University Grading Dual-Mode Phones

Hopes to spread system to 30,000 users by 2009

George Washington University is testing 25 dual-mode wireless phones that allow users to move between indoor Wi-Fi networks and outdoor cellular networks.

If the technology proves reliable and its promise to cut costs bears out, the university could support up to 30,000 dual-mode phones for students and staffers on its three campuses by 2009, said Bret Jones, director of technology and engineering at the school.

Jones said the Washington-based university hopes that a dual-mode system will cut cell phone expenses by making extensive use of university-controlled Wi-Fi networks.

George Washington University

The test began two weeks ago and is expected to be lengthy. It uses $400 E61 phones from Nokia Corp. that are equipped with Avaya Inc.s One-X Mobile Dual-Mode client software, which was introduced last week.

Jones said he hopes that the testing will be completed by the fall of 2008 and that implementation will begin a year later.

The Avaya client software, which costs $160 per user, provides access to IP-based applications on servers running Avayas Communication Manager call processing software, allowing one office number to handle conference calls, speed dialing and speech activation of applications, Jones said.

The primary advantage of having a single phone number for both types of networks is that it increases mobility and makes the cell phone an extension of the office phone, with all the function of the office phone, he added.

Nokia phone with Avaya software

The university evaluated several alternative dual-mode systems but picked Avayas offering because the Basking Ridge, N.J.-based company is very strong, and Ive been real happy with their products, Jones said.

But he noted that testers have already experienced some difficulties in switching between cellular and Wi-Fi networks without losing the call.

As you move across a boundary, the call doesnt disconnect, but it does delay, Jones said. Thats one of the challenges.

Another hurdle for the university is getting help from cellular network operators as it tries to address the problem, Jones said.

They are not really supportive of this technology, for obvious revenue reasons, he said. Anytime a cell phone is on Wi-Fi, they are not collecting cell minutes. That is one of the biggest challenges with this technology.

Cellular network operators are testing and developing their own dual-mode systems, in which they provide software to smoothly link a phone call from Wi-Fi to a cellular network, several analysts said. They noted that the providers may eventually sell dual-mode phones for their own networks under multiyear subscription plans.

Jones said there are several challenges in getting dual-mode phones to make a smooth transition from Wi-Fi to cellular, and there are different issues with different carriers because they have varying levels of service on their networks.

In addition, the current price tag for the phone from Espoo, Finland-based Nokia and Avayas software would likely prevent students from embracing the plan, Jones said. He hopes that by the time of implementation, cellular companies will be offering hardware deals for users of their networks.

Until the cellular providers support this technology, we wont see subsidized phones, and thats a big concern, Jones said.

Clearly, dual-mode systems would save money for an enterprise or campus when it comes to mobile users spending considerable time in an office or on the road, said Brian Riggs, an analyst at Current Analysis Inc. in Sterling, Va.

The key value of a dual-mode system, said Riggs, would be to prevent John from calling Frank on the third floor from the second floor while using the cell phone minutes plan.

Jones agreed with Riggs assessment that the university will likely have to upgrade its Wi-Fi network and add new software that prioritizes voice traffic over data traffic to fully implement a dual-mode system.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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