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mQuery has developed a software tool that will let mobiles function as landlines.

The Irish company is to begin trialling its new Cicero application with customers, after signing a partnership with a fixed-line carrier. A full commercial launch could take place as soon as the first quarter of 2004.

Cicero, formerly called Open Communicator, uses Bluetooth or Wi-Fi capabilities in newer mobile devices to wirelessly connect users to a landline through which calls can be made at lower prices compared to standard mobile calls. Cicero users must be within range of a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi access point.

The implications of the new technology could be significant. First and foremost, Cicero users will be able to make fixed-line priced calls on their mobile phones. This would effectively let fixed-line telecoms capture a larger part of the mobile market, while GSM or UMTS operators will have customers who are more dependent on their mobile handsets.

Once a connection is made between a Cicero-enabled mobile phone, PDA or laptop (clients) and the nearest WLAN (wireless local area network) access point, the IP call is pushed onto a connected server running Cicero Server. From the server, calls are sent on to an office PBX or the PSTN, allowing the rest of the call to follow the path of any normal fixed-line calls.

"The business case for this is pretty compelling," Ross Brennan, CEO of mQuery, told ElectricNews.Net. "For years, everyone has been talking about discovering the killer application for mobile phones. The killer application is voice and it will remain so for many more years."

mQuery's application is hardware independent, meaning that it will work with either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi on newer handsets made by any vendor. Wireless access points needed to make Cicero work may also come from any vendor, although Cicero Servers must be Windows-based.

With Cicero installed in a company with multiple offices tied together through a VPN (virtual private network), Cicero phone calls could be made between offices over the network and would cost only pennies. The technology could also be rolled out in Wi-hotspots, such as an airport lounge, where operators could allow users with Cicero-enabled devices to make calls at lower prices than typical mobile calls.

Dublin-based mQuery was founded in 2000 and has so far recorded two profitable years. It has not raised venture capital, though Brennan said that the company is willing to look for funding if venture markets improve.

mQuery is not the only company looking to let people use Bluetooth or Wi-Fi for mobile calls. At its Mobile Data Day in London earlier this year, mobile operator mmO2 said it was looking closely at a Bluetooth device that would do much the same thing for home users with DSL connections, although the company released few details. British Telecom has also said that it is pondering similar technology based on 802.11, but it too has said little publicly about its investigation into the area.

© ENN

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