NEW ORLEANS-The integration of wireline and wireless capabilities into the local loop “may not happen the way we all envision it,” said John Woodward, director of program implementation for GTE Wireless Corp. in Atlanta. Rather, he added, “it may be taken over by such events as wireline displacement.”

GTE, a carrier that has pushed the evolution of the wireless local loop both at the Federal Communications Commission and in company practice, has been testing WLL units, but Woodward-speaking to attendees of the recent SuperComm conference and exposition-admitted that the units now being tested “support the home legacy wireline equipment. Right now, people are too comfortable with plain old telephone service landlines.”

To begin the integration of the two technologies, Woodward suggested that mobile and fixed services can work together; in fact, he mentioned, any IS-95 mobile unit really can perform all functions. To encourage displacement, Woodward pointed to two advantages wireless systems have over POTS: handset mobility and voice quality. However, problems exist in pricing, user familiarity and number portability. “And it’s tough to beat the cost of copper plant today, mostly due to depreciation,” Woodward said.

Arthur Giordano of GTE’s network infrastructure lab speculated that WLL demand will be driven by households that need a second line into the house. When it can be determined that wireless connections are more cost-effective than their copper or fiber-optic counterparts, growth will be stimulated.

However, that second line probably won’t be dedicated to data. “It will be hard for the WLL to compete with wireline data speeds,” Giordano said. “Most of the money will be made in voice mobility.”

Wireless carriers considering local-loop entrance can begin to solve these marketing problems now. Coverage holes can be fixed now via cell-splitting, building a digital network or buying new spectrum. Passage of pending new standards will boost the speed and reliability of wireless data services. Wireless phones can be manufactured to emulate the wireline look and feel. And full number portability, Woodward reminded the audience, is mandated by December 1998.

To lead its battle for a wireless local loop, GTE opened a new competitive local exchange carrier business unit to go head to head with incumbent wireline carriers. The division is exploring dual-mode switching, with software that melds the modes into a single switch.

“You need to be a bundler to provide a total communications package to customers,” countered John Sweitzer, director-strategic planning for Northern Telecom’s wireless networks business. “Providing mobile isn’t enough.” Sweitzer believes that only 5 percent of North America’s local loops will be wireless by 2000. In contrast, 40 percent of the local loops in China will be wireless at that date along with 25 percent of Latin America’s local loops.

Besides the ingrained trust in the old Ma Bell system, today’s communications customer also is worried about security issues as they relate to wireless telephony. “In current wireless systems, security is a serious problem,” Woodward admitted. “Code Division Multiple Access technology and spread spectrum are helping to prevent eavesdropping. There also is the introduction of scrambling mechanisms coming in the next few years.” The standards process also is lagging behind, with only ad hoc schemes being used to link networks in the interim.


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