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T-Mobile to offer ‘seamless’ 3G, Wi-Fi data service

Even as US vendor patents the technique

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Network operator T-Mobile has pledged to combine its Wi-Fi wireless LAN and 3G mobile phone services into a single high-speed data network.

The company aims to achieve "total seamlessness" between the technologies, T-Mobile CEO Rene Obermann said this week.

"We are creating one multi-speed, multimedia network; integrating 2G, 3G and Wi-Fi," he said.

Earlier this week, the company said it had at long last connected its US and European Wi-Fi hotspot networks to allows subscribers from either territory to roam across the other. T-Mobile has some 700 hotspots in Europe and over 4000 in the US.

Obermann said the company plans to offer data cards for laptops which will connect users to the Internet via Wi-Fi when in range of a hotspot or by 3G connection in other locations.

'Seamless' to us means that the user isn't necessarily aware which wireless technology he or she is connecting by, and as he or she passes from one coverage zone to another - hotspot to GPRS, say - the system performs a smooth handover.

What Obermann means, however, is that the T-Mobile will update the GPRS data card it currently offers with a version that supports not only the 2G standard, but Wi-Fi and, ultimately, 3G too. Unfortunately, if it's anything likes existing cards, users will have to make the switch from connection to connection manually.

Rival network operator Vodafone has already begun offering a 3G data card, and Orange this week said it plans to start selling one of its own during the second half of the year.

If T-Mobile does have "true seamlessness" in mind, it will have to deal with Florida-based Calypso Wireless which this week revealed it has been granted a US patent that allows users to roam between mobile phone networks, WLANs and even Bluetooth links without breaking their connection.

The company claims its system automatically chooses either the fastest or least expensive available connection.

Calypso is eyeing the voice world rather than data, but the principle is the same. "With our technology, mobile carriers will be able to place VoIP and telecom/Internet switching equipment on their networks that will allow cellular calls to automatically switch and roam between their cellular networks and the Internet using wireless VoIP via Wi-Fi access points," said David Davila, Calypso's president and CEO, in a statement.

Davila said Calypso plans to "aggressively pursue licensing agreements", and likened his company's approach to the way Qualcomm licenses its CDMA technology. He also said the company has already signed agreements to perform field trials of the system. ®

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