Two European operators have announced advances in Wi-Fi security and billing by tying in their WLan services with mobile phone infrastructure.
Some Wi-Fi service providers, such as the Cloud in the UK, already allow customers to put Wi-Fi sessions on their mobile phone bills.
But mobile phone operators offering a seamless service is a step forward.
Vympelcom in Russia is testing a SIM card-based offering from Gemplus, the French smartcard company.
Gemplus said its GEMobileIT package, guarantees to be the most secure connection over public hotspots by linking into the GSM infrastructure. It uses the mobile operator’s existing roaming, billing and authentication infrastructure.
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GEMobileIT, comprising software, a smart card (combining SIM card and enterprise security functions) and a smart card reader, is installed on the user’s PC.
Gemplus said it authenticates the WLan user to the network operator and then automatically runs corporate VPN authentication - having stored company credentials in the same smartcard.
Customers will still have to connect their phones via their PC port or modem or remove the SIM card and put it in a card reader. For those already with GPRS modem cards, this will not be a problem.
Sergey Avdeev, vice-president of Network Development at Vympelco, said the Gemplus package was proving to be a robust solution for offering secure Wireless Lan access to internet and corporate resources remotely.
"It is a key part of our strategy for offering high-speed data services to our users," he said.
Meanwhile, Mobilkom Austria has used a converged network platform from Azaire Networks, linking subscriber management, traffic management, IP services, customer care and billing systems of its GPRS and UMTS network.
The company said that it would be able to provide multiple methods of authentication and authorisation including SIM, SMS and credit card as well as integrated accounting and billing.
"Users can now have access to their information regardless of technologies [GPRS, GSM, Wi-Fi and UMTS], all through their existing Mobilkom Austria accounts," the company said.
McDonalds recently signed up Mobilkom to provide all its Austrian outlets with Wi-Fi services - a crucial deal to give Mobilkom a foothold in the market after T-Mobile snapped up 85% of Austria’s hotspots in December with the purchase of Metronet.
"Mobile operators are embracing unlicensed spectrum technologies, such as Wi-Fi, to enhance and protect their investments in GPRS and 3G," said Peter Kingsland, wireless analyst with telecoms and IT consultancy BWCS.
"They need these networks to fit seamlessly with their cellular services in how they appear to the end user and how they are managed and delivered."
Bill Howe, president and chief executive officer of Azaire Networks, said that Mobilkom’s move would allow it to use its existing 2.5/3G core network investment, offer a full set of services straight away and quickly implement new services as they are developed.
Gemplus also announced it was carrying out research with Intel on a generic mechanism to secure the channel directly between the SIM card, wherever it resides, and the laptop or other device used to access a WLan.
Madeleine Acey writes for Techworld