Wi-Fi Alliance certifies first converged kit

Nice toys, but where's the business plan?

As the Wi-Fi Alliance announces the first standards-certified dual-mode Wi-Fi/cellular products, there are such high expectations of the devices that many are ignoring the fact that few have yet worked out a business model.

The Alliance has initiated a Wi-Fi/Cellular Convergence taskgroup focused on “identifying and meeting the cellular industry's unique certification requirements for Wi-Fi functions in WCC devices”. The Alliance aims to take on the bulk of the certification work for converged devices in order to speed time to market by offering a single source.

"Through its established global network of labs, the Wi-Fi Alliance has the certification infrastructure in place to advance the cellular industry's adoption of Wi-Fi in converged Wi-Fi/Cellular products," said Alliance managing director Frank Hanzlik.

The Alliance tests will only cover compatibility with the Wi-Fi standards and effective coexistence between the two radios. But there are many more hurdles to cross before dual-mode devices become the basis of a major business, rather than an executive toy. And these only become higher as the definition of a converged device moves from simple Wi-Fi support in a cellular handset to products that support television, video and other IPbased functions.

These additional facilities will increase power consumption and gadget size and, despite the work done by companies like Texas Instruments to counter these effects.

The other problems are with the business model. In a converged device, does the manufacturer, cellular operator or IP content provider own the customer and the billing relationship, and how does the revenue get split between the three? This situation is complex enough within the cellcos’ walled garden, but when open IP access is added to the equation, plus branded content services such as television broadcasts or music download services offered to the cellphone, the situation becomes chaotic.

The Shosteck Group, a telecoms consultancy based in Maryland, believes convergence at the device level is outrunning convergence at the operator, network and services levels, with results that could cause backlash against the whole idea of multinetwork strategies. Controlling the bundle of offerings, the bill and the brand will be critical, but will be fought over by an increasingly large number of parties with very different agendas.

The new study identifies four key trends of device convergence:

  • Multi-functional devices, such as smartphones, which may use only one network but offer an increasingly broad range of capabilities, from full IP access to television.
  • Multi-mode devices, which support Wi-Fi and cellular and will be important for the enterprise and for mobile VoIP
  • All-IP devices such as VoIP handsets
  • Virtual devices in the wireless personal area network, such as IXI’s personal gateway or Intel’s mooted Personal Data Server.

The first round of Wi-Fi Certified products with WCC capabilities includes:

  • HP iPAQ Pocket PC h6315 (available now)
  • Nokia 9500 Communicator (scheduled for Q4 2004)
  • Motorola MPx (scheduled for late 2004)
  • Intermec 760 Mobile Computer (available now)
  • Wi-Fi Convergence Accessories (enables Wi-Fi in select PDAs and cellphones)
  • SanDisk Connect Wi-Fi SD Card (available now)

Copyright © 2004, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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