IBM adds roaming to Everyplace Wireless Gateway

IBM Corp. plans to announce Thursday that it has added roaming capabilities to its Everyplace Wireless Gateway product, allowing users to roam seamlessly and securely between many types of wireless and wired networks.

Everyplace Wireless Gateway includes client software and software that is installed on a company’s network. A user can disconnect a laptop from a wired LAN, switch to wireless LAN (WLAN) and, when out of reach, to a public mobile phone network, without restarting the laptop or any application, said Jon Prial, vice president of business development for IBM’s pervasive computing group.

“Now you can actually walk out of your office building and get into your car and Everyplace Wireless Gateway will go to a GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) network and it will keep your application session,” he said.

The roaming feature will keep the user’s session alive, but does not always eliminate the need for the user to log on to the network he is roaming in to. A user may have to enter user credentials to establish a WLAN connection, for example, IBM noted in a white paper about Everyplace Wireless Gateway.

As a cost and bandwidth saving feature, Everyplace Wireless Gateway recognizes the most appropriate time and network to transfer large amounts of data to. Software updates on the client, for example, won’t be carried out over an expensive and slow GPRS connection, but when the user is connected to a company network, Prial said.

Everyplace Wireless Gateway, priced at US$145 per user and available worldwide, also supports various types of encryption and other security features, such as RSA Security Inc.’s Secure ID, to ensure secure connections, IBM said.

The Toronto Police Service already uses IBM’s Everyplace Wireless Gateway for its eCOPS (Enterprise Case and Occurrence Processing System) system. About 420 police cars are equipped with laptops that officers can use to access 911 call data and, for example, the car registration database, over a private radio network, said Chris Pentleton, of Toronto-based Pentleton Consulting Inc., who designed eCOPS.

The narrowband Toronto Police Service network will be expanded with WLAN hotspots in the next few months and access via a public mobile phone network next year. Initial work to offer roaming between the radio network and the WLAN has been done in-house, but the police force plans to move to IBM software for the link to the mobile phone network, Pentleton said.

“We needed roaming, so we started this nine months ago. We definitely have some duplication of functionality, but about 75 percent of the switching code we use is IBM code,” Pentleton said. ” The IBM product does a lot of fairly sophisticated stuff that we would rather not do. Everything that is in the new product is exactly what we wanted. We hope to switch sometime next year.”

Support for smaller handheld devices, such as PDAs (personal digital assistants) to be used by police officers on horses, bicycles or on foot, is something The Toronto Police really needs IBM for, according to Pentleton.

“We would not put our switching software on a PDA, that is where we definitely want IBM software. Our software does a whole bunch of application stuff on top of it that we don’t necessarily want on a PDA,” he said.

Jessica Figueras, an analyst at Ovum Ltd. in London, said that although not many enterprises might have uses for IBM’s Everyplace Wireless Gateway, it is a product that many may need in the future.

“This is definitely not something that has mainstream usages today,” she said. “This is a solution to one of the tricky problems we are going to encounter more and more. There are lots of new networks coming on stream. Roaming between them is quite a tricky problem and this seems a solution to that.”

PDAs supporting a dozen networks will not be a likely scenario, simply because the small and power constrained devices won’t be able to handle that, according to Figueras.

“You need quite a powerful device to have access, probably quite a bulky device as well. You will need radio interfaces for all of these networks and in terms of the software, it will have to recognize all of these networks and do some quite clever things. Vehicle-type scenarios are probably best suited,” she said.

Figueras predicts a popular combination for PDAs will likely be WLAN and cellular, with service providers using a wireless gateway to support roaming. She may be right, IBM is already in talks with some service providers, Prial said.