UTStarCom to put cell networks on IP

Network infrastructure maker UTStarCom Inc. says it has figured out a way to keep local cell phone calls local -- even over enterprise LANs.

The Alameda, California, company announced on Monday a set of products that bypass the traditional long-distance wired circuits used as backhaul for traditional cellular networks. Instead, it will let them go over IP (Internet protocol) data connections. The technology allows carriers to bring service to remote, unserved communities and allows enterprises to use the "free" bandwidth on their LANs for calls within a campus, according to Jack Mar, president of UTStarCom's CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) division.

The MovingMedia 2000 product line makes up an infrastructure in which calls travel directly from the base station onto an IP packet network. That gets the mobile operator's call traffic off the expensive long-distance leased lines they use today between cities and lets the operator consolidate network elements. The result for the operator can be vastly lower operating expenses, according to Mar.

Current cell phone networks switch calls at an MSC (mobile switching center) that may be hundreds of miles from some of the communities it serves. After reaching a local base station, the calls get to the MSC over expensive leased lines on a traditional circuit-switched phone network.

MovingMedia 2000 replaces that MSC with an MSC Server that does not switch the call but only handles management functions such as caller identification and call setup. After a brief setup process, the call travels over IP data connections between base stations, eliminating most of the cost of long-distance dedicated circuits, Mar said.

The new infrastructure also can offer benefits to mobile carriers' enterprise customers, he said.

Using IP phones, enterprises today can make voice calls over building and campus data networks they already own. However, mobile phone calls from one end of a campus to the other generally still go over a service provider's network and show up on a bill. An alternative just beginning to emerge is the use of dual-mode Wi-Fi and cell phones with an automatic handoff from cell network to LAN when an employee comes into the office. UTStarcom's system could offer a simpler solution, Mar said. Subscribers' existing CDMA phones will work with MovingMedia 2000, according to the company.

At an enterprise, the mobile operator could set up picocells -- cells about the size of a notebook computer, designed for coverage over a small area -- in the building or campus. The enterprise LAN would provide the IP connectivity between them, Mar said. The network could also be connected to a local server with an enterprise directory so employees could take advantage of enterprise phone features such as office extensions. While the enterprise would benefit from greater ease of use and lower bills, the mobile operator could cut its own costs and gain the business customer's loyalty.

The idea has implications for other users as well.

"Operators can now afford to run operations where they could not afford to before because of backhaul charges ... (In) a lot of communities where there is not coverage today, they could put in coverage," Mar said. In addition, the MovingMedia system bypasses a conversion of voice traffic between the CDMA and circuit-switched phone networks that can cause delays and degrade sound quality, Mar said. In addition, because the system can use any kind of IP data connection to carry voice calls, it could be applied to cell phone service on airliners, using a satellite data connection, he added.

Also Monday, UTStarCom will announce deals with operators in Bangladesh and Angola to deploy MovingMedia2000.

The product line to be introduced Monday, called MovingMedia 2000, is designed only for CDMA and CDMA 2000, but UTStarcom could make a similar system for GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) networks, Mar said.

The MovingMedia lineup, which includes radio access, core voice network and core data network equipment for 450MHz, 800MHz and 1900MHz CDMA and CDMA 2000 networks, is set to ship by the end of 2004.

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