Wireless Worlds Within VoWLAN
Voice over wireless local area networks (VoWLAN) are emerging as the potential converged technology of the future, by combining WLAN and VoIP, according to research by consulting firm Frost and Sullivan. VoWLAN technology currently faces several challenges, but the introduction of dual-mode handsets, or those capable of receiving both VoIP and cellular traffic, and the ratification of various 802.11--or Wi-Fi--standards indicate a positive outlook for this market.
Recent acquisitions and partnerships within the telecommunications industry and the formation of key forums, such as the Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) group, a consortium of 14 mobile phone manufacturers and telecom companies, provides further support for this technology's outlook, according to Luke Thomas, a research analyst with Frost and Sullivan. Organizations like the UMA have taken initiatives to push VoWLAN technology into the wireless industry by allowing Wi-Fi equipped handsets to make calls through their wireless channels. "This is a major driver for the VoWLAN market," Thomas says.
The UMA says it will be able to provide these converged solutions using mobile carriers' existing networks. With the introduction of UMA-based dual-mode handsets, mobile service providers can bundle their Wi-Fi calls with their mobile networks and enhance coverage and presence for wireless operators, improving service for both wireless operators and sales force automation by allowing for seamless roaming between cellular and Wi-Fi networks, which are better for transmitting data.
"It's no surprise, therefore, that the momentum behind UMA is upbeat within the mobile industry, especially from the carriers that stand to gain tremendously from such an initiative," Thomas says. "Fixed-line carriers could also use the UMA to provide mobility solutions to their customers, provided they have a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) agreement."
That said, the technology does have restrictions that could limit its potential as a long-term solution. It does not support Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and is not aligned with Internet Protocol for Multimedia Subsystems (IMS), an open IP-based service infrastructure that enables easy deployment of multimedia communication services that combine telecom and data.
On the other hand, the MobileIGNITE Alliance telecommunications forum is providing an alternative delivery method that focuses on SIP. It is used as a signaling protocol for various applications like VoIP. With this SIP-centric focus the ability to provide a smooth migration to the IMS platform, Thomas believes, is a more feasible solution compared to the UMA, which he says many feel is a short-term fix. "Frost and Sullivan believes that the MobileIGNITE Alliance is a long-term solution for carriers moving towards a converged, all-IP network based on the IMS architecture, especially considering that many major carriers are planning to launch their first services based on IMS in late 2005 or early 2006."
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