A Canadian company has demonstrated roaming between an 802.11 wireless LAN and GPRS (general packet radio service). The system is designed to make it easier for mobile operators to bill user access according to the access technology they are using in different areas as they move around.
While GPRS offers anything from 20 to 40kbps, the wireless LAN standard 802.11b can offer 11Mbps, although only over very short distances.
But the roaming solution is good for users who can manage on a large regional GPRS network for most of the time and then enjoy the extra bandwidth from a wireless LAN when they enter a "hot spot" typically in an office, airport, hotel or shopping centre.
The carrier, Rogers AT&T, was able to integrate IEEE 802.11b wireless LANs into a GPRS network using software from Mobility Network Systems. The integration allowed Rogers, in Toronto, to use the same user authentication, billing and security systems for both GPRS and wireless LAN services.
Charges for both services would appear on a single bill from the carrier. In the trial, designed to test use of the networks with a notebook PC, users did not roam in real time but turned on the client in each coverage area.
Hardware products that can take advantage of both GPRS and wireless LAN networks are just beginning to emerge. For example, Nokia makes a PC card wireless adapter with GPRS, wireless LAN and HSCSD (High-Speed Circuit-Switched Data) capabilities.
Mobility's software is designed to make it easier for existing carriers to upgrade their back-office systems so they can add wireless LANs to their services.