Wi-Fi/Cellular at Convergence Crossroads

The convergence of mobile networks and devices could extend coverage and simplify access, but loose ends linger.

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The latest DIAD version, introduced last year and in use by 40,000 drivers, supports dual mobile WAN connections matched to the services with the best coverage in the ZIP codes of a given driver's territory, explains John Killeen, director of global network systems at the worldwide delivery services company.

"The previous DIAD generation ran primarily on the Cingular network," says Killeen. "We found that 81% of our network problems related to roaming onto a Cingular partner's network. So now we have separate, direct contracts in place with all the primary carriers," Killeen says.

For now, UPS's roaming needs are confined to the mobile WAN. Sales-force personnel use EV-DO services and laptops; the company's warehouse-based personnel use Bluetooth finger-scanners that transmit package information to the company's 2,000-site Wi-Fi LAN and don't require cellular connectivity. The company has made a conscious decision not to include voice in the DIADs so as not to "interrupt the driver's day," Killeen adds.

Anthony Marano Co., a fruits and vegetables wholesaler in Chicago that turns much of its business around in a day's time, relies on voice-centric cellular/Wi-Fi convergence to survive.

"Eighty percent of our business volume involves customers physically delivering, e-mailing or faxing us an order for produce that's needed within 48 hours," explains Chris Nowak, IT director. As a real-time business, the company can't afford the delays associated with extensive voice mails and callbacks and desktop-bound e-mail, he says.

The company treats the nascent Enterprise Seamless Mobility system from Motorola, Proxim and Avaya as its production telephone network, even though it is technically still a pilot project. The year-old setup facilitates phone-call handoffs between the company's Wi-Fi network and the GSM cellular network from Cingular Wireless LLC, allowing buyers and sellers to remain in continuous communication with customers and vendors.

The premises-based equipment integrates Anthony Marano's Avaya IP PBX with its wireless LAN, the cellular network and a dual-mode handset -- the Motorola CN620 -- that "speaks" both 802.11a (5-GHz) Wi-Fi and quadband GSM cellular.

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