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UMA Nears 3GPP Approval

Unlicensed mobile access (UMA), the technology behind many dualmode GSM/WiFi services and femtocell architectures, cleared a major hurdle on its way to becoming an official 3G standard.

The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) 's GERAN working group approved the change request that adds support for 3G core network interfaces to the UMA -- or generic access network (GAN), as it is known in 3GPP circles -- specifications at a meeting in Vancouver last month. The next and final step toward 3GPP acceptance will be discussed at the working group's February meeting.

All this means that UMA is likely to be an approved 3G standard by the first quarter of next year. The 3G standardization progress is important not only for dualmode 3G/WiFi services, but also for femtocell integration into mobile core networks. (See Kineto Enhances UNC and Kineto Releases UNC.)

"This is the first bit of clear evidence that there is life after 2G for UMA," says Keith Mumford, director of product marketing, EMEA, at Kineto Wireless Inc.

With a few tweaks to the 3G UMA specification, Kineto hopes to have UMA also accepted as the first standard for integrating femtocell systems into the mobile core network by the end of next year. (See Femto Forum Gets New Members and Kineto Joins Femto Forum.)

Kineto has been driving 3G UMA standardization, and the process has taken about two years.

Kineto's vendor partners that already use UMA include Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), NEC Corp. (Tokyo: 6701), and Ubiquisys Ltd. Kineto says that, along with two or three vendors, it also has the support of "a couple of large operators," in its efforts to achieve 3GPP approval. (See NEC, Ubiquisys Team, NEC, Kineto Partner, and UbiquiSys, Kineto Interoperate.)

UMA is one of several different ways of connecting femtocells into mobile core networks, and operators are trying out different approaches as early trials begin later this year and early next year. (See 3G & WiMax Femtocells: The Operator View, Vodafone Picks Femto Vendors, Vodafone RFP Fuels Femtocells, Moto Trials 3G Femtocell, Softbank Demos Moto Femtocell, Softbank Trials Femtocell, FT Preps Femtocell RFP, and Is AT&T Putting Out Femto Feelers?)

For dualmode 3G/WiFi services, operators' plans will be limited by the availability of handsets. Kineto's Mumford says he expects the first UMA-based dualmode 3G/WiFi phones in the third quarter of 2008. Operators that have launched 2G/WiFi dualmode services include BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), Orange France , T-Mobile US Inc. , Telecom Italia (TIM) , and Telia Company . (See T-Mobile Launches UMA in USA, Orange Builds on FMC Base, Italian FMC Face-Off, Swedes Are Home Free With FMC, Orange Doubles FMC Customers, and TeliaSonera Picks Moto.)

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

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