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Nortel Networks is to offer mobile operators a new technology that will seamlessly link their wide-area wireless networks with fast emerging Wi-Fi systems.

The idea behind Nortel's new technology is that mobile operators can offer consumers and enterprises a single 'sign on' and seamless service between 2G/3G networks and Wi-Fi hotspots based on 802.11b. It will allow users to roam seamlessly between wireless 2G/3G and WLAN networks with uninterrupted access to the same Internet data services. The technology will also manage billing information across networks so that end users can receive a single bill from their wireless operator.

"The WLAN strategy we are announcing today demonstrates our commitment to helping operators create a mobile environment that delivers users compelling content and data services from any location," said Dave Murashige, vice president of strategic marketing at Nortel Networks. "Our WLAN technology, coupled with our extensive experience in IP data networking, will position operators to increase revenue potential and reduce subscriber churn."

The growth of WLAN technology is proving to be a major thorn in the side of mobile operators and their attempts to extract revenue from investments in GSM networks that have been upgraded to GPRS to facilitate faster data speeds. What's more, Wi-Fi WLANs could cut into the potential UMTS (3G), which will offer even faster data services.

Public wireless LANs (local area networks) enable users to wirelessly access the Internet at speeds 25 to 30 times faster than a normal dial-up modem as long as they are within a 100-metre radius of a terminal and have the right equipment.

It is certainly something that all mobile operators are taking seriously. WLAN services are based on the 802.11b industry standard, otherwise known as Wi-Fi, and are becoming increasingly popular with Irish businesses. According to research carried out by DIT and Enigma, there are nearly 400 wireless hotspots in Dublin.

According to a spokeswoman for Nortel Networks, the linking technology was developed at its R&D centre in Paris. She said that the link to WLAN networks would prove to be a stepping-stone to 3G, enabling existing GPRS users to get a taste of what 3G technology could deliver.

O2 Ireland announced recently that following four months of trials it will be making a number of WLAN "hotspots" available nationwide for customers and non-O2 customers alike early in 2003. The WLAN terminals will be placed in hotels, conference centres and train stations after O2 signed deals with Jurys Doyle Hotel Group, Bewleys Hotel Group, Lynch Hotel Group and CIE. The company declined to say exactly how many hotspots there will be.

Along with O2, Eircom is set introduce public WLANs. Eircom has been testing its version of the service for some time and recently signed agreement with five major hotels that will see it made available by April 2003.

A spokeswoman for Vodafone said that the company was considering investing in WLANs and was consulting with some of its group operators in other EU countries, but had yet to make a decision.

© ENN

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