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Intel Device Freely Switches Between Wi-Fi, WiMax Networks

Along with Nokia, Intel is developing a technology with which a person could continue listening to Internet radio or watching online video without a disruption in service.

Intel on Monday demonstrated technology that could make it possible someday for a mobile Internet device to switch between a Wi-Fi and a WiMax network without any disruption in service.

The technology, unveiled at the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, stems from a research partnership between Intel, handset maker Nokia, and Nokia Siemens Networks. The last is a network communications company formed in 2006 with Nokia's former Network Business Group and the carrier-related businesses of Siemens.

The idea behind the research is to develop technology that would enable a mobile Internet device to switch between networks as a person moved throughout a city or town. To be practical, the technology would have to make the handover without disrupting service, so a person could continue listening to Internet radio or watching online video.

Such anywhere, anytime connectivity is pivotal to mainstream adoption of future Internet-enabled devices, capable of accessing multimedia and other services over the Web. Intel and other companies are investing billions in the technology needed to build and support such devices, which are the future of mobile computing, proponents say.

The Intel demonstration shows a notebook switching seamlessly between a Wi-Fi and a WiMax network. Intel and Nokia developed the mobile client, and Nokia Siemens focused on the network infrastructure. "The demo gives a first glimpse to a possible future solution," Intel research scientist Christian Maciocco said on the company's blog.

In general, the three companies were able to build technology that could recognize when a handover was necessary and then connect to both networks simultaneously before dropping one. The dual connection helps ensure that the switch takes place without disruption in service.

The handover could be programmed to occur as the result of a number of triggers, such as a weakening signal or because a less-expensive network is available. In order for the device to know which networks are available, a wireless provider could broadcast a network map describing the presence and characteristics of networks available in the vicinity. In addition, the network itself could initiate a handover when, for example, it detects that the load on one of the networks is nearing capacity.

The demonstration showed the technology in its very early stages, but the stakes for developing an always-available Internet is high. Quoting ABI Research, Intel claims shipments of mobile Internet devices, called MIDs, stand to increase to 89 million units in 2012 from 3.4 million units this year. Intel is looking to jump into the market with the release this quarter of a low-power processor codenamed Silverthorne, which is part of a new mobile platform code-named Menlow.

At the International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco last week, Intel researchers released a paper that described the chipmaker's work in developing a chip that could receive and transmit WiMax and Wi-Fi signals from a single die.

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