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PC World likes the BlackBerry 8320 paired with T-Mobile’s converged UMA calling service: They found some drops when roaming from Wi-Fi to GSM (something I found way back in early testing a year ago), but were generally happy with the combination of cost and services.
The Economist offers this account of trying to find a smart phone, purchased in the U.S., that could work worldwide without mortgaging the farm: The correspondent, in the end, says that an Linux-based OpenMoko-standard phone due out in October called Neo 1973 ($450 with advanced features) is the closest to meeting the bill. It’s quad-band GSM, unlocked, with Wi-Fi and GPRS, GPS, and a Smart Digital slot; 3G comes next year. There’s no lock on what applications the phone can run. All other phones either have too many limits (such as EVDO 3G that won’t work worldwide) or charge insane roaming fees and data fees with no option to drop in a locally rented SIM card.
Two round-ups of VoIP options, some of which include Wi-Fi: InformationWeek offers an exhaustive look at VoIP calling, including round up the services, the handsets, and the technologies, including UMA (unlicensed mobile access) via T-Mobile. David Pogue at the NY Times focuses on long-distance calling, and looks at the most popular and convenient options.
The Chicago Sun-Times rounds up the Belkin Skype phone, the Sony Mylo, and Vonage’s VPhone: The columnist likes the Belkin Wi-Fi Phone for Skype, which can connect over a local Wi-Fi network to allow Skype-to-Skype and other Skype-based calling. He found it flexible and liked the interface. While the list price is $190, he found the item for sale for as low as $160. The Mylo also uses Skype, and offers browsing and other features, but runs $350; the writer doesn’t have an opinion about the Mylo, which other reviewers have found somewhat lacking in usability.
The Vonage VPhone is a Windows-compatible USB dongle that has Vonage software and your configuration preloaded, as well as a headset jack; it comes with a headset the writer didn’t find comfortable. The VPhone is $40, and requires a monthly subscription to Vonage at $15 per month (500 North American minutes) or $25 per month (unlimited N.A. minutes).
More rumors, this time that the Nokia 6136 UMA phone will be the second offered model in September: T-Mobile’s launch, perhaps on Sept. 12, of a converged cell/Wi-Fi calling service using UMA (unlicensed mobile access) picks up the latest detail, this time on handsets. Engadget Mobile reports that Nokia’s 6136, a stripped-down phone with basic capabilities, will be offered alongside a Samsung T709 at launch.
T-Mobile has no 3G offering, but the largest footprint of Wi-Fi hotspots in their native network. They also have no U.S. landline or wire partner. Thus, UMA plans in which Wi-Fi at home and at hotspots are charged at an enormously lower rate—perhaps even with unlimited Wi-Fi minutes—has to be appealing as a competitive feature.
Nokia talked about delivering a combined Wi-Fi and cellular handset by the end of this year at its recent journalists event: Nokia has at least one handset that includes Wi-Fi but it doesn’t specifically support voice, although users can try to use a third party softphone. But the phones out at the end of this year will come with support for voice over Wi-Fi, but they won’t necessarily allow handoffs from the WLAN to the cellular networks.
Nokia thinks that the mobile operators will be OK with mobile workers using voice over Wi-Fi in the enterprise because it means that even more people in the enterprise will have cell phones that they’ll use outside of the corporate campus. It’s an interesting reasoning but we’ll have to see if the operators see it that way.
Techedge says it will ship voice over Wi-Fi phones in the third quarter: The phones will work on 802.11b networks. I’m a bit surprised at the number of small companies (or at least companies I’ve never heard of) introducing voice over Wi-Fi phones. It’s such an unproved market, but these guys must be looking to get a jump on the potential for it to become a real market. I’ll be interested to see if any of the cellular phone vendors come out with a Wi-Fi-only handset. The Wi-Fi-only devices are certainly less useful than a combined cellular/Wi-Fi phone, but these vendors have the recognizable brands that could attract some users, if this becomes a mass market.
A handful of combined Wi-Fi/cellular handsets that enable voice calls on both networks are becoming available: This article looks at some of their shortcomings, including potential high cost and the fact that so far they all work on GSM and not CDMA. In addition to these, of course the biggest shortcoming is the lack of a cellular operator that is interested in supporting one of these handsets. My theory is that a black sheep operator, maybe a small one or an MVNO, will start making such an offering. If it becomes successful and something that it seems users want, the big names will follow.
Later this year, Skype will offer its own Wi-Fi phone: The phone will work over standard Wi-Fi networks to connect with the Skype peer-to-peer system. If it’s tied in with SkypeOut and SkypeIn, as one would expect it is, it could become the ultimate cell phone complement.
On the other hand, interface is everything: I expect your buddy list will be available, so you won’t have to spend much time keying in data, but will it support WEP, WPA, and 802.1X?
A company called Hop-on is offering a Wi-Fi phone for $39: I’m guessing that this phone is now becoming available to hotspot operators who would then sell them to end users. End users will have to be authorized to attach to networks that require subscriptions or payment so the phone would have to be loaded with software specific to the hotspot provider in advance to enable the authorization. I haven’t been watching the price of these handsets so closely but I should think that $39 is quite cheap.
Vonage showed off the Wi-Fi phone that it plans to sell soon: This trialer had good luck with it. Vonage plans to try to sell the phone to international travelers and will charge them about $100.
The newest Blackberry contains a Wi-Fi radio that can be used for voice over WLANs by business users: This could be quite a hot product for RIM. The Blackberry is already a favorite device for mobile email for business professionals and it is a device that is commonly standardized within large organizations. The new model uses the standard Session Initiation Protocol for voice and can integrate with IP PBXs used by many corporations. That means the voice services that customers can use in the office will be the same as at their desk phones and can include features such as four digit dialing.
The voice over Wi-Fi device space could get interesting to watch. While SpectraLink has been delivering wireless voice solutions to the enterprise for quite a while and is well respected, it doesn’t quite have the cache as something like the Blackberry. RIM is in an ideal position to capitalize on its loyal base of business customers.
Calypso plans to start demonstrating its Wi-Fi/cellular phones to operators: This is really non-news, but potentially interesting for a couple of reasons. In February of 2004, Calypso received a patent on a method for roaming between cellular and Wi-Fi. The company’s CEO said it is pursuing a Qualcomm model in hoping to survive mainly on royalties. I’ll be curious to see if there is ultimately a clash between Calypso and organizations like the UMA that are pursuing standard methods for handing off calls between Wi-Fi and cellular networks.
The announcement that Calypso is demonstrating its phones is really not news—very few companies would consider such activity worth a press release. It sounds to me like an effort to get some coverage out of something quite minor, but it seems that Calypso has succeeded there because a handful of mainly small news outlets have run small pieces about it.
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.
Samsung said it will introduce a Wi-Fi-enabled cell phone later this month in Korea: The phone will run Microsoft’s Pocket PC software. While this article discusses voice over Wi-Fi, it’s not clear that the phone will have any special support for voice over IP.
This article notes that if voice over Wi-Fi does become more widespread, the lower cost to end users may put additional pressure on the cellular operators to decrease their prices for voice services. That’s true but voice over Wi-Fi will have to become very widely used in the home and offices and potentially elsewhere before Wi-Fi will steal significant minutes from the cellular networks. If Wi-Fi networks do end up putting pressure on the cellular operators, it won’t come at a good time. Since the introduction of 3G services, operators, especially in Europe, are already really feeling price pressure on voice services, which continue to yield the vast majority of revenues. Operators that have to compete against Hutchison, which bought a number of 3G licenses throughout Europe, are particularly feeling the pain. Hutchison has come into many markets, especially the UK, with really low voice tariffs as a way to try to win new customers.