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Monday, July 09, 2007

Will the WiFi Blackberry support multiple philosophies?

Looks like the much-rumoured WiFi/cellular BlackBerry is finally on its way. An outstanding question is whether the WiFi function will be accessible for carrier services (eg UMA, VCC), or end-user local connectivity (to a corporate WLAN or public hotspot) - or both.

I'll take a punt that the underlying platform will support both - although possibly not in all operator-specific variants.

I suspect that T-Mobile US may have come up with a superficially compelling reason for a UMA variant for use at hotspots (& maybe employees' homes), although it's not likely to be much use when the device is inside a corporate WLAN & firewall. UMA isn't designed to work with complex switched WiFi networks (Cisco, Aruba, Trapeze et al). There have been various noises to make some of these UMA-friendly, but they don't appear to have got anywhere substantive. One of the problems is that UMA needs to make an outbound VPN connection to the operator's UNC - not something that the average enterprise security manager would be too happy about, unless a separate partitioned domain could be implemented on the wireless network.

Conversely, most of RIM's other operator customers aren't using UMA, and so presumably won't want to be spending money for lumps of complex software in the stack that will go unused. I suppose it's possible that they could ship with the UMA software 'dormant', though - especially if the per-device royalty was only payable on phones which were actually activated. Whether it'll have some form of VCC/pre-VCC client is another matter - I suspect we might have to wait for dual-mode BlackBerry V2.0 for that.

On the other side of the coin, I imagine that RIM has been keenly aware of the drive for SIP-based PBX-centric dual-mode devices - and conscious of Nokia's E-series and various Windows devices' incumbency there. The lure of unified comms, VoWLAN and possible tighter relationships with Cisco, Avaya, Divitas, Siemens, Varaha and assorted others must be pretty potent. I'd imagine RIM doesn't want to miss out on an emerging market for converged corporate voice/data devices.

But that opportunity comes with a sting its tail - although some of the fixed/mobile hybrid carriers are moving towards managed dual-mode IP-PBX implementations (eg BT Corporate Fusion), there is definitely a strong move towards enterprises buying 'vanilla' WiFi handsets through alternative channels, rather than operator-customised ones.

So.... could the dual-mode BlackBerry make an appearance through non-operator channels? Perhaps sold through a systems integrator, with the enterprise sourcing SIMs and voice/data airtime separately? It's got to be a tricky decision for RIM, given its strong carrier partnerships. But sooner or later, they have to deal with the undeniable fact that some enterprises will want to source all their own mobility hardware (including mobile email servers), and just pick one or more operators as a cellular bit-pipe.


UMAer said...


Just two comments from the UMA front:

First, it's not that 'UMA isn't designed to work with complex switched Wi-Fi networks'. It's that there is no 802.11 standard defined for handing over between Wi-Fi APs. Any device that does handover with the companies mentioned has software from the respective company downloaded on it.

When the standard (802.11r?) is complete, UMA will support it. But Samsung, Nokia, Motorola, LG... don't want to support the Aruba, Cisco, and Trapeze handover client, it's too much.

Second, while 'most of RIMs operators aren't using UMA', I can say that none of RIMs operators are using VCC. It's pretty clear the RIM product is for T-Mobile and will likely get to Orange as well. But I don't know why anyone would add support for a standard that isn't complete and that no operator is supporting.

Dean Bubley said...

Hi UMAer

Yes, that's my point - the current enterprise WLAN is usually based on proprietary AP-AP handoff, plus a proprietary controller, usually linked into the fixed LAN and enterprise IT security domain. And UMA wasn't designed to either work with that, or be easily extensible to work in such non-operator-controlled environments. It also doesn't "play nicely" with IP-PBXs in terms of call control.

VCC - we both know it's still quite early days. There are a number of "pre-VCC" SIP-based operator implementations, which over time will progress towards a more standardised proposition. That said, it's still an open question if they'll inter-work with corporate WLAN & IP-PBX infrastructures either. I'd expect the PBX co's to be more friendly towards it though, as they're generally SIP advocates.

On the topic of which - a number of RIMs operators are also working with the more "enterprise-controlled" approach to SIP dual-mode, where the mobility management is anchored in the PBX, usually under the enterprise control (although occasionally hosted/centrex). So I'd expect to see BT Global Services, Orange Business etc pitching that type of solution to their corporate customers.

Having said that, I could also envisage a dual-mode-dual-mode approach, using local WiFi+SIP while on a company campus, but perhaps WiFi+UMA from a hotspot.

frnkblk said...

I'm not familiar with this "handover client".

I think what 'UMAer' is getting at is that BSS transitions (i.e. a client's move from one BSSID to another) don't operate that smoothly, and that even under the most ideal conditions it takes anywhere from 10 to 20 msec, while most of the time it's in the 100 to 150 msec range when using IEEE 802.1X with pre-auth and PMK caching turned on. According to Extricom, an enterprise Wi-Fi vendor based in Israel, unless there is a seamless handoff the IPSec tunnel between the handset and carrier network will likely break, disrupting the call. While I've done a lot of roaming testing, I haven't tried with an IPSec client, so I don't know if that's the case.

While we wait for 802.11r to trudge through the IEEE process, we still have IAPP/802.11f as a bare minimum, and Cisco with their CCX program to enhance the experience.

In regards to handsets, I believe that once handset vendors start implementing VCC the enterprises will clamor to use those handsets because they're Wi-Fi optimized and likely have a strong/good SIP stack.



Dean Bubley said...


My whole point is that there won't be an IPsec tunnel from within an enterprise WLAN to the carrier network in most cases. The device will typically be connecting locally via WLAN to the LAN & IP-PBX. Most enterprise FMC solutions will not be "anchored" in the carrier network at all, but in the PBX or WLAN switch, under the control of the IT dept.

Also, it's entirely possible to have a good WiFi/SIP implementation on the handset without VCC.

Zed said...

I don't get the point of these UMA/Wifi phones. You only need UMA/Wifi if your cell network is crap. Just look at the Nordics. Anywhere you go your cell phone just works. And I mean anywhere: countryside, basements, elevators, at home, in the loo. Why mess around with silly Wifi cludges when you can just build a proper cell phone network? All this UMA stuff is so ass backwards.

Luc said...

Hey Dean,

Excellent article. RIM is in between their current revenue generator (mobile operators) and large revenue opportunity (enterprise SIP PBX). They could provide a SIP only client, but customers would want the full service with seamless roaming.