UMA Steps Up

Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) unveiled mobile phones that can switch calls between Bluetooth, cellular, and WiFi networks today at the 3GSM show in Barcelona, Spain.

Even though enterprises would like to be able to roll out such dual-mode handsets, businesses may be slow to adopt these devices, according to Ellen Daley, a principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc. .

Motorola showed off the Motorola A910 handset to be sold by BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) as part of its Fusion fixed/mobile convergence service in the UK. The phone is expected to be available in the third quarter of 2006.

Nokia's rival 6136 handset, which uses a clamshell design, is due on the market in the second quarter of 2006.

What these models have in common is that they are among the first fixed/mobile convergence devices available for business users and well-healed consumers to buy.

Both phones use a technology specification called unlicensed mobile access (UMA) to switch between different networks without dropping calls. The technology is appealing to operators because 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.

UMA was first pioneered by startup Kineto Wireless Inc. , but has clearly started to trickle into the mainstream.

Evidence indicates strong corporate demand for dual-mode handsets. "We did a survey last year and found that companies had a pent-up demand for dual-mode devices," says Daley of Forrester. "There's a perception out there that employees are walking the corridors talking on cellphones when they could be using company infrastructure to make that call."

There are, however, a number of factors needed to fall into place before corporations can seriously look at equipping employees with dual-mode devices.

Companies will have to upgrade their voice-over-IP systems, buy expensive new handsets, and quite possibly redesign their wireless LAN networks.

That said, don't expect to see many businesses move to dual-mode handsets until next year.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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