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Even before the 802.11e quality of service standard is ratified, vendors are supporting mechanisms that can give voice priority: Some vendors are using the interim Wireless Multimedia (WMM) sub-standard and others are using their own special tricks. SpectraLink has been doing voice over wireless for a very long time but is leaving behind the mechanism it developed in favor of the more standard method. For now, it seems that the types of users that can benefit the most from these services, due to the existing potential quality issues, include manufacturing-type facilities where users can live with some quality issues in exchange for the benefits of mobility.
BT says it will have a Wi-Fi/GSM phone that can roam between the two networks by the end of the year: BT has been talking a lot about its Bluephone initiative, which will use Bluetooth in the short range and GSM otherwise. The operator has said that it will use Wi-Fi instead of Bluetooth as soon as it can. BT is likely to limit users of any such combined phones to use the shorter range technologies only in their homes or potentially offices. Customers are unlikely to be able to use them at an Wi-Fi hotspot.
Voice over IP in the enterprise company winds down: Five short weeks ago, I was over at Telesym’s bustling headquarters east of Seattle having a great conversation recorded partly in this podcast about Telesym’s latest products and the tweaks they had made to their offering to better integrate it into enterprise phone switches.
Now the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that the company has laid off most employees with severance packages and hopes to return some capital to investors if it can sell its intellectual property. The CEO says fairly bluntly that their product doesn’t scale, so I’m not sure how encouraging that would be to potential buyers.
The company’s two co-founders were pushed out in previous months, and they’re a little bitter about how the products developed without their shepherding them to completion.
One of their competitors, Vocera, says the company floundered by not having a sharp focus and by—at least initially—targeting voice over PDAs. This disregards the success that phone/PDA combos have had in the marketplace, of course, but the company was too far ahead of that market. They were also too far ahead of convergence phones that would have benefitted from their integration on the enterprise and Wi-Fi side while roaming onto cellular as necessary.
My kiss of death interview record is unfortunately quite good: I interviewed the CEO of Cometa just weeks before they coasted to a halt.
The coming revolution bundles cable, Internet, mobile, voice: Convergence may get a bad name, but it might wind up being at a good price for the consumer. The combo phones should be opportunistic about using Wi-Fi when available. Interestingly, Sprint doesn’t have much of a Wi-Fi deployment unlike T-Mobile and SBC/Cingular. They have a few locations of their own, but primarily resell a few aggregators’ hotspots.
Time-Warner is testing a partnership with Sprint in which the cable and data giant turns to Sprint for wireless calling. Sprint, for its part, may play with all the cable companies as the only non-DSL-dependent major player. T-Mobile at a soon-to-be-distant fourth isn’t getting respect in this market, apparently.
Talktelecom bought a solution from Cicero Networks to support a voice over Wi-Fi offering: Talktelecom resells telephone access to corporate customers. It recently said it had completed a trial of voice over Wi-Fi in Dublin. Now it has announced that it purchased equipment from Cicero Networks including a softphone client so that customers can use dual-mode devices to make and receive calls over Wi-Fi or over GSM. The previous stories covering Talktelecom’s trial hinted at software that Talktelecom would offer customers for download on their phones and I suggested that only PDAs or handsets with certain operating systems allow customers to download additional programs. Devices that run on Windows Mobile, Symbian, or Palm software might allow such downloads but the bulk of phones out there likely don’t. I would doubt that seamless handoffs between the Wi-Fi and GSM networks would be available from Talktelecom, unless the company is able to strike some sort of deal with the cellular operators and I would find unlikely in this market.
Verizon’s CTO has been talking about the potential of deploying voice over IP over cellular, once Verizon deploys a 1xEV-DO network: Some significant changes in the way that VoIP is done will have to be made in order for that to make sense. I spoke recently with Dave Williams, the CTO of O2, about HSDPA, the high-speed upgrade the GSM operators are implementing and I asked him what he thought of delivering VoIP over HSDPA. “I’m not such a big fan of it yet,” he said. Currently, 3G operators can deliver voice in the equivalent of 12 Kbps of bandwidth. Voice over IP over WLAN (or over wireline really) uses as much as 128 Kbps, or as little as 24 Kbps. That means 3G is a more efficient use of spectrum for delivering voice than voice over IP. “For the short term it won’t be comparative to 3G voice but in the long term when the codec improves, who knows,” said Williams. So unless Verizon is working on some super way to deliver voice over IP, it doesn’t seem to make much sense, at least in the near term, to use its data network for voice.
Offering voice over IP over cellular isn’t a way to combat any potential losses the cellular guys might experience as a result of potential voice over Wi-Fi offerings. The only reason to offer voice over IP over cellular would be because it could offer a way for the operators to deliver voice cheaply. The voice over Wi-Fi or voice over WiMax solutions would be threatening to the cellular operators on the basis of portability or mobility and lower costs, not based merely on the fact that they use voice over IP technology.
The CEO of RoamAD, the mesh Wi-Fi network provider, is making some bold statements about how voice over Wi-Fi can compete with 3G: While I find voice over Wi-Fi compelling, I think it’s a mistake to suggest that it will seriously compete with the cellular networks. Voice over Wi-Fi could steal some significant business from the cellular operators but it is unlikely to essentially replace the cellular services. Voice over Wi-Fi could work quite well if it’s married with cellular so that customers can use the Wi-Fi network where available but roam onto the cellular networks which already offer significant coverage. Otherwise the Wi-Fi services will be quite geographically limited, at least for the medium term. Historically, we’ve seen a few technologies or companies try to target a local service and none has done particularly well. For example, Leap Wireless has a strategy of offering cellular only on a local basis to customers in certain markets. The company recently reorganized under bankruptcy protection, sold a bunch of licenses, and signed a roaming agreement with Verizon to allow customers to roam.
The Personal Handyphone Systems in Japan are another good example. PHS, which had small coverage areas, declined dramatically with the introduction of cellular technologies. Mobile Media Japan has a good timeline of sorts following the fate of PHS. The technology has recently seen a bit of a renaissance, but as a way to target the very very low end of the mobile phone market. The regions where PHS might be successful are not the same areas people are talking about introducing voice over Wi-Fi on a wide scale.