Nokia launched yesterday its very first public test of Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA), an innovative mobile communications technology that facilitates seamless handover between WiFi and cell networks. Nokia's dual-mode UMA phones automatically use VoIP when WiFi connectivity is available, and use GSM as a fallback when compatible WiFi networks are inaccessible. The device is capable of switching between networks during roaming as accessibility changes.
Fifty families are participating in Nokia's UMA pilot program, which is being rolled out in the city of Oulu, Finland. The city, which is equippedwith numerous publicly funded WiFi hotspots, is an ideal location for the experiment. Pilot program participants will use Nokia 6136phones, which are equipped with dual-mode UMA components and are said to provide "smooth and seamless transitions" between quad-band GSM and 802.11b/g wireless. Support for seamless handover is what distinguishes Nokia's UMA technology from existing dual-mode solutions, like the BT Fusion service.
Nokia's Senior Vice President of Mobile Phone Research and Development,
Peter Ropke, believes that UMA is advantageous to network providers as well as consumers: "UMA technology truly brings simplicity in the usage of voice over IP. This pilot project is an important step forward in bringing functional UMA technology to the mass market. Both operators and consumers will be able to garner the benefits of this new technology."
UMA technology provides unique advantages, in particular, it enables mobile phone network operators to expand service coverage at lower costs by using commodity wireless networking hardware rather than expensive cellular base stations. Despite the advantages, mobile network providers may perceive UMA as a threat since it could potentially cut into large portions of their revenue by moving cell traffic onto broadband lines. Nokia's pilot program, which is set to last for two months, could possibly be the prelude to widespread deployment of UMA technology—if mobile carriers can be convinced that customers' use of the phones won't result in a loss of revenue.