UMA Gains Ground

The long-term prospects for unlicensed mobile access (UMA) received a boost this week with big-name vendor support, amid the imminent launch of BT Group plc's (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) Bluephone service.

Incorporated in the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) cellular specifications, the basic idea of UMA is that mobile network operators can extend the coverage and capacity of their networks by using unlicensed local-area access networks, such as wireless LAN and Bluetooth (see UMA Group Wraps Up and Industry Touts UMA Specs).

The user, equipped with a dualmode cellular/WLAN handset, can make calls across any generic wireless LAN and IP network, with the call and signaling data encapsulated in secure IP tunnels. These tunnels terminate on an access gateway, which processes and passes call data to the circuit-switched or packet-switched mobile core network.

To date, work on UMA technology has largely been spearheaded by Californian startup Kineto Wireless Inc.. Last month Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) also got in on the act, announcing trials at seven European carriers, including Denmark’s TeliaSonera AB (Nasdaq: TLSN). (See Moto Trials UMA and Moto Boosts Kineto.)

Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) are now the latest names to talk up their work in the UMA space. Alcatel has launched its UMA kit, targeting deployment at wireless carriers (see Alcatel Touts UMA Kit). A spokeswoman notes that the vendor is yet to announce details of any trials or commercial deals, and that Alcatel “will work with the Nokias and Motorolas of the world” for the supply of handsets.

Meanwhile Nokia has announced its first UMA deal at Finnish service provider Saunalahti Group Oyj (see Nokia Converges on Saunalahti). The vendor claims it is also in trials with “many leading operators worldwide.” A company spokeswoman says Nokia expects to launch its UMA-enabled handset “next year.”

Although it is still early days for UMA technology, analysts believe that recent high-profile vendor support adds credibility to the convergence space. “Now that established mobile players such as Alcatel, Motorola, and Nokia have committed to UMA products, operators should feel more comfortable in the technology’s long-run staying power,” writes Peter Jarich of Current Analysis.

UMA technology has also been incorporated into BT’s Bluephone service, due for official launch next Wednesday. Media reports suggest the handset, manufactured by Motorola, will initially use Bluetooth technology to connect to a user’s fixed-line network, and will later integrate the 802.11 wireless LAN standard. BT declined to comment.

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung
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