Belair reckons Wi-Fi can save 3G networks

Mobile network operators won’t readily admit it, but when they get too many smartphone users in the same place, data speeds on their 3G networks go into meltdown. Wi-fi could relieve that congestion, says Stephen Rayment, CTO with Belair Networks.

As Rayment quite rightly argues, the vast majority of smartphones (and cellular connected laptops, too) are dual-mode – supporting both 3G and wi-fi.

wi-fi alliance logoAll that’s necessary is for the handset to switch automatically between 3G and wi-fi when a suitable hot spot is detected. This approach makes a great deal of sense because places where 3G networks get congested almost universally coincide with locations suitable for wi-fi installation.

The argument makes perfect commercial sense to Belair which specialises in making industrial strength wi-fi infrastructure equipment that is particularly suited to outdoor operation.

For the service to work, all it would require would be for cellular phone users to remember to switch on WLAN/wi-fi scanning if they wanted to get a decent data connexion in a crowded place.

The major snag is that few mobile operators have got their act together to offerthe choice of either cellular or Wi-fi access and charge for both from the subscriber’s SIM.

Vodafone reputedly offers such a facility but the obvious candidate here in the UK is T-Mobile. Catch Number Two comes with getting existing handsets to swap between Wi-fi and 3G almost effortlessly..

Rayment is adamant that such an ‘auto-connect’ facility is built into the majority of existing dual mode handsets. TechEye did a reality check on this with 3 UK’s CTO, Graham Baxter.

He confirmed TechEye’s suspicions that while a hand-off between 3G and Wi-fi is feasible, it isn’t easy to do. Moreover, the scheme would rely on consumers entering the correct details for wi-fi logons.

Quite possibly, such logon details could be sent to handsets OTA (over-the-air) and loaded just like mobile internet and MMS settings.

However, that still leaves the thorny issue of who would create the necessary ‘hand-off’ client for the majority of existing handsets. Techeye’s money would be on Devicescape  who probably already possess such an app.

That leaves a sneaking suspicion that Rayment is actually an Apple fanboy and the handset he has in mind for this wi-fi-to-3G swapping is the infamous iPhone.

And there’s the rub. T-Mobile has both 3G and wi-fi services but it doesn’t offer the iPhone [yet].

So while Belair might dream of supplying wi-fi kit to European operators, the scheme will probably go the way of earlier offerings.

Attempts to perform just this kind of automatic hand-over with a technology known as UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access) previously met with disaster. Anyone remember BT Fusion, for example?