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Nokia Trials FMC

Dan Jones
LR Mobile News Analysis
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor
7/28/2006

Finland's sixth largest city -- the picturesque coastal town of Oulu -- is to be the first public Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) testing ground for UMA fixed/mobile convergence technology.

The phone vendor is planning a two-month trial of unlicensed mobile access (UMA) cellphones using the public WiFi system in downtown Oulu. The testing will use 50 UMA-enabled 6136 Nokia cellphones and around 300 access points.

A spokesperson for the vendor says that the trial will gather "real world" data on the technology. "The pilot will also be able to determine any potential issues that could arise so that the appropriate measures can then be taken before the service is offered to consumers," he tells Unstrung.

UMA -- in case you've forgotten -- is a specification that allows calls to be transferred between cellular, WiFi, and Bluetooth networks. The technology appeals to operators because unlike some other fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) options, it allows them to maintain control of the call by tunneling the data back over a WLAN or Bluetooth network to a gateway on the operator's network, which processes and forwards the call data to the circuit or packet-switched mobile core.

Startup Kineto Wireless Inc. made most of the early running with the specification in 2004 and 2005. Recently, phone and equipment vendors and operators have taken an interest. Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), Nokia and Samsung Corp. all have UMA-compatible handsets on their books. (See UMA Steps Up.) Up to 15 operators have also put out RFPs on UMA services. (See UMA Services Near Reality.)

So, how long after the trial will some of these capabilities get into the grubby little hands of corporate users? "I don't think we see a lot of convergence from the carriers in any form until about a year from now, but handsets and services will trickle out between now and then," says Farpoint Group analyst and erstwhile Unstrung contributor Craig Mathias.

He disputes, however, the notion proffered by some that UMA is a stopgap technology for FMC -- suggesting that once it's in, it's in for the long haul.

"UMA has been viewed by many as an interim technology. I don't think it is. Once installed, it will have a long and happy life. It may not do everything that IMS does, but it should be a fine solution for many enterprises and carriers alike."

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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