RealTime IT News

True Wi-Fi-Cellular Convergence?

NEW YORK -- Cisco  and Nokia  are working together on a dual-mode device that will support a hand-off between Wi-Fi and cellular networks.

Dual-mode handsets in the enterprise would allow users to shift seamlessly from network to network without worrying about dropped calls or degraded speeds of data transmission.

Alan Cohen, senior director of mobility solutions for Cisco, told a panel here at Interop New York 2006 that the two companies are testing a handset that will give users the ability to stay connected even as they move, for instance, from their offices to the parking lot.

Cohen told internetnews.com that the devices are already in use internally and will be released to market within the next six to 12 months.

Dual-mode devices are already available by the boatload, but Cohen explained that the Cisco-Nokia iterations will include important features that have thus far kept enterprises from adopting dual-mode handsets.

These include call admission control, enhanced security and power-save features.

Call admission control prevents VoIP networks from becoming over-saturated, and improves quality of service.

Cohen said that this type of solution is already being pushed aggressively in Japan, where Cisco has a partnership with NTT DoCoMo .

One out of five cell phones produced in Japan next year will have dual-mode capabilities, he said.

But Cohen also noted that NTT is the exception among carriers, whom he blamed for inhibiting the development of this type of device.

"Carriers perceive it as lost minutes," he said.

That's because when users walk into their office buildings, their dual-mode devices would switch from the carriers' networks to an enterprise Wi-Fi or other wireless network.

Craig Mathias, principal of Farpoint Group, agreed that carriers see dual-mode devices as a threat.

But Mathias also told internetnews.com that while carriers are currently resisting dual-mode, they will ultimately come around to it because they do not have enough spectrum to meet all the demands of voice and data transmission.

"They have no choice, but they think they do [now]," he said.

However, not everyone is convinced that enterprises will adopt this solution all that quickly

Vanessa Alvarez, an analyst with the Yankee Group, said that enterprises will need to see a compelling value proposition in order to switch from their current handsets.

Handset manufacturers like Nokia "will have to take a vertical approach," she said.

Ben Guderian, vice president of market strategy for IP telephony solutions provider Spectralink, identified some of those vertical markets at an earlier session.

"Large retailers, manufacturing distribution centers, and health care are verticals that have a compelling need for mobility," he said.

Mathias said that the pairing of market leaders Cisco and Nokia will accelerate adoption.

Cisco had also been working with Motorola  , but that relationship didn't come to fruition, noted Alvarez.

Mathias noted that a lack of standards is also inhibiting adoption of next-generation devices.

He said that IEEE standard 802.11n will be released by the middle of 2008.

Mathias said that "politics is playing a huge role. That's why it's taking so long to get a standard."

He noted, however, that the market is not waiting around.

Another organization, the WiFi Alliance, is issuing an interim standard next year, he said.

Mathias believes that IEEE standard will be backward-compatible with the interim standard.