Rainbow to Link WiFi & WAN
The consortium -- which consists of Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), AT&T Wireless Services Inc. (NYSE: AWE), Cingular Wireless, and Verizon Wireless -- is working on technology that allows users to roam between WLAN hotspots and GPRS and CDMA2000 1xRTT networks. It will be able to charge customers for the combined WLAN/WAN usage on a single bill, according to Dr. John Rasmus, VP of business and corporate development at mobile office communications company GRIC Communications Inc.
It is not clear when Intel and friends are planning to start rolling out wireless LAN services, since none of the companies involved in the Rainbow Project will comment. However, Rasmus reckons that even if the services aren't ready to roll any time soon, the technology will be.
"There will be roaming between GPRS and WLAN networks in the next six months, I suspect," he says. "It won't be a full-blown commercial service, but it will be happening."
Roaming between wireless LAN and WAN systems and unified billing are very important issues for cellular operators that want to get into the WLAN game. That's because they need to ensure coverage for a user using their service, and customers prefer to be charged for services on one bill, instead of several different ones.
AT&T Wireless may well learn some lessons on WLAN roaming from one of its investors, NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM). The Japanese operator has just started the rollout of its WLAN services and is planning to introduce a dual-mode card to enable users to roam over 802.11b and W-CDMA networks (see DoCoMo Plays Its Hotspot Ace).
However, Maria Palamara, offer director at Lucent Technologies Inc.'s (NYSE: LU) mobility unit, says the Rainbow road warriors will initially concentrate on combining 2.5G and WLAN services, rather than waiting for faster 3G networks to hit town. Lucent has just announced that it has its own project underway to link third-generation cellular technology such as UMTS, W-CDMA, and CDMA2000 networks with WLAN hotspots (see Lucent Teams on Data Solutions).
Palamara also believes that the initial Rainbow rollout won't be nearly as grand as some reports have made it seem, certainly not carpeting the U.S. with high-speed wireless LANs. She says IBM will initially concentrate on putting hotspots in hotels and airports. Big Blue is already working on a similar project with wireless service provider Wayport Inc.
— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung