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UMA Services Near Reality

Carmen Nobel
News Analysis
Carmen Nobel

If carrier requests for proposals (RFPs) are any indication, several U.S. and European wireless carriers plan to deploy WiFi/cellular roaming services based on the UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access) specification.

Initiated in January 2004, UMA was the brainchild of 14 carriers and hardware makers that wanted to extend GSM/GPRS voice and data services to unlicensed spectrum -- including both Bluetooth and WiFi. The team included hardware makers like Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), and Kineto Wireless Inc. , as well as carriers such as BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), Cingular Wireless , T-Mobile US Inc. , Telefónica Europe plc (O2) , and Rogers Wireless Communications Inc. (NYSE: RCN; Toronto: RCM).

In April 2005 the 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) took over the efforts of the UMA team. In terms of its ability to offer dual-mode roaming, UMA is considered a predecessor to using IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) technology to tie together cellular networks with unlicensed data systems such as WiFi.

In the last six months, "we've responded to more than 10, probably closer to 15, UMA-specific RFPs [requests for proposals] from carriers," says Steve Shaw, director of marketing at Kineto Wireless, which makes both core equipment and handset components for the UMA spec. "Stunningly enough, they actually call specifically for UMA."

BT launched UMA services in the fall of 2005. Analysts expect other carriers to follow suit by the end of 2006, including Telia Company and T-Mobile USA.

"We are on the verge of carrier deployments of UMA," writes Daryl Armstrong, an analyst with Citigroup , in a recent report. "As a rule, carriers that lack meaningful wireline assets seem to be most interested in deploying this technology."

To wit, T-Mobile US Inc. is expected to roll out UMA services within the next six months. The service makes sense for the carrier, which has both a cellular network and a wide deployment of WiFi hotspots in airport lounges and Starbucks coffee shops.

"I've been hearing back from a lot of people that they're very close to launching their service," said Kineto's Shaw. "We actually heard rumors that they'll be launching television ads about it." T-Mobile did not return a call for comment.

But not all of the original UMA participants plan to support it.

"Actually, we're going with IMS," said Ritch Blasi, a spokesman for Cingular Wireless. This is a change of heart for Cingular, which has voiced plans for UMA in the past. (See Cingular's Got Big FMC Plans.)

"We were looking at it, but when we explored the timing of both there was little difference in availability, and IMS is a better platform for convergence -- beyond cellular and WiFi," Blasi said in an email message to Light Reading. "We expect to have our first IMS application broadly available by the end of the year. That’s not necessarily this WiFi/cellular stuff, but an application that uses the IMS platform." (He declined to name the application.) On the handset side, though, UMA has a leg up. Nokia, Motorola, and Samsung all have announced phones that support UMA. According to Blasi, there are no IMS handsets.

— Carmen Nobel, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:57:00 AM
re: UMA Services Near Reality
I cannot wait to see what the first IMS app is that Cingular plans to deploy this year. They should get a year-end award if it really rolls into production by then.
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:56:29 AM
re: UMA Services Near Reality
I am wondering on which IMS platform they are launching the IMS services. Did they announce that?
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:56:26 AM
re: UMA Services Near Reality
I don't get it. UMA tunnels 2G cellular signaling protocols and voice over IP to a box that pretends it's a base station to the Mobile Switching Center. UMA ain't IMS. It's a VoIP gateway to a 2G network.

I also question the whole concept of using WiFi interfaces on cellular telephones. WiFi isn't QoS-enabled and some snot nosed kid at Starbucks is going to download a bootleg MP3 and kill my phone call. That's useless to me. The battery life when you enable a WiFi interface is terrible since the device has to transmit constantly to keep a NAT pinhole open in the home/hotspot WiFi router. I like to think that I'm a typical consumer who would go postal if somebody handed me a "new and improved" RAZR and told me that it wouldn't give me more than 8 to 10 hours of standby time. I have no interest in making my cell phone bigger and heavier to carry a battery sufficient to keep a WiFi link up for 48 hours. We'd all be carrying huge retro-90's "Saved by the Bell" Zach phones. I find it difficult to believe that there's enough market for this "feature" to justify the CAPEX and operating costs of deploying all the equipment.
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:56:25 AM
re: UMA Services Near Reality

I know fair amount of people that their cellphone does not work at home due to weak signal. But, they have broadband internet access and WiFi router at home. So, UMA is useful for those people to use their cellphone at home. You may not face this problem at your area.

User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:56:24 AM
re: UMA Services Near Reality
>>I'm a typical consumer who would go postal if
>>somebody handed me a "new and improved" RAZR and
>>told me that it wouldn't give me more than 8 to >>10 hours of standby time

It looks like the Nokia 6136 UMA phone has 82 hours standby time in WLAN mode from the specification page here.


It also implies that improved talk times up to 5.5 hours are available with 802.11 power management at the wireless router.

>>I also question the whole concept of using WiFi
>>interfaces on cellular telephones. WiFi isn't
>>QoS-enabled and some snot nosed kid at Starbucks
>> is going to download a bootleg MP3 and kill my
>>phone call.

I think the key point about UMA is its usefulness for mobile operators looking to grab those lucrative fixed line minutes (and therefore revenue) from the user at home, which is a much more friendly QoS environment (or at least should be!) than a hotspot. Otherwise all arguments for VoIP services would have the same QoS downsides ... whether it's a Skype or a SIP-based IMS voice service. There's nothing special about UMA in this respect.

User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:56:20 AM
re: UMA Services Near Reality
They probably don't know.
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:55:12 AM
re: UMA Services Near Reality
Does anyone know of the players underlying UMA and Voice Enabled IMS beyond Kineto for UMA and Bridgeport and PCTEL for IMS?
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