Dual-mode capability unites wi-fi, cell networks

Several vendors are moving to offer dual-mode products

As wireless LANs continue to spread through corporate sites, several vendors are moving to offer dual-mode products that can support both wi-fi and extended cellular networks.

“We’d be quite interested in that capability — to have a wi-fi [handset] work as a cellphone,” says John Tuman, director of network services at WakeMed Health & Hospitals in North Carolina.

The medical centre already has about 650 SpectraLink voice handsets used by nurses over a wi-fi network from Aruba Wireless Networks, along with about 500 separate cellphones. It would be valuable to have one phone that could work over both networks, mainly for the convenience of users, Tuman says.

WakeMed plans to buy Aruba software, which is expected to be available early next year, that can support dual-mode phones running between wi-fi and cellular networks. The updated software will run on a new Aruba 6000 Mobility Controller switch that will be installed later this month at the health care company, Tuman says.

Aruba has unveiled a product road map that includes plans for adding support for multiple networks to its Mobile Voice Continuity software. The software is slated to be available in the first quarter of 2007, says Aruba founder Keerti Melkote.

WakeMed has 600 access points spread throughout two million square feet of space at its facilities, along with nine Aruba Mobility Controller switches.

The medical centre also wants to set up radio frequency identification (RFID) technology throughout the medical centre that will be supported by its existing wi-fi network, Tuman says.

Already, the voice-over-wireless capability helps nurses better maintain contact with their patients, according to Tuman. “It’s working well,” he says. “It gives nurses faster response to calls. Nurses like the flexibility of not being tethered.”

Meanwhile, Symbol Technologies has released a new wireless switch that can support dual-mode phone hand-overs with the addition of a software module, a spokesman says. The new RFS7000 RF switch is set to ship in 2007.

Siemens plans to add similar capabilities to its HiPath product line in late 2007 or early 2008, a company spokesman says.

Paul DeBeasi, an analyst at Burton Group, says such dual-mode capabilities can let users make cellular calls that are switched through a wi-fi network and then onto a wireline switch. Because of that, vendors call the dual-mode hand-over capability fixed-mobile convergence, he says.

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