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Despite hype, carriers yet to support dual-mode

Vendors are preparing for the coming wave of dual-mode phones that use Wi-Fi and cellular, but carriers have yet to join the party, which could slow enterprise adoption.

Two vendors have sealed perhaps the most significant partnership to date geared toward the emerging enterprise cellular-wireless LAN handset market, but carriers have work to do before dual-mode mobile devices can take hold in the corporate realm.

 Within the next two years, according to experts, many enterprises will have mobile phones that will be considered dual-mode: operating on 802.11 technologies inside the office, and utilizing cellular telephony elsewhere, with a seamless hand-off when moving between networks.

To that end, Schaumburg, Ill.-based Motorola Inc. is joining forces with San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems Inc. to develop devices that combines WLAN IP telephony and mobile phone technologies.

Detailing the partnership, John DeFeo, chief information officer of Motorola's government and enterprise mobility solutions unit, said it brings dual-mode devices and network mobility to the table, while Cisco provides IP telephony and WLAN infrastructure with its CallManager IP voice communications management system.

DeFeo said for each device category, there will be typically two to three different handset models with various predetermined feature functions and carrier calling plans available for the employer to choose from.

Ellen Daley, analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., said Motorola and Cisco have done well to meet both enterprise and user demands.

"The key to a lot of this is that everyone wants simple calling capabilities. They're easy to use and easy to manage," she said. "Motorola did that effectively with Cisco so the phone can act as another extension within the enterprise and it's pretty easy to understand."

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 But put those feature function decisions on the shelf for now. Daley said vendors are making progress to further cellular-WLAN integration with handset and WLAN infrastructure, but the missing link is carrier support.

"Cisco and Motorola came together for something that works on cellular and WLAN networks, but they aren't requiring a carrier. That's a naive decision," Daley said. "I think it's a great offering, but they're missing an ingredient: which carrier is going to allow that handset with Wi-Fi calling capabilities on its cellular network?"

Daley said Forrester anticipates prices for dual-mode Wi-Fi handsets dropping to reasonable levels for the mass market by 2007. But that ball can't start rolling until operators get on board.

She predicted Cingular Wireless will be the first to seal a deal.

"Because so many companies have WLANs deployed, they're hoping to reduce cellular costs by using the WLAN for mobile calls," Daley said. "Over 50% of companies are interested in [Wi-Fi cellular calling], but it's not a technology stopper. It's really authorization of the handset."

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