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back to article Wi-Fi hotspots, phone masts: Prepare to be assimilated by O2's Borg

Telefonica, owner of the O2 brand in the UK, has been showing off technology to integrate mobile phone networks with Wi-Fi. The idea is to let handsets, tablets, and anything else, use Wi-Fi hotspots just like cellular base stations, with all the security, reliability, and billing which that involves. The problem is that …

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Anonymous Coward

Needs better accounting to benefit hot spot providers

I'd be happy to open my WiFi to other mobile phone users if it cut my own mobile bills or even gave me payments if my access point were popular enough. The network operators need to be able to install their own managed equipment into millions of existing networks whose operators can benefit in a similar way. I'd want the accounting inferface counting traffic on the managed equipment to be accountable to me as well as the network aggregator though.

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Holmes

What comes around...

Wasn't it 2003 when Ericsson launched this concept as Unlicensed Mobile Access?

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UMA is excellent

I didn't realise UMA was that old. It works brilliantly on my Blackberry Bold on the EE network. I get lousy 3G coverage at home so my Bold uses my WiFi instead. Happily swapping between WiFi and 3G as needs require. Also great when working in basements for clients.

I have a neighbour's Wifi four doors away on my phone. So as I drive home, the phone is on 3G. I turn the car next to my neighbour's and it jumps straight onto their WiFi. As I park I often see it swapping from the neighbour's WiFi to my own WiFi connection. All clean and smooth.

Okay - it did take RIM a few firmware updates to get this stable from new on the Bold 9780 but now I couldn't live without out.

Nice to see O2 finally catching up....

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Meh

Re: UMA is excellent

UMA *is* excellent - you are correct, and it is sorely missed on the BlackBerry Z10 at the moment. When properly implemented it hands in and out seamlessly (which is an achievement in it's own right when you consider that no femtocell vendor can support hand-in at the moment) and vastly improves coverage where it is sparse for the cost of a WiFi access point. It's all in the customer's control, all voice/data/SMS/etc are carried over it, it is *truly* integrated into the cellular network (it's referred to as a Generic Access Network) and is easy to set-up.

Trouble is, that knowing the mobile community they won't take something that works and utilise it the way it should have been done in the first place, but instead will create some trite 'app' that works on non-UMA phones and have them working in a non-UMA haphazard manner. It won't support hand in and out (possibly unless it's VoIP based but that lends itself to some other interesting issues) and it will undoubtedly attract at least some negative publicity.

On the other hand, if UMA *is* used, it will pave the way to seamless coverage integration, something I am sure we'd all be happy to have.

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Re: UMA is excellent

So hope they have the sense to use UMA. Trouble is I assume they need to bung licensing cash at someone. Which means, as you say, a bodged mess that doesn't work as well.

I've only really experienced the Bold using UMA so can't tell what other devices are like. One of my clients did see my UMA in use in his house but decided to go for an Android phone instead. Turns out that is done via an app - and the app was only available if you had bought the phone direct from Orange. He paid for his phone outright from a different source and there was no way to put that Orange app onto the phone. There was no sense in Orange making that restriction... but they did.

So bad implementations using an app already exist. Complete with stupid lock-downs.

Whereas the Blackberry "just works". What amazes me is how many different wireless access points handle this without thought. I see dozens of clients with all kinds of cheap and nasty WiFi kit and it "just works".

Bad news that it isn't in the Z10 yet. That stops me upgrading. Can't seem me letting go of this 9780 for a while as it does all I need for now.

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Silver badge

Re: UMA is excellent

The Orange/EE situation is odd. I hadn't heard of this before, so I toddled off to look for a download of the Signal Boost (Orange's name for UMA) app. It turns out it is only on certain phones (usually at the cheap end), and, having done some research, it turns out that there isn't a way to install it to any other phone - even o a rooted phone.

Very odd.

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Bronze badge

Interesting idea....

I'm liking the idea of automatically switching, but I have a concern -

Let's take a real-world scenario. A person has a wifi connection to their home broadband connection. It's cheap as chips and isn't capped, but it's slow (let's say less than 4Mbps). They have this swanky new 4G phone with this solution. Will this solution simply ignore the wifi (because technically it's an inferior connection) and switch over to the nice fast 4G connection every time?

For many users, a slow, cheap connection is better than a fast expensive connection. The wifi connection may not be as fast, but it might be 'all you can eat' and isn't likely to leave the bank balance depleted when you go over the cap on the 4G contract. I may sound like a conspiracy theorist (please forgive me), but this seems to benefit the mobile providers though....

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Re: Interesting idea....

From what I have read here, it seems as though it is the hotspot itself that would kill the connection after interrogating the handset, so nothing to worry about there.

My concern lies in the fact that each cell site will be using a fair chunk of data to establish the "best" connection that it could, potentially, bump up the data usage and/or eat away at my battery.

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Re: Interesting idea....

You can program the UMA settings to favour using the WiFi (UMA/GAN) path or cellular. Once you've done that, it's just down to coverage.

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Looks to me like a scheme to try and get people onto the most profitable network more often. I wouldn't trust it at all unless there is an option in the O/S similar to the 'avoid toll roads' one in sat navs

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HMB

Any which way but Right

This is a case of companies desperately trying to cling on to what they're most familiar with!

Rather than concede now that Voice over IP is the future (Voice over LTE requires it I think). Companies battle on trying to make a legacy product work.

By day I chat with work colleagues over Skype and hear them so clearly that if you were outside the office you might think they were inside there with me.

By night I call my friend up in the car and the conversation goes something like: "What?", "What?", "You said what?", "What?". I joke a little bit, but after going through two cellular networks and two bluetooth conversions with an audio bandwidth not exceeding 4Khz and compression that makes us both sound like we're in a pond.... I just really wonder how much life is left in old phone calls.

I think the mobile industry is probably the biggest pedaller of horse products of them all. They'll keep trying to flog them no matter the cost too.

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Facepalm

And the benefit to the hotspot site owner?

I wonder if the site owner will get any cut of the income the mobile operators are generating from their hotspot, whilst they're consuming the site owner's bandwidth.

Thought not.

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Silver badge

Whether Wi-Fi hotspots will remain free

The real question will be how much can we charge.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Whether Wi-Fi hotspots will remain free

I foresee them charging you for the call irrespective of delivery route.

I guess the real solution would actually be to look at routing data over cell or wifi once that is solved move the entire voice system to voip.

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Bronze badge

the only benefit to the user that I can see here, is that they (the operators) could install these hotspots in areas where phone reception was bad, kinda like femtocells, instead of large unsightly (expensive) (possibly impractical) masts / towers

The idea of having my wifi at home, morph into my mobile data allowance, does not appeal, at all. Lets me pay for my unlimited wifi, and instead of using that for my home based, phone based internet activities, at no extra cost, I'd just be getting through my (quite limited) monthly mobile data quicker.

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Boffin

Eh?

>>and traffic can then be tunnelled through the network operator to apply usage policies (such as blocking porn or counting data packets)

So I get to pay for the data payload on the DSL line *and* on the phone contract?

How about "bugger off"?

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QoS?

Just give me anything that helps fix the 'Openzone Sydrome' - where at some point I'll connect to a BT Openzone free wifi access point, forget about it, and then days later I'll realise I'm going around with no practical data connection because instead of using the 5-bar 3G signal, my phone is still automatically connecting to each and every Openzone AP it can sniff, irrespective of signal quality, speed, or even whether the damn AP is connected to the Internet or not!

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Re: QoS?

How about not using the Openzone? :)

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In my experience WiFi Hotspots just don't work.

I work in Central Birmingham and all of your general cloud providers like 'The Cloud' and 'BT Openzone' are there but you will be lucky if you get a connection. I get free Openzone access because I have BT at home.

1) You can be 'connected' to the hotspot but subsequently get no IP address leaving you with a 169.X unroutable dud.

2) You connect and get an IP address but the re-direction to the HTTP landing page doesn't kick in.

3) If you're lucky to get this far you might actually get online. Usually you're required to click through at least two more pages, one of them being a EULA and you might have to sign up if you're a new user.

4) Now you're online! On the BT Openzone hotspot I used today my connection dropped out completely roughly once every 30 minutes (with a 4/5 bar connection) and I had to disconnect and go through the whole process again. If I moved 10m away the connection went down to 1 bar and was unusable.

The most reliable connections tend to be dedicated ones in Coffee Shops.

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Silver badge

I've never managed to get an Openzone hotspot to work. But O2 and the Cloud back when O2 customers could use them did work quite well.

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WTF?

Huh tell me i'm an idiot

If you must but my cheap cheerful and horribly dated galaxy note2 finds o2 and bt wireless hotspots connects and seamlessly continues browsing over wifi that was being done over mobile networking and then back as I walk around.

So explain what o2 is doing that my phonebrick* doesn't already do. It even manages to switch torrents between wifi and mobile broadband both ways too without screwing up.

* a better word than phablet!

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Re: Huh tell me i'm an idiot

The Galaxy Note 2 is "cheap, cheerful and horribly dated"? What do you count as an expensive, serious and up-to-date phone??

Anyway, to the point of the article - this has nothing to do with browsing, but with calls - it is the voice bit that UMA/the reinvented one in the article hands off between the two types, not data. However, yes, it does seem at first glance that if data can do it, voice can't - but I'm sure there is a reason.

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Re: Huh tell me i'm an idiot

Have you tried using Skype while switching between wifi and 3g? What happens with me is that skype loses its connection and has to log back in. That takes maybe 10-15 seconds, long enough to drop the call.

If you are downloading torrents, that probably won't be a problem, because it is designed to cope with people joining and leaving networks anyway. You never get a constant uninterrupted download stream with torrents anyway.

If you are browsing, then each page view is a separate download, and if one download takes place on wifi and the next on 3g, you probably won't notice.

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Orange/EE UMA

It may interest those touting Orange/EE's UMA options to know that Orange are withdrawing the service, they now only have one new handset which includes it and have no plans to add it to anything else.

I have been happily using UMA on a BB and Signal Boost on a Galaxy S2 for ages now, due to getting no signal from any networks in my home, my partner's home, or my office, and I am now effectively stuck with my old handsets.

The popular theory online is that operators worldwide have realised that they miss out on pricey roaming costs when customers use UMA abroad, but personally I just think they couldn't be bothered anymore.

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I prefer the concept of SmartPhone Ad-Hoc Networking, which largely negates the need for cellphone masts AND billing, but this is a step in the right direction. I'm currently sitting in a house where I have no signal from the mast, yet a full wireless signal from a router and it makes no sense at all that I can't receive cellular traffic!

SPAN is gaining traction and there are already kernels for some devices that put the wireless adapter in ad-hoc mode. The more devs get into the idea, the quicker we can put the cellco's in their place.

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Meh

At least mobile manufacturers make sure Ad-Hoc actually works with the OS they put on the device. I never had nothin' but misery trying to get it working with any desktop (well, laptop) Linux setup. And the best security it offered last time I looked was 40-bit WEP... O_o

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Boffin

The problem is that wireless Ethernet is a bodge job of the highest order

Eh? Ethernet is carrier sense multiple access - it's roots lie in ALOHA net - a wireless protocol that linked up sites across the University of Hawaii in the 1970's.

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Re: The problem is that wireless Ethernet is a bodge job of the highest order

Suspect that what was really being said was that WiFi and Ethernet come from the data communications school of design (as does the Internet) rather than from the telecommunications school of design. Hence the way it manages available bandwidth and communications between multiple clients and the access point/base station is not best suited to low latency traffic such as voice ...

One of the problems given for WiFi is the client's tendency to cling to an established access point connection, but this has been known for years (and is largely down to WiFi adaptors only having a single radio and a simple AP scanning algorithm) and is something that Meru largely solved in their infrastructure product set by getting the AP to tell the client details of the next AP they need to use. So I suspect that ip.access have just adapted Meru's approach...

To me the seemless roaming issue is a bit of a holy grail (particularly with respect to voice). Yes it would be nice, but actually if we didn't have it, would it actually cause massive issues or would users just get used to it?

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