After two years of promises from the wireless industry, seamless switching between wide area (GPRS) and wireless local area (Wi-Fi) networks is starting to arrive - and one of the first to benefit is the London Ambulance Service.

The ambulance service is testing technology from Broadbeam to switch between five different networks according to their priority, using Wi-Fi in the depot to download maps to get to a patient, and GPRS when out of range, to transmit vital patient data back to the hospital.

Quentin Armitage, deputy director of technology at London Ambulance, said he can not identify a specific case where switching networks has saved a life but that the time it takes to get critical data has been greatly reduced.

"It used to take approximately one minute to pass the call details to an ambulance crew by voice and then the crews may have needed to look where the destination was in their map books. Now it takes typically two seconds for all the call details to be sent to the ambulance, and the PC in the vehicle tells the navigation equipment where the destination is," said Armitage.

The ability to connect to different networks and switch between them is a new feature in version 3 of Broadbeam's Mobile Solutions System (MSS) Smart IP version 3.0 middleware platform, which the ambulance service is testing. MSS already handled wireless optimisation, security and authentication.

The feature, called IntelliSwitching, allows users to predefine which networks to connect to and in which order. "We can automatically detect the available networks, seize that network according to a user-defined order, and authenticate the user," said Janet Boudris, chairman and CEO of Broadbeam. If a call is dropped the software automatically re-authenticates the user and, using what is called check point restart, picks up the data flow from the point at which it was dropped.

MSS Smart IP 3.0 supports all of the current versions of IEEE 802.11a, b, and g plus GPRS, GSM, 1xRTT, and newer networks such as EVDO (Evolution Data Only) and EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for Global Evolution).

If you think that sounds like a mouthful, then you are not alone. Patrick Hurley, director of research at TeleChoice, thinks it will take some good marketing to convince the enterprise that workers should be on so many different networks. "Eventually the carriers will deploy this and they have to convince their customers that they don’t have to worry about tech support," he said.

But Craig Mathias, principal at analysts the Farpoint Group, reckons Wi-Fi to cellular roaming will be received positively, letting businesses adopt a more flexible wireless strategy. "At the least, on a single handset, a company can decide when and how to deploy wireless based on a cost decision or on a services decision," said Mathias.

Besides licensing Smart IP 3.0, Broadbeam is offering to host a server-side solution for companies that do not want to invest resources in an on-premises solution. Client devices will still need to be configured.

Broadbeam is offering a 50 percent discount off the suggested list price to companies that purchase Smart IP 3.0 before June 30. The product is shipping now.