New cell/Wi-Fi convergence play could make waves in Canada

Canadian businesses might have a new communication method to consider in the future, thanks to the work of a U.S. software developer.

In January, Chicago-based BridgePort Networks Inc. announced an alliance with Airespace Inc., IBM Corp. and Verisign Inc. The companies plan to work together to ensure various network elements interoperate. The point: creating infrastructure that links cell phone and voice over IP (VoIP) networks, such that people might use a single device for all sorts of communication — one cell phone for cellular calls, VoIP calls and wireless VoIP calls, for instance.

Corporations in this country might get a shot at trying the technology down the road. Bell Canada is testing it, using BridgePort’s software to link the Bell Mobility cell phone network to indoor Wi-Fi equipment among select customers, said Charlotte Burke, senior vice-president of Bell’s consumer Internet services department.

“The key is to leverage the growing base of in-home Wi-Fi networks,” she said, noting that more and more consumers have wireless LANs — an integral part of VoIP over Wi-Fi connectivity. Although a consumer trial for now, the cell-VoIP play would likely make its way into Bell’s business application portfolio, Burke added. Bell is considering the technical aspects these days, trying to make all of the myriad network elements that take part in the infrastructure work together.

“When you really get under the hood of this stuff, it’s never a single-vendor solution,” Burke said. BridgePort’s alliance aims to make that necessary integration easier for companies like Bell. Despite its complicated moniker — the Mobile Integrated Go-to-Market Network IP Telephony Experience (MobileIGNITE) — the group is all about simplifying things for service providers, said Sanjay Jhawar, BridgePort’s senior vice-president of business development.

“A lot of pieces…have to be put together,” Jhawar said, noting that media gateways, handsets, cellular switching components and even enterprise-based IP PBXs must learn to play nice for this cell-VoIP architecture to do what it’s supposed to do. “And those pieces have to be tested,” he continued. “Typically this kind of work is done at the service provider using a large systems integrator. It costs millions of dollars, and it can add a year or more to…[getting] services into the market.”

MobileIGNITE expects to create “complete solutions, pre-tested end to end” for service providers to consider, he said. MobileIGNITE combines at least some of requisite technologies for interoperability testing. IBM offers its eServer BladeCenter line of servers. Airespace, recently acquired by Cisco Systems Inc., has Wi-Fi access points. Verisign does protocol conversion, translating info between SS7 for traditional voice connectivity and IP for VoIP.

MobileIGNITE isn’t the only group of companies considering such “convergence” recently. PBX vendor Avaya Inc. has partnered with access point maker Proxim Corp. and wireless handset builder Motorola Inc. to devise a cell-Wi-Fi roaming plan.

Industry observers have said this seamless link could save money for companies. If traveling employees could switch from cell to Wi-Fi, their calls would cost less. VoIP calls over Wi-Fi tend to be less expensive than traditional cell calls.

But any operational savings might lead to other costs if businesses aren’t careful, said Roberta Fox, senior partner of Fox Group Consulting, a communications advisory firm in Markham, Ont. Fox pointed out that enterprises must adhere to certain good practices with wireless connections.

“Some of the best technology policies aren’t enforced for wireless devices, and wireless devices are very often not properly configured for good security,” she said. Companies should at least ensure that basic protective measures are engaged on access points, for instance.

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