Bluephone continues despite standards group's demise

The UMA group is being wrapped up, but its standards for converged mobile communciations will live on within 3G

Progress to integrate Wi-Fi and mobile phones will not be affected by the reported closure of the operator-backed Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) group, said analysts on Monday.

The loss of UMA, reported by Wi-Fi news Web site Unstrung, is unlikely to change BT's plans for Bluephone, the only known UMA-based service, whose launch is due "this Spring". Bluephone's main aim is to gain experience for BT, before "real" converged services based on the SIP protocol emerge, according to analyst Dean Bubley of Disruptive Analysis.

UMA lets users make mobile calls using their own Wi-Fi or Bluetooth systems and broadband connections, but unlike other convergence approaches the operators get most of the benefits as they can bill for these calls. "This increases cellular coverage," said Bubley. "If you can get your customers to pay for backhaul, it's even better."

The group is closing because its standards have been adopted by the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) the operator-run group that defines future standards for mobile networks. This means UMA will be part of the 3GPP's Version 6 specification, said Ken Kolderup, vice-president of marketing at Kineto a software vendor that has led the adoption of UMA.

"It has always been the intent of the UMA participating companies to conclude operating as an independent group once all activities defined in the cooperation agreement had been completed,” said Kolderup, in an email to Unstrung.

"That's fair enough," responded Bubley. "It will be the same people doing the same standards, whether it's in UMA or 3GPP."

However 3GPP version six is a way off, and most operators are taking their time rolling out version five, which include HSDPA — sometimes called 3.5G or Super-3G — and IMS, a subsystem that streamlines the use of VoIP on 3G networks.

It is not clear whether many people will implement the current version of UMA on older 3G networks, or wait for a 3GPP-approved version. "UMA in its original form was pretty deficient," said Bubley. "Rolling it into 3GPP will fill in a fair number of blanks."

"There will be some UMA networks deployed for test reasons," said Bubley, "but it will be very much Version 1.0, to help operators get the hang of fixed-mobile convergence, and sort out product formats and user interface." The real thing will use Wi-Fi, and have a better story over integration with SIP, so calls can actually be routed over the Internet.

BT's much-hyped Bluephone product, which uses Bluetooth for the local connection and has been on the verge of launch for months, will be one of these "Version 1.0" products, said Bubley. "It won't make a big difference, but BT may gain commercial skills, and get a head start on this stuff," he said. "[Bluetooth-based UMA] lets them launch faster, with cheaper devices, using feature phones instead of smartphones."