The Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) market, traditionally aimed at call centers and other stationary locations, is starting to make its way into the mobile enterprise market. By providing IP capabilities over voice-enabled wireless devices, companies can truly extend all of the assets of their offices out to the field, according to Toronto-based VoIP consultant Jon Arnold. “The VoIP providers are following the same path the carriers did; they’re going from the carrier core to the edge of the carrier network to customer access points,” Arnold says, pointing to the continued development of handsets that are VoIP-enabled.
Kyocera was the most recent phone vendor to commit to the Wi-Fi convergence, with its announcement in April to work with Boingo Wireless to enable its handsets to seamlessly switch between cellular and Wi-Fi networks.
In late 2004, Boingo Wireless and Vonage said they were joining together to make Wi-Fi services more accessible to VoIP customers. In the first phase of the partnership mobile travelers using the Xpro SoftPhone, from Xten, can access the Vonage service from almost any Internet-connected personal computer. This offering targets business travelers, enabling them to make and take phone calls at Boingo’s network of 11,000 airports, cafes and hotels around the world. The two expect to rollout the offering to major retail locations before the end of this year.
Other recent announcements include:
3Com and Research In Motion (RIM), which are working together to combine 3Com’s Internet Protocol (IP) private branch exchange (PBX) and WLAN switch with RIM’s BlackBerry wireless service and handhelds. The solution will provide organizations with BlackBerry handhelds that are tied into their existing PBX telephone system, enabling mobile employees access to e-mail, wired phone functions, PIM info and Internet applications. Ecuity and Azatel will combine Azatel’s Wi-Fi–enabled handset, the AZA-WIP, with Ecuity’s innovative V-Tone VoIP services platform to deliver advanced VoWLAN communication capabilities to mobile professionals nationwide.
And Juniper has bought into the VoIP market by acquiring Kagoor Networks for $67.5 million. Kagoor’s VoiceFlow products are installed in over 100 carriers worldwide, allowing Juniper to now offer VoIP and other media services to carriers.
Vendors and industry analysts expect more companies to offer Wi-Fi services or combined Wi-Fi/cellular services as voice-over-wireless LAN (VoWLAN) becomes increasingly possible. Enterprises that outfit their mobile professionals with Wi-Fi–capable phones take advantage of high-speed wireless networks and gain increased efficiencies from mobile employees, says Arnold.
Michael Arden, an analyst with ABI Research, expects the wireless phones of the near future to incorporate GPS for location-based services, various flavors of Wi-Fi and eventually WiMAX for data and VoIP communications. Carriers need to pursue VoIP strategies in order to hold on to customers currently using 2G and 3G cellular services, according to analysts. Wireless phones of the future may also include near field communications, ultrawideband and RFID, according to Arden.