Fri, Jul 12, 2002 - Page 10 News List

Seamless WLAN in the works

TELECOMS Experts at a conference in Taipei said that wireless local area network companies and mobile-phone operators need to work together to upgrade service

By Annabel Lue  /  STAFF REPORTER

Wireless local area network (WLAN) companies have to cooperate with mobile-phone operators for further development, since users need seamless wireless coverage to get online -- both indoor and outdoor, an industry pundit said yesterday.

"To make the mobile Internet service more accessible and ensure users can surf the Web while on the move or at certain locations, connections to local area and phone networks will be needed," said Simon Hsu (徐玉學), a telecom analyst at Topology Research Institute (拓墣產業研究), at an industry seminar held at the Taipei International Convention Center.

Topology is an information-technology industry research center established in May. It is funded by several local companies, including China Development Industrial Bank (中華開發) and Ritek Corp (錸德科技).

WLANs are data communications systems that enable users to surf the Internet without cables via a radio frequency. Currently, companies such as Yaw Jenq Technology Co (曜正科技), Yam Digital Technology Co (蕃薯藤), Far EasTone Telecommunications Co (遠傳電信), Chunghwa Telecom Co (中華電信), and Mobitai Communications Co (東信) are offering WLAN service at about 500 "hot" locations in Taiwan, such as airports, hotels, department stores and coffee shops.

While companies have claimed that WLAN service is suitable for those who want to sit down in certain places and use notebook or personal digital assistants, "users that need timely information while on the move will want broadband mobile service such as GPRS connections," Hsu said.

An industry professional who also attended yesterday's seminar said similar types of cooperative practices between WLAN and mobile-phone operators have begun to appear in Western countries.

"Some companies in North America and Europe have started to implement such integration," said Hermann Hunag (黃文華), deputy director at Mobitai. "US-based MobileStar and Finland-based Sonera have begun trial runs on an integrated wireless network and mobile-phone services, including the billing system."

The practice works through the use of wireless Internet modules which can detect both GPRS and WLAN signals, Huang said.

When users are outdoors, their devices will connect to GPRS networks and when they enter a location where WLAN service is available the device will seamlessly reconnect itself to the WLAN site, he said.

Topology's Hsu said, however, that it may take years before the network becomes a viable service.

"The price of a dual-function module is nearly US$300 each -- most consumers would be unwilling to pay for it," he said.

In addition, the industry is still searching for a device that is as light as a cellphone and yet functions like a PDA or a notebook PC.

"Nevertheless, wireless players will have to follow this trend," Hsu said.

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