Multiprotocol wireless PC modem cards expected |  Networking

SIERRA WIRELESS OF Richmond, British Columbia, a provider of wireless data communications hardware and software products, has licensed wireless protocol stacks from Bangalore, India-based Sasken Communication Technologies.

The protocol stacks for GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) and GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) will be designed into wireless PC modem cards to be introduced by Sierra, which is likely to support both on a single PC card. Sasken engineers are currently working on integrating these two protocols on sample boards built around a third-party chip set that Sierra is considering using for its devices.

"GPRS is an overlay on GSM, as one must implement most of the GSM protocol stack in order to build a GPRS stack, and the radio is the same. So, from a technology point of view, it's not a major issue to combine the two," said Norman Toms, CTO at Sierra. "From a marketing perspective, GPRS will not be universal, so a user needs a product that allows him to access circuit-switched data services over GSM when he cannot access GPRS. Also, depending on tariffs, if a user needs to send a long file he may prefer a circuit-switched connection to a packet one." Toms did not, however, disclose Sierra's specific product plans in this area.

Sierra has also licensed from Sasken a protocol stack for EDGE (Enhanced Data rate for Global Evolution). In December 1999, Sierra signed a $30 million agreement with Redmond, Wash.-based AT&T Wireless Services for the supply of EDGE data products, starting from the second half of 2001.

Sasken will work with Sierra to integrate its protocol stacks into Sierra's devices, according to Toms. " We will be a partner who will participate throughout the design, because a lot of the design will depend on the protocol stacks. How much memory or processing power has to be there in the device will depend on the stack," added Muralikrishnan Gopalakrishnan, vice president of mobile software at Sasken.

Although Sasken is also offering a protocol stack for 3G (third-generation) mobile, Sierra Wireless has not licensed this stack, opting instead for the GSM and GPRS stacks. "That is what the market wants. Operators are starved of GSM/GPRS and EDGE products today while they are planning UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) rollouts," explained Toms. " I expect UMTS nationwide rollouts to take far longer than the popular press might suggest, after the initial core areas are covered." UMTS is a part of the International Telecommunications Union's "IMT-2000" vision of a global family of 3G mobile communications systems.

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