Companies are ironing out the final wrinkles in technology that will allow cell phone subscribers to use wireless IP networks.
“I came to Kineto six months ago,” says Steve Shaw, director of marketing for Milpitas, Calif.-based Kineto Wireless. “What I saw was a company pulling together a standard for disruptive technologies that would all work together.”
Shaw’s talking about several tech trends that could prove truly disruptive to the ISP hierarchy, perhaps giving the little companies a leg up, or possibly giving the big companies a new advantage.
“It brings together Wi-Fi, VoIP (which is terrifying the operators), broadband, all with the explosion that’s occurring in the mobile space. So for a little company to come along and say, ‘we can pull together [these technologies] and do it without a standards war,’ that’s a fascinating fascinating thing.”
Kineto is part of the Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) technology group of fourteen companies (now thirteen, after the merger of Cingular and AT&T Wireless) working together to build specs for handset manufacturers.
“UMA started about one year ago,” says Shaw. “It started with the acknowledgement that the technology would have to be built into the handsets and that would only happen under two conditions: first, that it was a standard and second, if there was industry pressure from operators on handset vendors to make this happen.”
Kineto makes the back end equipment for cellular networks (both GSM and CDMA), the massive RADIUS servers as well as other Operations and Support Systems (OSS) hardware. The company intends to do the same for the hybrid IP cellular networks of the future.
The UMA foresees the need for a UMA Network Controller (UNC) that will sit on the interface between the IP and cellular networks. Shaw says it will combine traditional authentication features with advanced security features to protect the cellular network from the perceived security threats of the IP network (although here at ISP-Planet, we believe that the cellular network is not more secure than the IP network, this opinion is not universal).
At the Wi-Fi Planet Conference & Expo, we have learned that the most difficult portion of all of this is a handover between Wi-Fi access points and between the Wi-Fi and cellular networks. Even if UMA does not achieve this perfectly and immediately, Shaw sees many applications for the technology.
The company is working on ATAs that would sit in a subscriber’s home. When the subscriber brought their cell phone home, they’d put it in the ATA and could receive calls on their regular cordless phone. In addition, they could make cell phone calls over the Internet.
Furthermore, they could use the data features that carriers are trying to sell, but with the bandwidth and reliability of a broadband landline. Carriers hope that subscribers will get used to these features at home and then start paying to use them while mobile.
Enterprises may not want all cell phone subscribers to be able to seamlessly use any corporate network. Shaw sees a niche opportunity for enterprise wireless network companies like Aruba, Meru, and Airespace to authenticate employees and allow them to use the corporate Wi-Fi network while preventing others from using it.
The Next Step
Kineto has developed a protocol stack for handset manufacturers that it hopes to sell for an inexpensive, one time per-subscriber fee. “The cost of adding Wi-Fi to a handset is in the sub $5 range,” he says.
Volume discounts are steeper on back end hardware. “On the network side, the more you buy, the more you save, but it might run $15 to $20 per subscriber, as a one time fee, an investment,” says Shaw.
While the UMA group has completed its spec, that spec now needs to be approved by the GSM standards body, 3GPP. If it is to be deployed in CDMA networks, it needs to be approved by the owners of CDMA intellectual property, principally San Diego-based Qualcomm.
There are also field trials and deployments. “I’ve seen four RFPs for UMA systems, including handsets and gateways,” Shaw says.
He wants to get on with building networks. “Standards wars can delay an entire industry. We want to get it approved so it’s available for everyone to benefit from. It will catapault this industry forward.”