Asia-Pacific operators keen on Project Bluephone

More Asia-Pacific telecommunications operators are interested in joining a consortium that promotes a single network for fixed-line and mobile services, Alcatel regional executives told a conference held here last week.

Operators who have expressed support for the alliance include Britain’s British Telecommunications PLC (BT), Japan’s NTT DoCoMo Inc., Switzerland’s Swisscom, South Korea’s SK Telecom, and leading Australian operator Telstra.

Alcatel SA was selected by BT earlier this year to be the prime contractor for its Project Bluephone, which will enable subscribers to use just one phone to roam across both fixed and mobile networks and access a broad range of broadband services.

BT, which partnered with rival operator Vodafone, will launch the service before year-end. The project has generated a lot of interest from Asia-Pacific operators, said Vince Pizzica, chief technology officer for Alcatel Asia-Pacific.

The service makes use of Bluetooth-enabled handsets that can roam fixed-line and mobile networks. When users are within 25 meters from a Bluetooth base station, their mobile phones will carry all incoming and outgoing traffic over a fixed line.

In larger sites such as offices, multiple access points will be used for greater scale. When users move outside the range covered by the base station, the handsets revert to being standard mobile phones that carry traffic over a GSM mobile network.

Fazal Bahardeen, Alcatel Asia-Pacific’s vice president for fixed solutions division, noted that Alcatel is currently talking to a number of regional operators about the Bluephone project. He declined to identify the operators although he said they included players from China and the Southeast Asian region.

“I strongly believe that a number of Asia-Pacific operators will be offering Bluephone services by next year,” Bahardeen said in an interview. “We are working with each operator in the environment they are in.”

Interest among Asia-Pacific operators is also encouraged by the growth of broadband services in the region. Through Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), handsets can connect to the network and act as a PC to access multimedia applications like VoIP and instant messaging.

SIP is a real-time communication protocol for establishing and managing multi-party, mixed media sessions over converged networks. BT also acquired a SIP solution from Alcatel for a retail service offering called BT Communicator, a partnership with Yahoo Messenger that allows users to use their PC to make online telephone calls to mobile handsets.

Pizzica, however, added that the availability of handsets will be an issue, although he noted that manufacturers like Motorola have begun working on smartphone handsets that are already SIP-enabled. He added that existing handsets can be SIP-enabled with the installation of a client software.

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