BT is planning to begin trials of technology that will allow mobile calls to be routed over wireless local area networks (WLANs), as part of a wider push towards unifying fixed and mobile services.
The trial of the voice-over-WLAN (VoWLAN) technology is due to begin in April this year at BT's Adastral Park research and development labs in Martlesham Heath, UK.
Participants in the trial will use a HP iPAQ 6340 PDA which is able to connect to WLAN and GSM networks. Mobile services company Tatara Systems is providing the SIM authentication technology for the project.
The trial will be initially limited to the Adastral facility, but BT's eventual aim is to develop a device that will allow consumers and business users to make mobile calls over WLAN networks in the home, office or via public hot spots, as well as over GSM networks.
BT is already developing a device called the Bluephone, which it has said will work as a domestic cordless phone over Bluetooth and also as a GSM mobile phone. Its work with Tatara is understood to centre on the development of a device — dubbed 'Bluephone 2' by market insiders — that uses Wi-Fi instead of Bluetooth.
The Tatara Subscriber Gateway, already installed at Adastral Park, will enable trial participants to automatically identify themselves securely to both WLAN and GSM networks using a SIM card installed in the iPaq.
Steve Nicolle, chief executive of Tatara Systems, said that service providers will begin the rollout of the converged technology in early 2006 with users attracted by the ability to make free or low-cost calls over an IP network while on the move. "Initial uptake will be among businesses keen to reduce their communications costs," he said.
Businesses are increasingly keen to reduce the number of service providers they use to keep their mobile workers connected. Speaking at the recent 3GSM conference in Cannes, France, Lothar Pauly, president and chief executive of Siemens Communications claimed that the sheer number of operators involved in a remote worker's life made it almost impossible for budget controllers to keep track of costs.
"Enterprise customers want to be able to control their communication costs but today mobile professionals are supported by four or five different operators for working remotely" said Pauly.
Interest in VoWLAN technology is set to see considerable uptake over the next two years, according to analysts at Meta Group.
Tatara's Nicolle claims that despite use of wireless networks being more widespread among the business community, deployment of VoWLAN technology will also be driven by consumers. "The proliferation of public WLAN hot spots and home wireless networks, combined with the emergence of dual-mode [WLAN and GSM] handsets, is likely to spur uptake among consumers."
Routing voice calls over wireless networks fits with two other wider trends in the telecoms market: voice-over-IP (VoIP) services and fixed/mobile convergence.
VoIP is finally beginning to eat into the traditional telecoms market after years of hype.
Fixed/mobile convergence is the movement towards breaking down the barriers between the two spheres of telephony to allow consumers and businesses to have a single phone and number for both network types.
For more on these issues see our VoIP Toolkit .