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The Wi-Fi Alliance and the CTIA will jointly test converged handsets: The two groups, one representing the Wi-Fi industry and the other the cellular world, will cooperate through lab certification to make sure handsets meet their respective wireless profiles, but also don’t interfere with each other. There will likely be a number of handoff parameters worth testing in these environments, too.
Aruba will interoperate with SpectraLink, Vocera, Avaya; adds new packet-based VoWLAN spec: Two big announcements on voice from the company that Microsoft picked to replace aging Wi-Fi equipment across their Redmond campuses and worldwide. Aruba says they are certified by SpectraLink, a veteran enterprise VoIP and VoWLAN firm; validated by Vocera, the Wi-Fi badge/intercom maker beloved by nurses and supply-chain logistics managers; and is part of the Avaya developer program.
Simultaneously, they’ve announced Voice Flow Classification (VFC), which is a packet-inspection and prioritization protocol which allows handsets, firewalls, and access points to be coordinated to avoid speech clipping on calls and overloading calls on individual APs. The technology provides prioritization at the firewall level, and monitors off-hook calls throughout a switched WLAN environment to push calls to APs that have capacity. It suppresses handset scanning when that would interfere with a call, too.
There’s an interesting small option noted in this protocol, too, which is that devices that hop on a network to access voice functions can’t pass regular data. This is intended to prevent security holes for enterprises using handsets that don’t have robust authentication.
VFC is part of their 2.5 platform update, which is free to existing users and available this month.
Wi-Fi Alliance works to settle issues preventing VoWLAN rollout: The trade group is, as usual, ahead of the IEEE: markets come before standards. The 802.11e task group which has been working for years on packet prioritization and related issues to ensure good VoIP calls and non-stuttering streaming audio and video over Wi-Fi is nearly done. The WMM (Wi-Fi Multimedia) spec from the Wi-Fi Alliance resembles WPA: it’s not the complete standard, but it’s a useful enough stub to push out into devices and certify.
The goal is to allow multiple handsets to work with a single Wi-Fi access point without overwhelming its capacity, and to have handsets that have enough juice in them to work for the very long periods of time expected from normal cordless phones.
This article notes that WMM hasn’t seen much uptake, despite its inclusion of packet prioritization, key for allowing voice data to supercede other data as needed for audio continuity. SpectraLink added it, but all VoWLAN and VoLAN vendors have already built their own quality of service (QoS) into their proprietary systems, so may have little need to provide early interoperability with an in-progress standard until its customers demand it.
The Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) group is closing down activities, since its mission became included in the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP): UMA was formed by a bunch of companies looking to enable roaming between Wi-Fi and cellular networks. The companies involved are largely looking at the issue from the mobile phone operator standpoint, with an effort to ensure the most potential revenue from such services for them. The 3GPP is part of a formal standardization process.
We’ve written a lot about the Unlicensed Mobile Access group: But the IEEE has its own group that is working on a standard for roaming between cellular and Wi-Fi networks. The members of the groups come from different camps and thus have different priorities. It’s not clear if they’ll be able to merge their ultimate standards.
Members of the UMA tend to come from the cellular world, so they are concerned with having as much control as they can with when and how their customers roam onto Wi-Fi networks. The IEEE group comes from the Wi-Fi group, so they are looking for the solution to be as standards-based and open as possible. The two groups are of course aware of each other and are talking about trying to harmonize.
There’s a third group that is also working in this space, calling itself the Seamless Converged Communication Across Networks Group. It’s not clear how that group, which Motorola says is concerned with handoffs between corporate LANs and wide area cellular networks, will coexist with the others.
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.