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December 9, 2002
Isn't that always the way? You wait all day for a system that can pass data across wide-area and local wireless networks, and then several come along all at once.
Last week, Nortel Networks Corp.'s (NYSE/Toronto: NT) said it would go a-roaming (see Nortel Romances Roaming ). And this week, Padcom Inc. has popped up to say it's already doing it.
Bethlehem, Pa.-based Padcom, which was founded in 1989, has software that can be installed on a company's premises, switch a user between different networks (maintaining a static IP address), and convert IP data packets so that they can be sent over different network types. Padcom's system uses a client/server based setup that can support 802.11 wireless LANs, CDPD, and private RF networks. The company gives a fairly extensive rundown of its technology in this white paper on its site.
Padcom has just announced support for roaming between WLAN and CDMA 1xRTT cellular networks and is testing similar capabilities for GPRS networks. The company plans to work on more carrier-oriented projects in the future, according to Mark Ferguson, the firm's director of marketing.
"We've worked with AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint before," Ferguson says. Currently, the company usually works with corporations, as well as a number of public utilities and governmental agencies. For instance, the firm has a contract with the Baltimore police department. This civic-mindedness is the reason Padcom has focused on linking up pager, WLAN, and private radio networks, and only recently started to add the more commonplace cellular networks.
One of the questions that arose from our story about Nortel's work with another startup, Mobility Networks, is how roaming systems can deal with latency problems without dropping the connection. The three or four seconds that it takes to leap from one network to another can often result in a dropped line.
Padcom's CTO, Chris Bogdon, says the Padcom software gets around this problem by querying the network it is trying to reach behind the scenes, handing over the user only when a connection has been established.This sounds similar to the technique that softswitch startup Winphoria Networks uses to get around call-setup and latency problems (see Winphoria Talks Back). Now, it so happens Winphoria also called, after we ran our Nortel article, to say that it had the roaming problem licked, but we haven't yet talked to them fully about what they're offering.
There are also other companies working on the WLAN-WAN roaming issue. Transat Technologies Inc. says it has a roaming system, and has been linked with Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) in the past. IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) says it has middleware that will help facilitate multi-network roaming.
However, when it comes right down to it, the main impediment to multi-network roaming is the lack of chipsets and cards that could enable roaming between networks. We know of just one GPRS/GSM/802.11 card in production -- from Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) -- although we've heard that Sprint PCS (NYSE: PCS) has one in the works for CDMA 1xRTT networks.
However, until multi-modal chips from the likes of Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) (see WLAN/WAN, Thank You Qualcomm?) hit the market in volume, which isn't likely until sometime into next year, roaming between 802.11 and wide area networks is likely to be the preserve of a very select band of laptop-totin' "road warriors."— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung
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