Come together


TELECOMS INFRASTRUCTURE:THE CREATION of a test mobile phone network at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) has been described as a major boost for researchers and telecoms firms working on next-generation communications technology.

Built on Ericsson technology, the network will allow companies working on new mobile phone applications to test these products on a carrier-grade private mobile network.

Gearóid Mooney, ICT commercialisation director at Enterprise Ireland – which has part-funded the project – says the network has exactly the same capabilities as those used by network operators such as Vodafone or Eircom. “The most difficult hurdle facing companies is persuading the big network operators to try their technology because of fears that a new product might crash the network.

“Now they can run all the tests they need in Waterford and then go to an existing operator with their project and say: ‘This has been trialled on a carrier-grade network and it works.’”

Securing such a network in the State is seen as something of a coup, as the majority of the 10 or so public test networks – those open to other companies – are based either in Scandinavia or the US.

With the development of new handsets such as the iPhone offering a wider range of services, mobile applications are seen as a huge potential growth area.

Enterprise Ireland contributed around €850,000 of the funding required, with WIT adding a further €300,000. The technology is being provided at a discount by Ericsson.

This level of infrastructure investment would be beyond most small technology companies and, according to Mooney, the aim of having such a system based at WIT is to reduce the barriers to entry for small and medium-sized technology firms.

Propelling research activity in this area is awareness that the GSM mobile standard – which allows mobile phones to work in almost all countries – is going to be replaced by Internet Protocol Multimedia Subsystem (IMS).

The reason for this switch is the impact of internet services such as Skype and Facebook on how people communicate. This is prompting network operators to look for ways to integrate internet and mobile applications.

“What is driving this is an awareness that there is a need to consolidate and converge voice and data networks, and IMS will let you do that,” says Mooney. The test network in WIT is IMS-enabled.

The switch also allows the possibility of a range of new internet-enabled mobile services, such as merging your mobile and Facebook contacts, multimedia content sharing, and transaction services.

IMS may also make possible increased integration between mobile, television and internet communications. A TV show could be forwarded to a mobile, allowing a user to follow it after leaving the house. Reminders can be sent to a phone for a start time of a favourite show.

The development of IMS technologies is one of the key research areas of the Telecommunications Software and Systems Group (TSSG) at WIT, which is focusing on the adoption of new internet protocols and technologies for telecommunications.

According to Shane Dempsey, test centre manager at TSSG, almost all major telecommunications vendors are structuring future products around IMS, while fixed line and wireless operators have plans to roll-out IMS as a core part of their network.

Many of the technologies to be tested in Waterford will be IMS-based.

“Testing and validating internet services properly still requires extensive test infrastructure and considerable expertise to understand the kinds of demands a real-world deployment places in your service,” Dempsey says.

He uses the example of losing mobile phone coverage or having a phone call interrupted because the connection fails, and says the challenge with new services is to make the systems are robust enough. Basing the test network at WIT will, he says, act as a stimulus to the Irish-based telecoms industry and will reduce the time it takes to get a product to market. It also places the TSSG in a strong position in future bids for EU research funding.

Meanwhile, Mooney says Enterprise Ireland has invested in the network because “a significant number of mobile operators in Ireland said they needed it. The payback for us is that this will be a key tool for our client base.”

Among the 26 indigenous companies involved in research in this sector are Rococo, Openmind Networks, Cibenix, Aran Technologies and Opennet, along with network operators O2, Vodafone and Eircom.

The TSSG has around 45 research projects with a total investment of €50 million and around 200 people are employed in the research work.