First UMA Phone Announced

Who will be the first out with a phone to support Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA)? Kineto—the company that developed the technology—has licensed its UMA software to several companies, but the first out with an official announcement appears to be LG Electronics (LGE).

LGLGE’s Fixed-Mobile Convergence (FMC) phone is the CL400. Most handsets today that support Wi-Fi are big smartphones—the kind that include PDA and other features, at a high price. According to Kineto marketing director Steve Shaw, the CL400 will have a “much more mid-tier clamshell design — not an all-out road warrior communications product.” The price should be lower than traditional smartphones as well.

That said, the phone won’t scrimp on extras. It will include a megapixel digital camera and an MP3 player.

And of course it’s also a phone, supporting GSM/GPRS and tri-band (850/1800/1900) for use in North America and parts of Europe. With the UMA client software on board, the best part is that calls and data access will roam seamlessly from Wi-Fi to cellular and back again without dropping a signal.

LGE licensed the UMA technology from Kineto in July, as did Samsung. Shaw says Samsung will probably “have something shortly.” He says Motorola has also made mention of a UMA phone, but has not announced anything official. Chances are good that all of these phone makers could have UMA-based products out in the same timeframe—in trials this year, with retail availability in the first half of 2006.

Kineto is also working with Nokia — not on a UMA phone (yet), but on the network side, where UMA support is necessary from carriers. Who those carriers will be, and thus who offers the new LG or other UMA-based phones, is still unknown.

UMA was folded into the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) cellular specifications last May. Shaw says it was a “huge boost for UMA… it went from being a bunch of vendors that put together a specification to a globally ratified specification for how Wi-Fi and cellular converge.” What Kineto offers for license is still the company’s own brew of UMA, but upgradeable to final specifications when established. In the future, Shaw says to expect direct support for 3G services like CDMA/EV-DO. “The changes would be minor for UMA; [we expect] implementation nits, not any significant structural changes,” he says.

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