NEW YORK (AP) _ Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs has announced that it has developed software that will eventually help wireless phone users roam from one carrier's network to another, all over the world.
The dawn of global, cross-network roaming is at least a year away, and requires advances in wireless handsets, as well as wide adoption of Lucent's software and network switches, which won't be sold until mid-2002, the company said.
Lucent's forthcoming network switches, which will cost hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars apiece, are aimed at cellular carriers upgrading networks to comply with the emerging _ yet elusive _ third-generation, or 3G, wireless standard, said Jack Kozik, Lucent's director of enhanced services architecture.
The 3G standard promises to transmit data 40 times faster than current methods, enabling Web browsing on digital cell phones.
Kozik said the switch software, called Common Operations, allows two carriers to bridge otherwise incompatible platforms by shifting data from a cellular-based protocol to an Internet protocol, or data delivery standard.
For instance, Sprint PCS uses the Code Division Multiple Access network most common in the United States, and VoiceStream Wireless uses the Global System for Mobile Communications network which predominates in Europe and elsewhere.
The Common Operations software will allow the two carriers to share calls among users with 3G phones that can handle both CDMA and GSM standards, Kozik said.
Beyond adopting the software and network hardware, carriers also must agree to cooperate, said Greg Harper, a New York-based wireless analyst.
``To make it all work, you need a business relationship,'' Harper said. ``The companies have to sign roaming agreements with each other.''
Lucent's switch software also prepares carriers to distribute text messages, e-mail and even allow cell phones to access high-speed wireless 802.11b networks, Kozik said.
``It's another cog in the wheel,'' said Perry LaForge, executive director of the CDMA Development Group, based in Costa Mesa, Calif. ``Technology like this, coupled with multimode handsets, will ensure that a user roaming across networks will not notice a difference in service.''
Right now, cellular users can purchase so-called world phones, that can be used inside and outside the United States, but only on a single platform.
Cross-platform roaming with a single handset and a single telephone account can take place when the network switches are in place, and when multiple-platform handsets are available, Kozik said.
At least one manufacturer is developing such a phone, compatible with GSM and CDMA networks, LaForge said.
Cross-platform roaming could strip away many of the frustrations of cellular use, especially in the United States, where bad connections and dropped calls are all too common, said Richard Doherty, technology analyst for the Envisioneering Group, based in Seaford, N.Y.