Analysis: Ericsson's SIM-card WiFi solution

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Date: Saturday, May 31st, 2003, 00:32
Category: iPod, User Group

What Ericsson’s new press release means for mobile users everywhere. (Hint: it doesn’t mean one login for your Powerbook and mobile internet) Read more . . .

An earlier newswire item asked for someone to clarify what the announce from Ericsson was all about.
Ericsson wants to make using WiFi HotSpots simple and easier. Presently people have to remember their login information or configure their connections for various profiles.
There are two cards out that I’m aware of, one from Nokia and one from Sony Ericsson that have GPRS and WiFi in the same pc-card adapter. Sadly, neither of these hybrid “dual network” cards support EDGE – to use that service you’ll still need a seperate pc-card.
In the case of the Nokia and Sony Ericsson cards you’ll be able to use GPRS internet service wherever you have GSM service instead of hunting down a Starbucks.
True, you could use your mobile phone via usb or Bluetooth/IR to get a GPRS connection, and if you’re happy with that option, by all means continue using them. (I will.)
Now where the Ericsson press release gets interesting is that they will be allowing providers of WiFi 802.11b to use an Ericsson authentication server to allow users and subscribers to use their 11mbit wireless connection via the SIM card that must be inserted into the pc-card adapter to use GPRS.
For the person that knows nothing about GSM, GSM carriers keep your phone number assigned to a little card the size of an adult thumbnail. This is called a SIM. You can put phone book information on it, too, so when you swap phones you can retain your contacts. This is substancially easier than what I was doing with Sprint PCS and re-keying my addressbook every time I updated my equipment.
When it comes to WiFi, people are using network names and WEP keys, and typically RADIUS to provide strong authentication for their wireless users. By turning this authentication over to the SIM card, it would mean users no longer have to go through an authentication process against RADIUS, the access point would validate the user based on the subscription info on the SIM card.
The Mobile Operator WAN offering Ericsson mentions here sounds like it would be a way for GSM carriers to roll out WiFi for data services in a much more effective way by binding access to their subscribers without the additional overhead of managing a seperate database for WiFi users.
The two CDMA carriers in the United States, Sprint PCS and Verizon are offering faster and faster data services over their networks. 1xRTT and 1xEVDO is much faster than GPRS and even EDGE.
In an effort to provide faster data services using different technology, the GSM equipment folks are going to have to wait for WCDMA (3G) networks to launch, which do not exist in the United States. By focusing on existing technology that isn’t related to radio spectrum being used now, they can roll out even faster wireless data bound to HotSpots.
What they hope for, and bet on, is that when you’re away from a high-speed access point giving you 802.11b, you won’t mind the much slower GPRS connection you get instead. The logic being that something is better than nothing, and now you can get something no matter where you are all from one device.
By cutting down on the infrastructure needed to support roaming WiFi users with something like Ericsson’s “ISP WiFi solution in a Box”, we may get the savings passed on to us.
All told the cards are nice, I can’t find out when EDGE/802.11b cards will be available yet, but T-Mobile and AT&T aren’t advertising EDGE in their markets anyway.
This promises to be a very interesting development, I’ll be really curious to see if anybody runs with it in the United States markets.

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