Unlicensed Mobile Access, a technology for fixed-mobile convergence, has received a major fillip by the entry of networking heavyweight Cisco Systems Inc into collaboration with UMA evangelist Kineto Wireless Inc.
UMA works by tunneling cellular traffic from GSM and UMTS phones over a fixed-line network via a WiFi access point. To do this, it requires the handset to be loaded with a special software client, and a specific controller to be in the network, which in Kineto’s case is called the UMA Network Controller (UNC).
As such, it competes for the attention of telecoms operators with IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) technology, another 3GPP standard which proposed a completely new, all-IP core network in order to deliver FMC functionality.
To some extent, there are two technology camps, although equipment vendors such as Nokia and Motorola are active in both, not least because UMA is more evolution than revolution in that it is deployed at the edge, on customer premises, and can even be part-financed by the customer, who can buy a subsidized AP and handset to get the service, for instance.
The IMS camp has traditionally countered that with the argument that UMA is really limited to the consumer/SoHo market and that only be deploying an IMS architecture at the core of a next-generation, all-IP network will carriers be able to deliver enterprise FMC. Many observers consider UMA as a transitional phase, with a degree of FMC delivered on existing carrier networks, to be superseded once IMS is in place.
The only UMA service commercially available to date, the Fusion service from UK wireline incumbent BT Group Plc, is indeed targeted at the residential market and, at least in its first iteration, uses Bluetooth rather than WiFi as the connection to the fixed network.
That said, BT’s Spanish arm, which only targets business users, has recently announced plans to roll Fusion out in that country, using WiFi rather than Bluetooth and focusing on business users.
In any case, Milpitas, California-based Kineto has announced that Cisco is working with it on UMA technology, which indicates that the networking giant is taking it seriously. Cisco has recently published a business cases on its site for what it calls Generic Access Network (GAN) dual-mode services, which is another name for UMA, and clearly sees applications for its technology, both within the carrier network and at the customer premises.
On the carrier side, explained Ken Kolderup, VP of marketing at Kineto, the UNC requires two, or sometimes three, off-the-shelf elements, namely the security gateway for handling the tunnels, a AAA server for authentication and so on and, if integrating with a mobile switching center (MSC) up to and including Release 99, a media gateway to handle integration with the circuit-switched TDM network. From Release 4 onwards, MSCes have a media gateway built in.
Cisco can provide all three of these elements, and indeed, it already does to a lot of mobile operators, said Kolderup, so now companies deploying the Kineto UNC (which includes OEMs such as Nokia and Motorola) can take its controller technology and add the gateway(s) and AAA server from Cisco.
On the CPE side, meanwhile, Cisco wants to push its Linksys routers (and potentially also its enterprise APs), so again it is interested in working with Kineto for interoperability of the network core and CPE elements.
What Cisco’s involvement really shows is how operator interest in UMA has grown, argued the Kineto VP, noting that his company is working on trials with around 18 operators in Europe and half a dozen in Asia. He declined to reveal numbers for North America, beyond noting that there are only three GSM operators in the region.