Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Structural separation on cellular networks?

[To date cellular networks architectures can be characterized a vertical silos where there is very strong coupling between the network architecture and services. 3G systems today are the quintessential example of "walled gardens". However, slowly we are starting to see some chinks in that armour with the new cell phones that integrate WiFi and 3G, and new services such as FON, Muni Wifi and pico GSM. This will gradually enable the structural separation of the network from services which in my opinion, will be the defining characteristic of 4G systems. This structure separation will enable explosion of new wireless services and applications, similar to what we saw happen with the Internet. The Internet was the first network architecture that achieved separated the network and applications from the underlying infrastructure. You would think there would be a lesson here. But despite the evidence and data from financial analysts and economists the telcom industry still seems to be wedded to the traditional vertical silo model with such technologies as IMS, IPsphere and NGN. Some excerpts from Om Malik column-- BSA]

BT to Invest in FON?

FON, the Spanish share-your-Wi-Fi services company, is close to announcing a new round of funding that could total to as much as 10 million Euros (shade over $13 million.)

While some of its existing investors – Index Ventures, Skype and Google - are coming back with more cash, the word from telecom circles in Europe is that British Telecom is going to invest in the wireless router company.

FON is the latest start-up by Spanish telecom entrepreneur, Martin Varsavsky, who has made a name for being a thorn in the side of incumbents. When I visited BT last summer while reporting a story for Business 2.0, the senior management of the British incumbent carrier was pretty bullish on the whole notion of dual-mode phones and municipal wireless.

Dual-mode phones are phone that have Wi-Fi and cellular capabilities in one single handset, and in an ideal world there is a seamless handoff between the two networks once you are in range of a Wi-Fi network

While this does seem like a distant dream, eventually it will happen. Nokia, for instance, is pretty confident that most of its mobile phones in the near future will have Wi-Fi capabilities built into them. BT can offer voice (and other services) over Wi-Fi when in range of a FON node, and when out of range it can switch to the Vodafone network for cellular access.

T-Mobile USA is trying something similar up in the U.S. Northwest, though it is through a customer’s own Wi-Fi network. of France has also been playing with a similar idea and has bundled FON-like software in its residential gateways.