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We live in a world of complex technology. Especially the world of personal computers, and even worse when we take them out of the office and still want to connect them back to the network, writes
Rob Bamforth, of Bloor Research
. Mobile phone networks are much simpler by comparison. Switch on, use, get billed (or pay up front). All the complicated stuff happens behind the scenes.

As far as computer networking goes, public wireless local area networks (public WLANs or Wi-Fi) are a simple idea, but the user authentication and billing is neither simple nor consistent. No wonder so many companies view the issue of roaming between different WLAN providers as a market opportunity. Part of the problem is that portable computers haven't had unique identities unlike mobile phones. The other issue is that computer standards aren't quite as strictly applied as those in the mobile phone industry.

Ericsson has decided to tackle this and last week demonstrated the first SIM-card logon for WLAN, based on 3GPP standards. 3GPP, the 3G Project Partnership, is the agglomeration of international standards bodies that develops and publishes the third generation wireless standards. The major standards bodies from around the world - US (T1), Europe (ETSI), Japan (ARIB), Korea (ETRI) and China (CWTS) are represented, as are the major technology companies.

The demonstration showed a WLAN connected laptop authenticated by a GSM network with the same ease as a regular mobile phone call over GSM. Anyone who's signed up his or her laptop to use any current WLAN hotspot will know just how different the experience is to using a mobile phone.

Ericsson provides a single sign-on for both GSM and Public WLAN, so not only a simpler logon, but also one bill. It forms part of Ericsson's Mobile Operator Wireless LAN (MO-WLAN) solution. This is a Wi-Fi, Wireless Internet Service Provisioning system, targeted at mobile operators. In addition to the existing components for service provisioning, user authentication, billing and network management, Ericsson has added a new piece with the Ericsson WLAN Authentication Server.

The widespread adoption and use of enforced written standards provides the simplicity of operation of the mobile phone. This simplicity paved the way for mass-market adoption. The Internet protocols provided de facto open standards from TCP to HTTP and led to a similar explosive growth of heterogeneous networks of computers from all manufacturers and operating systems.

The next generation mobile networks will be based on the convergence of mobile telephony and IP computer networks. It's important at these early stages of development that standards are developed from both sides to give us BOB - Best Of Both.

For Public WLAN to continue to grow, proprietary solutions must give way to open standards, compatibility must be verified, and billing must be as seamless as with mobile telephony. This appears to be a strong step on the way.

© IT-Analysis.com

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