Some analysts say that the new Wi-Fi/GSM phones from Motorola and Nokia may not be used in near future because they lack support from the cell operators: I've been arguing for some time that I don't see why cell operators would want combined devices because in most cases it means that they'll be handing off calls from their own cell network to a Wi-Fi network owned by someone else. They won't make as much money when their customers move to the Wi-Fi network so it seems that they don't have incentive to support combined Wi-Fi/cell handsets.
Analysts in this story say that the reason it will take a while before customers can use the phones is that cell operators will have a host of backend work to do, including support for quality of service and billing. But one analyst in this story also says that even though the cell operators will be handing calls off of their networks, the inevitability of cannibalism in the market means that the merging of the networks will happen.
I spoke with William Clark at the Gartner Group yesterday on another subject but we talked a bit about the convergence of Wi-Fi and cellular. He thinks that the big cell carriers will hold off on it as long as they can but at some point it will make sense for the two networks to be united. He thinks that point will come when the cell carriers control and own the hotspot business, which he's convinced will happen. Still, he says we're years away from seeing seamless handoff between the networks.
His theory, however, doesn't account for the fact that potentially many users of combined Wi-Fi/cell phones will be business customers who currently use their cell phones often in their offices. Those users in the future may instead be able to use their same cell phone but over the corporate WLAN, which the cellular operator won't own and can't make money from. A friend of mine argues that cell operators will want to sell the converged handsets anyway because they hope that the devices will result in so many increased sales that it will pay off for the operators even if they loose revenue when callers use the WLAN.
In other Wi-Fi/cellular news, Boingo said yesterday that it's demonstrating software at the GSM show that will offer an easy way for customers to detect GPRS and Wi-Fi signals and choose which network they want to use. As part of the demonstration, TSI will show it's SIM-based EAP authentication service.