VoIP and WiFi

Silicon.com have published an overview of the voice aspects of the Triple Play Plus segment.

The idea of juggling a headset and soft-phone plus laptop on a coffee table in Birmingham without spilling the cappuccino just to make a phone call does initially sound somewhat daft, until you consider the typical business traveller waiting for a flight at a European airport. He could easily setup his laptop to download his e-mail, and then while connected make, or receive calls using a headset. This easily avoids the huge GSM roaming charges. (I've done this myself with Nortel's MCS system in a number of airports, and hotel bars.)

The next step in the evolution of this idea is the introduction of standalone VoIP/WiFi handsets, however whilst these are becoming available today (such as the Pulver Innovations WiSIP phone), they have a number of problems.

At the moment, most deployments are low-volume hospital or enterprise deployments, so the hardware has not reached the economies of scale required for consumer use. Leif-Olof Wallin, analyst at Meta Group, says: "The cost of these handsets is still way too high. 2006 - that is when we expect to see some initial uptake and 2007 is when we expect to see some significant rollout. That is when it will get some place in the consumer space."

SIP phones work fine when configured to work in a private enterprise wireless network, but in a hotspot you have to be able to log-on & somehow pay for your access, and then you may also have to get the SIP protocol working through NAT.

Other points addressed in the article are the need for QoS support and for roaming between hotspots.

Finally, there is currently little integration between current systems and SIP systems. For instance, I currently have a cell-phone number, fixed-line number, and both Skype and SIP identities. What I need is one number that routes to whichever endpoint I'm available on, and costs me the least. A dual mode handset addresses the issue of having multiple devices, but it doesn't help a PSTN user contact me on my SIP phone when I'm in a hotspot.

One of the companies working in this space is BridgePort Networks, who have built the NomadicONE™ Network Convergence Gateway (NCG). This provides a bridge in the operator's network between the user in the GSM network, and the same user when connected via a VoIP network.

Kineto Wireless is another providing an IP Network Controller function to sit between GSM and IP networks. Kineto Wireless are part of the Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) alliance, who are working on providing access to GSM and GPRS mobile services over unlicensed spectrum technologies, including Bluetooth and 802.11.

Another UMA member Nortel is involved in the space, and would seem ideally suited to succeed, with strong SIP and cellular portfolios. However there isn't a lot of commonality between platforms or teams involved on each side. They also have significant organisational inertia slowing down any attempts to integrate.

Sources: Wireless: The new hotspot for VoIP - silicon.com