Wireless mobile phones?

That may sound oxymoronic, but captures developments that have recently made the news, wherein users of mobile phones can seamlessly switch between VoIP thru IP networks (WiFi zones) and cellular towers. Some may see it as a threat to mobile services, but I’d rather look at it through the lens of ubiquitous coverage.

In this news story for instance, 50 families are involved in an on-going trial of the so-called Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) phones such as the Nokia 6136 that allow for “smooth and seamless transitions between quad-band GSM and 802.11b/g wireless“. As this NY Times article points out:

The phones, while a potential money-saver for consumers, could cause big problems for cellphone companies. They have invested billions in their nationwide networks of cell towers, and they could find that customers are bypassing them in favor of Wi-Fi connections. The struggling Bell operating companies could also suffer if the new phones accelerate the trend toward cheap Internet-based calling, reducing the need for a standard phone line in homes with wireless networks.


While it will be interesting to see how the evolution of technology jars with the profit imperatives of mobile service providers and the usual myopia of regulators, the promise of UMA is that it allows for seamless connectivity even in areas of high mobile penetration, such as cities, but with infrastructure that oftentimes blocks tower based reception, such as in underground parking garages or, in the case of InfoShare, anywhere inside the building (for reasons unknown to man, woman or God – we’ve asked all three…). With a UMA equipped phone, and with free municipal wifi networks, it may be possible in a few years to be connected all the time through the strongest base station – irrespective of whether it is a cellular tower or a wifi / wimax router.

This is turn underpins the hybrid ODR frameworks I envisioned at the 4th UN ODR Symposium – see the Powerpoint or paper for further details.

Then again, given the deplorable condition of “broadband” frameworks in Sri Lanka and our generally counter-intuitive and perverse regulatory practices, it may well be that cutting edge technologies such as this, successful or not, totally by-pass us.

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