Operators in talks over dual-mode Nokia handset

As Nokia launches a public trial of its first mass-market GSM/Wi-Fi handset, hints emerge as to which UK operators are lining up to have a play

Nokia is in talks with a number of UK operators who are looking at rolling out its "dual-mode" GSM/Wi-Fi phones, a spokesperson for the Finnish handset giant has revealed to ZDNet UK.

According to the spokesperson, "several [UK operators] are very keen" on the devices, the first of which has just entered a public trial phase in Finland.

The UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access) handset, the 6136, is currently being tested by 50 employees and their families in Nokia’s research capital, the city of Oulu, with co-operation from the city council and Finnish operator DNA/Finnet.

"This is the first step in demonstrating the benefits that UMA can offer," the Nokia spokesperson said on Friday.

UMA, or dual-mode, handsets theoretically allow the user to move between standard operator coverage and home/office wireless networks, switching seamlessly between GSM-based and IP-based connections even within a call. This kind of system is generally known as fixed-mobile convergence (FMC).

Nokia’s spokesperson suggested FMC handsets would help operators improve their indoor coverage, and also suggested there could be "possible benefits like new billing solutions. We could see operators offering different billing packages to consumers who might be using WLAN."

Nokia was unable to name which operators are in talks over the technology, but it is likely that BT and Orange, which both offer a "wireless home hub" in the form of Fusion and the Livebox, could be involved.

There was, however, a further hint: "It allows operators to leverage some of their existing assets, for example if they own existing Wi-Fi hot spots."

BT already offers Openzone hot spots throughout the country and is working on blanket metropolitan coverage through its Wireless Cities programme. However, T-Mobile — which has thus far not joined in the race towards FMC in the UK — also owns a vast network of hot spots around the country.

On Friday, a senior spokesperson for T-Mobile confirmed to ZDNet UK that it is "likely to look at introducing a similar proposition" to the FMC package (T-Mobile At Home) that it offers in Germany.

"Having seen the success of that in Germany, it’s a very attractive proposition," the spokesman said. There is, however, "no timing" yet set for such an offer in the UK.

Earlier this week, Skype told ZDNet UK that it is working with both Nokia and its main rival, Motorola, on developing FMC handsets with the firm's internet telephony (VoIP) client built in.