Austrians, Russians to authenticate WLAN with GSM SIMs

Austrian mobile phone operator mobilkom austria AG & Co. KG announced a new public WLAN (wireless LAN) Internet access service for its mobile phone subscribers on Friday, using their mobile phone SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards for authentication and billing.

Russian network operator Vimpel Communications (OJS), known as VimpelCom, meanwhile has been testing a different SIM-based authentication system to provide secure corporate network access over public WLANs since last May.

In Austria, mobilkom will open the first access points for its A1 WLAN Hotspot service in a nationwide chain of fast-food restaurants. Over the next three months, the service will be rolled out at 161 McDonalds restaurants. Other partners will follow later, the Vienna-based network operator said.

Until the end of March, the service is free to use. After that, mobilkom will offer four monthly tariffs, at €7 (US$9), €25, €50 or €100, including data transfers of up to 7M bytes, 25M bytes, 50M bytes or 100M bytes respectively. Additional data transfers cost €1.50 per megabyte on the higher-volume tariffs, or €2.50 per megabyte on the €7/month tariff.

Mobilkom will charge customers for their WLAN and mobile phone usage through a single bill, and will use the SIM card of their GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) phones to authenticate their identity each time they log on.

To connect to the service, surfers need a laptop or PDA equipped with an IEEE802.11b WLAN interface. If they are already mobilkom customers, they can download special client software over their usual network connection and then, once within range of a WLAN access point, click on the appropriate icon to log on, authenticating their identity by means of their mobile phone. If they don't have a mobilkom phone account to which they can bill the service, they can still set up a username and password combination through the WLAN access point, and bill the service to their credit card.

Azaire Networks Inc. of Santa Clara, California, supplied the software behind the service, its Converged Network Platform, through its Austrian distributor Kapsch CarrierCom AG, already a partner of mobilkom. The system will allow mobilkom to charge for WLAN, GSM and GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) usage on a single bill, and even for 3G (third-generation) UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) services when those become available, according to Azaire.

Since last May, VimpelCom, operator of Russia's Bee Line GSM network, has been testing a different SIM-based authentication system, GEMobileIT, provided by Gemplus International SA of Luxemburg. The Moscow-based operator has made no announcements about pricing for its public WLAN service yet, but according to Gemplus will launch the service in April.

GEMobileIT uses the public key encryption capabilities and larger memory of modern SIM cards to authenticate secure VPN sessions from the SIM card through a public WLAN and back to the corporate network, using the EAP-SIM Extensible Authentication Protocol. The service will work with any Java-enabled 32M-byte SIM card, according to Gemplus spokesman Hubert Coyne.

To use a service based on GEMobileIT, mobile phone subscribers need a PC with WLAN capability, and some way of connecting their SIM card to the PC. This can be either through an external smart card reader, such as might be connected to a USB (Universal Serial Bus) port, or a GSM or GPRS modem plugged into a PC Card slot, Coyne said.

Gemplus plans to make the GEMobileIT system commercially available to GSM operators on Tuesday.

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