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Guest Column

Always Best Connected In A World of Multimedia

Columnist:
David Readman
Sr. Manager, Strategic Marketing
Ericsson

Decades ago, mobile phones took up most of the space in the car trunk. However, the benefits of making and receiving voice calls while mobile outweighed the handset limitations and the use of cell phones rapidly increased. Today, data services are increasingly becoming mobile, and the roll out of 3G wireless wide area networks (WWAN), in combination with smaller and more data-capable devices, are enabling this evolution. Complementary technologies like Wireless Local Area Networks (WLAN) and Bluetooth further enhance the way data services are accessed and delivered. Data services for handsets, PDAs and laptops are becoming increasingly available and WLAN access technology is being deployed in public hot spots such as airports, hotels and conference centers as a complement to the WWAN. In today's multi-access era, subscribers want continuous and optimized service-sessions across accesses. In addition, customization of requested services based on personal profile or location will allow for further differentiation and enhanced capabilities - this is the beginning of the "Always Best Connected" (ABC) era.


Figure 1: The Mobile Communications Evolution


Figure 2: Illustration of WLAN hot spots complementing the 3G network for local high speed data services

For example, in the CDMA, GSM or WCDMA WWAN, existing and future mobile systems can secure coverage and mobility. In public hot spots, such as airports and conference centers, very high data rates can be delivered through WLAN access to handsets or laptops. Thus, an operator complementing the wide area network with a hot spot network will be able to offer improved, differentiated data services. As an example, high-quality games and video can be streamed to students on a university campus.

Until recently, two types of operators have been driving the build out of WLAN networks for public access: one is the Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP), the second is not directly an operator, but rather a series of ad hoc networks built out in primarily residential areas by individuals and different groups.

We can divide the WLAN hot spot operators into four categories. The first is the independent WISP that owns and operates a public WLAN network and provides Internet access to its subscribers. The second is the wholesale WISP that leases access from other network owners to provide services to its subscribers. The third category is best described as aggregator WISPs that do not build or own their networks but rather provide a branded retail service; i.e. building a service offering around a strong brand name. Last but not least, is the traditional or more established service provider, such as a cellular operator. In this situation, the traditional service is complemented with hot spot services and the subscriber base and legacy network are reused to the greatest extent possible. Traditional operators began offering WLAN services during 2002 and this trend is expected to intensify during 2003 and onward. A few examples are British Telecom in the UK, NTT Docomo in Japan and T-Mobile in the US. In fact, most operators across the globe today have a group or division focused on complementary WLAN services.

In my opinion, the full benefit of WLAN deployments in public areas can only be achieved through service differentiation and integration and synergy with existing services and infrastructure. Mobile operators are in an excellent position to leverage existing services, as well as components of the network infrastructure, for integration with existing and new WLAN-based hot spot networks. In order to be successful, operators need to differentiate their WLAN offering from their competitors. While most of the companies offering WLAN service position it as a stand-alone solution, we believe that operators have an opportunity to create a business model that would be more cost efficient and more attractive to customers.

Today, most individuals subscribing to public WLAN access are best classified as "early adopters." Hot spot coverage is relatively good in Europe and in the US today, but the ownership of such networks is extremely fragmented, making roaming between hot spots difficult.

All of the following scenarios are available today in limited deployment today. A key user segment is of course the traveling businessperson who can, in effect, bring their office out in public and connect to the corporate network with little performance degradation. A good example is an accounting team traveling to support a client. Different competencies are brought in from a number of places, gathered in a WLAN equipped hotel, and in no time this team can have Internet access. In addition, the wireless data network allows the consultants to circulate between different rooms without having to reboot computers or re-login to get their work done. Another interesting target group is students at campuses covered with WLAN access. Streaming video and interactive games at DVD quality over WLAN are possible today, which makes this an interesting hot spot service. A third example of a service segment is audiences at sporting events where WLAN technology can be used to stream replays or video clips as well as stats to subscribers' handheld PDAs.

Third generation (3G) mobile system technologies such as CDMA2000 today support over 53 million subscribers worldwide. This infrastructure is fundamental for high-end data services in the wide area coverage of cellular networks. These technologies are complemented with other access methods, fixed or wireless, to expand an operator's service offering. A wireless technology like WLAN offers flexibility and high data speeds for limited hot spots, while at the same time cost efficiently complementing the 3G services provided by the WWAN.

There are four key pieces to a complementary access solution. The network infrastructure is of course the first critical piece. The network complement or upgrade should be aligned with the operator's network deployment strategy, preferably with a transparent integration to existing network nodes and management tools. Second, the communication devices should be readily available to subscribers. Today, several laptops and PDAs offer built-in WLAN and Bluetooth technology to facilitate complementary services and easy-to-use connectivity. In addition, a number of applications are needed to operate and support the solution. These can be operating systems, clients, or office applications, etc. The fourth piece is less technology-oriented, but is a very visible part to the subscriber, the service packaging. This determines if WLAN access is an add-on to a CDMA2000, GPRS or WCDMA subscription, or if it's a separate video streaming service for laptops in a specific area. It also determines if the service is included in a subscriber's monthly fee, an extra premium feature or a completely separate service paid for on demand. Currently, operators are exploring various business models and combinations.

The WLAN technology for 2.4GHz as well as 5GHz is interoperable within each WLAN standard and the WiFi Alliance (formerly WECA) is providing for interoperability testing. This alliance is also instrumental in WLAN standard enhancements, for enterprise as well as public deployment. As an example, the recently announced security enhancements, the WiFi Protected Access (WPA), will be required for WiFi certification after summer 2003. This ensures the robust and secure technology critical to telecom service providers.

For operators, the most important issue is to be able to reach the end user with this new, high-speed data service. This can be done by connecting an existing Wireless ISP network or by building out a new network. It is still unclear if operators long-term will take responsibility for the WLAN infrastructure part of this value chain or simply expands through agreements with other network owners. In any case, the WLAN traffic needs to be authenticated secured and handled in parallel to existing services. Optimally, the infrastructure solution reuses the WWAN infrastructure already in place, e.g. authentication, billing and management infrastructure.

Merging the convenience of wireless mobility with high-speed access to the Internet and Intranets creates new business opportunities for operators. By enabling a terminal to select whichever access technology will deliver the highest data rates, multi-access solutions provide end users with the best connection available in locations such as airports and other high-traffic areas. Through multi-access, an operator can offer services to targeted users, such as business travelers and college students, by bridging a WLAN to the WAN.


About the Author


David Readman is Sr. Manager for Strategic Marketing at Ericsson Mobile Systems CDMA in San Diego, CA. He has been with Ericsson for approximately nine years and currently works with data strategies, marketing data solutions and other strategic network issues such as migration to 3G for TDMA operators.

Prior to joining the CDMA Systems unit he worked with the marketing of data solutions with TDMA systems for 2G and 3G systems. He has also worked in Product Management and System Development. He has held positions in Canada, Sweden and the US.

Readman received his engineering degree from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.

Ericsson is shaping the future of Mobile and Broadband Internet communications through its continuous technology leadership. Providing innovative solutions in more than 140 countries, Ericsson is helping to create the most powerful communication companies in the world.

Ericsson’s CDMA Systems BU combines the global presence of a proven wireless communications solution provider with renowned expertise in CDMA network systems.

(8/15/2003)

 


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