Issue #2003 - 15
NEC Plans for Voice Over Wi-Fi
Source: eWeek - Carmen Nobel
The Wi-Fi buzz is reaching new heights, as companies consider the potential of WLANs as telephony networks.
The concept got a boost last week at the NetWorld + Interop trade show in Las Vegas, when NEC America Inc.
announced broad plans for hardware and software that support voice-over-802.11-based wireless LANs.
"What we're doing is building an infrastructure, integrating it with our telephony products and delivering several end-user terminals," said Paul Weismantel, director of enterprise solutions at NEC America, in Irving, Texas.
The company is also partnering with Airespace Inc. to integrate the startup's WLAN infrastructure equipment with NEC's IP-PBX platforms.
NEC's handset plans include a basic voice-over-WLAN phone, due this summer, with more complex devices due by year's end. These will include Session Initiation Protocol-based handsets, phones with Web browsers, voice-enabled PDAs and a software phone client for notebook computers.
At the same time, the company is developing ways to improve roaming, security and battery life, which can all affect data communications but are more dramatic problems with voice, Weismantel said.
NEC joins several companies banking on the idea that Wi-Fi makes sense for voice. Symbol Technologies Inc. sells handsets that support 802.11b, mainly in vertical markets. Cisco Systems Inc.'s Integrated Communications Business Unit plans to unveil a Wi-Fi phone in June. And with the proliferation of public WLAN hot spots in airports, coffee shops and hotels, several major carriers have announced plans for WLAN services.
Talk to the WLAN
NEC America's plans include:
Integrating existing IP-PBX platforms with equipment from Airespace and other WLAN equipment companies
- Building handsets designed for voice calls over WLAN
Focusing on roaming, authentication and battery life
Most of these will focus on data initially, but Nextel Communications Inc. has plans for a phone that will support Wi-Fi.
Last week, the industry was buzzing with the idea that Wi-Fi would make a good replacement telephony network for Iraq. Experts complain, however, that the hype may be getting out of hand.
"This 'cover-the-earth with Wi-Fi' argument comes up a lot lately," said Fran Rabuck, president of Rabuck Associates, a wireless consultancy in Philadelphia, and an eWEEK Corporate Partner. "It's just foolish. Just take the area that a normal access point covers and try to cover the whole city. It's a herculean effort.
"You're dealing with two emerging technologies: Wi-Fi and VoIP [voice over IP]. You're doubling the risks," Rabuck said. "For voice, I need much less bandwidth to be effective, but at the same time, I need it to be a constant stream."
MobileInfo Comments and Advisory: First
our comments on a related news story on IP phones.
We agree with Fran Rabuck's comments
also. We should not be carried away. Wi-Fi is not the solution for
everything, much as enthusiasts would have us believe. We need
hybrid networks and hybrid devices that would work on wide area
cellular networks as well as Wi-Fi networks. Serious users should
force the point on the vendor community and carriers. Harmonizing
the two technologies with best-of breed features is our
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