Seamless in Seattle
By Joachim Bamrud, Fri Mar 30 00:00:00 GMT 2001

While there is no doubt that technologies like GPRS, UMTS, WAP and Bluetooth hold great promise, it?s the seamless combination of these with wireless LAN that can make our lives truly mobile and flexible.

At the GSM Association's plenary meeting in Seattle this week, the key focus was on how to deliver seamless wireless data and voice services worldwide.

The timing coincided with a dispute between British operator Vodafone and US operator Verizon (where Vodafone holds 45 percent of the shares) on what 3G technology to use. Verizon opting for CDMA2000 will obviously not enable Vodafone users (which will have terminals using WCDMA) to seamlessly use their terminals when travelling across the Atlantic.

However, despite this dispute, there is no doubt that a quiet revolution is taking place, especially across companies in Europe, to implement technologies that can work seamlessly with each other.

Swedish telecom giant Ericsson recently announced a joint venture with Norwegian operator Telenor to develop a technology that combines UMTS with wireless LAN. The technology, to be called H2U, will take advantage of WLAN's higher speed and UMTS' higher security. The two expect to have the first result ready by the end of this year and a commercial solution within the next two to four years.

Ericsson's unit, Ericsson Enterprise, is already pushing aggressively for companies to implement various technologies that can work seamlessly. In Ericsson's opinion, employees of companies will in the course of a typical day use Bluetooth, LAN, WAP, UMTS, and GPRS, depending on location. Bluetooth has the smallest range, while GPRS will have the broadest, with LAN and UMTS coming in between. (Operators have announced that UMTS will typically be offered in larger cities, while GPRS will largely have the same penetration as GSM.)

Imagine this

One example would be that you start your day working at the office, using LAN. Then you head out to the airport to catch a flight to Paris, where you're due to meet a client. While in the taxi, you use a laptop with a wireless modem to check out your company Intranet data on the customer. Then you pay your taxi bill with your WAP phone (using GPRS' "always on" connection), which automatically sends the receipt to the accounting department.

While waiting for your flight you use your laptop, which uses a WLAN solution, giving you higher speeds than you could get through your wireless PC card. Then you rush to your plane. Once you're up in the air, you take out your laptop and again use a WLAN to connect to the Internet and Intranet.

When you arrive for your meeting, it turns out you're too early. But they only serve coffee and you're dying for a Coke. So you use your WAP phone, which also has Bluetooth capability, to buy a soda at a vending machine across the street. Then you realize you urgently need to talk to your boss about the client you're meeting, so you use your phone, with UMTS capability and built-in video-camera, to have a quick videoconference.

After the meeting you head back home, writing a full report on your laptop while in the taxi, at the airport, on the plane and in the taxi on your way home. By the time you arrive at your doorstep home, you don't have to worry about writing the report the following day at the office.

All thanks to the seamless use of various technologies.

The reality

“Work is a process, not a location,” as Ericsson Enterprise says.

The above scenario may seem a bit like science fiction, but is actually a mix of currently available technologies and future solutions promised by operators and producers. The airborne WLAN solution, for example, is in the works at Scandinavian airline SAS, which is developing the service in conjunction with Swedish operator Telia.

WAP was launched in most countries in Europe and Asia last year, while GPRS is being rolled out this year and the first UMTS services will also come this year.

At the same time, more and more companies are already implementing “mobile office” solutions. This can include having an IntraWAP solution that enables all employees to access and use e-mail and company data across channels, i.e. whether it be a WAP phone or a desktop PC.

Another key element for the mobile office is to convert all or parts of the fixed telephony solution to wireless. Each employee then uses only one phone – a wireless one – whether in or out of the office, making it far easier for both clients and co-workers to reach, independent of their location.

Even the receptionist can be mobile: with a laptop, a wireless PC card and a headset, she can sit at a café while still answering and routing calls.

There are still plenty of hurdles ahead for the seamless vision to become a reality. For one, both WAP and GPRS are still in their infancy, while Bluetooth is only semi-launched (through some terminals more than the devices they are expected to talk to) and even managed to fail a key demonstration at the recent CeBIT show in Germany. UMTS has yet to be born (with the first “baby” set to arrive in Tokyo in May).

That leaves LAN and Wireless LAN, the two technologies that are most developed and will continue to evolve. The Ericsson/Telenor venture will likely be followed by other solutions integrating LAN/WLAN with various wireless technologies.

The end result: Employees will increasingly become nomads, which can do their work independent of location, providing a whole new set of opportunities for making our lives more flexible and easier.

Joachim Bamrud is an award-winning journalist with 17 years experience as a writer and editor in the United States, Europe and Latin America. Bamrud has worked for various print, broadcast and online media, including Latin Trade, Reuters and UPI. He can be reached at