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Lucent to Demo Wireless World's Holy Grail

Murray Hill, N.J.'s Lucent Technologies Wednesday plans to demonstrate a further step in what some wireless industry watchers consider the Holy Grail of wireless data networking: seamless roaming.

At the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) Wireless IT and Internet show in Las Vegas Wednesday, Lucent said it will demonstrate seamless switching of laptop data calls between an 802.11b wireless local area network and a 3G CDMA 1xEV-DO network.

Lucent made a similar demonstration in September, when it showed off a seamless handoff of a wireless data call from an 802.11b WLAN to a 3G UMTS network.

The idea is relatively simple: to give mobile workers the ability to remain connected without having to re-establish secure IP sessions each time they move from a WLAN to a wide area network (WAN) and back again. For instance, an IT field service engineer could begin downloading large files like technical schematics from a WLAN at a dispatch center, and continue to receive the information while en-route to a service call.

Maria Palamara, offer director for the Mobility Solutions Group at Lucent, told internetnews.com Tuesday that she sees the technology first catching on for vertical applications. For instance, public safety workers like police and emergency services responders could leverage fixed wireless networks on premises and mobile wireless networks off-premises without having to re-establish secure IP sessions each time they move.

"As PDAs become more the norm for business-type users, we'll see this type of seamless interaction take a more horizontal approach," Palamara said.

But she also noted that Lucent has not yet commercialized the technology, as carriers and WLAN operators are only beginning to test the waters, though some, like Sprint , are ready to call it the future of wireless.

"Companies that take a more integrated approach to meet customer demand will outlive their competitors," Sprint Chairman and CEO William Esrey declared at InternetWorld Fall 2002 early in October. "Total access solutions is where the industry is going, and, more importantly, where it needs to go. The desire for one-stop shopping and end-to-end services will grow."

But it is unlikely that carriers will be able to do it alone, Palamara said. Instead, she foresees a surge in roaming agreements, as carriers strike deals with WLAN hotspot providers in order to provide the seamless roaming experience. In such a scenario, wireless carriers would become managers of wireless services. The carriers would forge agreements with hotspot providers, but such deals would be transparent to the end-users, with all bills coming through their carriers of choice.

"We'll see a lot of these roaming agreements happening over the next few months, is my expectation," Palamara said. "There's still a lot of uncertainty in the industry as to which wireless LANs are going to support roaming agreements." Still, she noted that hotspot providers want traffic, which would make deals with carriers potentially very attractive.

The demonstration Wednesday will utilize a 1xEV-DO network. CDMA2000 1xEV-DO (the EV stands for evolution, while DO stands for data optimized) is a step up from the CDMA2000 1xRTT technology most U.S. carriers have deployed currently.

Lucent began offering 1xEV-DO equipment commercially in June, and Verizon Wireless already uses the technology as the infrastructure behind its Express Network. The technology gives mobile operators the ability to offer always-on mobile data services at speeds of up to 2.4 mbps.

In addition, Lucent's demonstration will utilize a laptop equipped with a Sierra Wireless AirCard (a wide-area wireless PC card), a Proxim Orinoco 802.11 WLAN card, and ipUnplugged's Seamless Roaming Gateway solution. The enabling technology behind it all is Mobile IP, an Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) standard which allows the seamless inter-technology handoff between 802.11 and 3G technologies.

The ipUnplugged Roaming Gateway handles the actual handoff. It supports VPN connectivity between sites and filtering of service requests for individual users based on a service profile. It can also use legacy authentication servers.