002. According to a GoAmerica spokesperson, it will be part of a bundled offer with wide area data service through partnerships with providers such as Verizon, Voicestream, and Boingo. No pricing on this service has been set yet.

Nair points out that downloads on a cellular network currently won't automatically trip over to a WLAN connection --- such a connection will have to conclude first before the switch to the WLAN network takes place. That will change in November when the software gets Mobile IP enabled in October.

"With phone conversations, when you switch modes of support, you're very aware, since it's a circuit connection," says Major. "With IP, the users may be completely unaware, except for watching the right icon. That's the level of 'masking the complexity' we're going for.

The PCTEL software is based on technology it acquired in its acquisition of cyberPixie less than three months ago. The company is best known for pushing the adoption of "soft modem" technology for dial-up access to the Internet.

Eric Griffith is the managing editor of 802.11 Planet.

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