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Cell phone giants work on wired-wireless bridge

NTT, BT Group and others team up to speed development of devices like the Wi-Fi cell phone.

Japan's NTT Communications, Britain's BT Group and four other major phone companies have teamed up to find better ways to link wired and wireless telephone networks.

The companies have formed the Fixed-Mobile Convergence Alliance in order to speed up development of devices like the Wi-Fi cell phone. The expensive and difficult-to-find device uses both a cell phone network and--through the use of voice over Internet Protocol and a Wi-Fi network--a wired telephone network.

BT executives said the alliance will help the carrier offer combined wireless and wired services to its broadband customers by year's end. An NTT executive said the communications giant is looking to introduce similar combined services in a number of different countries in the future.

The Fixed-Mobile Convergence Alliance also includes South Korea's KT, Swisscom, Rogers Wireless and Brazil Telecom, the group said.

Wi-Fi cell phones and future combinations, such as landline and cellular phones, could help slow down the rate of customers who are "cutting the cord," or dropping their landline phone in favor of a cell phone. The trend is contributing to the overall decline in active landline phones in the United States and abroad.

But while equipment makers are enthusiastic about combined wired and wireless devices?-for instance, Nokia's Communicator 9500 will by year's end be able to use Cisco Systems' Wi-Fi access points--some carriers remain cautious.

Brian Modoff, a Deutsche Bank Securities analyst, said carriers face challenges in switching between two different networks and properly handling the complex billing. While handset makers predict an early 2005 launch of the technology, Modoff and others expect it will take longer for these devices to get the full backing of many carriers.