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Wi-Fi Alliance Embraces Wi-Fi/Cellular Convergence

Realizing the increasing number of devices combining Wi-Fi and cell phone technology, industry advocacy group Wi-Fi Alliance says it is adapting its certification methods to the 'unique needs of the cellular industry.'

"The Wi-Fi Alliance has initiated a Wi-Fi/Cellular Convergence (WCC) task group focused on identifying and meeting the cellular industry's unique certification requirements for Wi-Fi functions" in converged devices, according to a prepared statement from the 200 member plus industry forum.

"The Wi-Fi Alliance has the certification infrastructure in place to advance the cellular industry's adoption of Wi-Fi in converged Wi-Fi/Cellular products," said Wi-Fi Alliance Managing Director, Frank Hanzlik.

The first round of certified Wi-Fi/cellular devices went to HP's iPAQ PocketPC h6315 PDA, Nokia's 9500 Communicator, and Motorola's Mpx. Also gaining Wi-Fi Alliance certification is the Intermec 760 mobile computer and the SanDisk Connect Wi-Fi SD card. Nokia's Communicator and Motorola's Mpx won't be available until later this year.

The devices announced were certified using the Wi-Fi Alliance's Application Specific Device program, a testing regimen reserved for gadgets that don't fall under the normal certification process.

Key to the Wi-Fi Alliance announcement was to alert the cellular industry they no longer would need to undergo what Hanzlik termed "one-off testing" for devices that fall outside of the Windows XP-centric testbed.

Part of the mission of the WCC task group will be to establish how to certify devices using the Symbian operating system, for example. Symbian is a popular OS for mobile phones (primarily outside North America), according to Hanzlik.

While acknowledging the cellular industry has its own testing body—the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association—it covers only issues associated with wide-area networks.

"Without the Wi-Fi Alliance, there is no world-wide group" certifying Wi-Fi, says Hanzlik.

The task group formed around convergence "wasn't a big stretch" for the alliance. Hanzlik says the call for a group to investigate how Wi-Fi and cellular technologies can best be integrated was "member-driven."

"Nokia stepped up to lead this group," says Hanzlik. Paul Meche, a Wi-Fi Alliance board member and a Nokia Mobile Phone Fellow, will be chairman of the Wi-Fi/Cellular Convergence task group. Vice chairmen of the group are Hewlett-Packard's Richard Watts and Ajay Mishra, from WLAN switch startup Airespace.

Indeed most cell phone makers are also listed as members of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

The group plans in 2005 to produce a report on what this new market of converged wireless devices might require, according to Meche. Hanzlik says other issues will need to be discussed, such as whether converged Wi-Fi/cellular devices will use the current stable of worldwide testing labs or follow another path. But the Wi-Fi Alliance sees many issues on which the two industries can work together.

"Hand-offs, billing, roaming all come into play," says Hanzlik.

Other issues, including device conformance, power demands, and linking licensed and unlicensed technology could also be topics of future discussions.

The growing number of VoIP-related product announcements highlights Wi-Fi's transformation from simply delivering Internet and data access.

"We see this initiative as a valuable opportunity for product manufacturers and service providers to work together to define the requirements of this market," said Hanzlik.