VeriSign to pilot Wi-Fi, wide-area roaming service

Von Ephraim Schwartz

VeriSign on Tuesday announced trials at three major universities aimed at integrating on-campus Wi-Fi with any wide-area wireless carrier network, enabling data and voice roaming between networks.

VeriSign expects that the Wireless IP Connect Service, as it will be called, will be used mainly to link mobile and Wi-Fi networks. However, the technology can also connect any device with an IP connection, such as wired Ethernet, to a wireless carrier.

VeriSign is using resources from three of its divisions -- focused on IP and mobile connectivity to the wired telecommunications infrastructure -- to deliver the pilot at the University of Michigan, Northwestern University, and Texas A&M University.

One division handles most of the IP digital certification and secure payments for Internet commerce, while a second division oversees the naming and directory services on the Internet.

"We run the route DNS for .com and Internet. Any [non-local] transaction routes through us," said Tom Kershaw, vice president of Next Generation Networks at VeriSign.

To that end, the company runs 15 datacenters worldwide and its database handles 15 billion transactions daily.

The third and largest division handles communications between the SS7 (Signaling System 7) network, the single protocol used by the entire phone network for call setup, management, and tear down.

SS7 also handles the connections between the various ILECs (incumbent local exchange carriers) CLECs (competitive local exchange carriers), and wireless operators.

VeriSign is also the major infrastructure provider that allows subscribers to roam between wireless operators, providing clearing and connectivity. SS7 facilitates local number portability, toll free numbers, calling party name-and-number display, and three-way calling.

This third division will allow subscribers to roam on and off a Wi-Fi network to a cell phone or even to a notebook or desktop computer for data and VOIP.

"Frequent travelers going to Singapore know that CDMA doesn"t work in Singapore," Kershaw said. "With this service users could transfer the mobile phone image onto a PC."

By porting the wireless phone number and support services to a PC, the technology would turn the PC into the mobile device, allowing a user to access voicemail or have a voice conversation using a headset.

The technology emulates a wireless switch, Kershaw said, so the IP network looks to the mobile network like another switch, converting IP protocols into SS7.

"The mobile network doesn"t see any change, it just sees it as another point it can access," Kershaw said.

On the wired side of the infrastructure, the university"s local PBX system and supporting technology must be connected to the service.

For Wi-Fi connectivity on a cell phone, dual mode phones are required. In the trial, such phones will be distributed to students and faculty through VeriSign.

No date is set for deployment and it will depend on the success of the trials. When the technology goes live, VeriSign will offer the service to carriers that will in turn offer it to organizations such as universities and corporations.