The UMA Two-for-One

By Jessica Rivchin — August 02, 2006

Nokia is using the city of Oulu, Finland, as its first testing ground for UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access) fixed/mobile convergence--a burgeoning experimental technology that lets users switch automatically between standard cellular networks (GSM, in this case) and local area networks (LAN). Should the experiment go according to plan, UMA could provide substantial benefits for the enterprise, according to industry analysts, as well as Nokia.

The experiment--a collaborative effort between Nokia, DNA/Finnet (a Finnish telecom) and the City of Oulu--involves the installation of an UMA pilot system in 50 homes in Oulu, and will last at least two months, according to Nokia. The Pan Oulu project, which entitles Oulu citizens to free WLAN-supplied Internet via hotspots around the city, was announced last year.

The pilot project is an important step forward in bringing UMA technology to the mass market, says Nokia's research and development senior VP, Peter Ropke. "Both operators and consumers will be able to garner the benefits of this new technology," said Ropke in a recent Nokia press release.

As part of the experiment, Nokia has also introduced the new Nokia 6136 dual-mode handset for seamless switching between GSM and LANs. The 6136 phone switches from a cellular to a Wi-Fi connection when it picks up an available wireless network; alternately, when a caller moves beyond the reach of a wireless LAN, the connection is transferred to a GSM network.

Nokia isn't the first company to offer UMA. Samsung released its UMA-enabled phone, the P200, in Italy in mid-July--and other companies are close behind. Global wireless operator BT is also rolling out a UMA system in its Fusion device, which allows users to switch between wireless and broadband networks.

The freedom of switching between GSM and LAN cellular networks has many potential benefits, including improved indoor phone reception and reduced calling charges. In addition, UMA allows wireless coverage to be extended into rural areas without the need to install pricey GSM base stations.

Although industry analysts predict that large-scale UMA deployment will not occur in the U.S. for several years, the general consensus is that the new technology will have a strong impact: ABI Research estimates that annual global sales of dual-mode mobile phones may top $100 million by 2010.

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