WLAN Makes Its Voice Heard

The convergence of VoIP and WLAN promises new services and lower telecom costs for enterprises and SMBs. But is it ready for prime time?

November 5, 2004

5 Min Read
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The combination of VoIP and wireless LAN technologies seems to be a match made in heaven. An entire world of converged voice and data services is poised to open up, the simplest of which is the ability to make telephone calls over IP networks and the Internet. And with enterprises increasingly installing WLANs, why not extend VoIP to those networks?

Why not, indeed? That's the question that enterprises, individuals, service providers, and WLAN and VoIP vendors are increasingly asking, and they're taking action as well. Voice over WLAN use is expected to skyrocket in the next several years. Infonetics Research recently released a survey, "User Plans for Wireless LANs, North America 2004," which found that use of voice over WLAN technologies in enterprises will grow from 6% now, to 27% by 2006.

A major driver of the technology is the growing availability of wireless VoIP handsets, noted Richard Webb, Infonetics' directing analyst for Wireless LANs. "There are several handset vendors who have launched WiFi-enabled VoIP handsets, and with draft standards for quality coming, performance of VoWLAN is improving all the time, driving growth of this market," he explained. "The ability to carry voice makes wireless LAN investment more justifiable and mobility makes VoIP more valuable, so it is natural that the two technologies are converging toward a powerful mobile voice solution."

A study by ABI Research backed up the Infonetics findings. It concluded that converged devices that support both cellular voice access and voice-over-WLAN are coming soon and represent the future of mobile voice communications. ABI Research analyst Phil Solis noted that "Motorola is expected to release dual (cell/WiFi) handsets for corporate use by the end of 2004 or early 2005." Falling chip prices, he added, "will see consumer models follow soon after."

Solis also pointed out that SBC is trying to make the two technologies attractive by using marketing tools such as a low-price bundle for both wireless hotspots and DSL. That company has said it has aggressive plans to offer converged voice services.Already, Boingo and Vodaphone have announced a VoIP-over-WiFi service in which business travelers can make VoIP phone calls with Vonage softphoness from Boingo WiFi hot spots. The service will allow travelers to make and take phone calls at Boingo's network of 11,000 airports, cafes, and hotel WiFi hot spots around the world. The bundle includes Vonage's SoftPhone service and Boingo's WiFi service. Travelers can connect a softphone to their laptop, such as the XPRO SoftPhone, from XTEN, the preferred Vonage softphone client, and then make phone calls from any Boingo hot spot.

And Texas Instruments is tapping into OMAP processor architecture, which lies at the heart of many mobile phone designs, to craft a processing chip that will allow designers to support VoIP connections over wireless LAN links.

Meanwhile, for small and medium-sized businesses, WLAN equipment vendors Linksys and Netgear have announced wireless routers with built-in VoIP capabilities aimed at home uses and small offices.

That's not to say that everything is rosy as far as the technology is concerned. Security remains the biggest obstacle to WLAN adoption, although that barrier is being overcome as vendors improve security features and users become more experienced managing their networks. Additionally, adoption rates have been encouraged by vendors' delivery of enterprise-grade WLAN switches offering real-time access control and online policy management feature.

Today, use of the technology remains low. In a Networking Pipeline Voting Booth poll only 20% percent of respondents said they would deploy WiFi phones, 50% said they first needed to test them, and 30% said they have no plans to deploy them. Those numbers are not dramatically different from when we asked the question six months ago, when 21% said they would deploy them, 35% said they first needed to test them, and 44% said they had no plans to deploy them. The numbers are up, but not dramatically so.Still, these numbers are most likely a temporary blip. The benefits of merging the technologies are abundantly clear, so count on it to happen.

Survey: Voice Over WLAN Use To Skyrocket 450% By 2006
Study also finds that WLANs have become mainstream as security barriers are overcome.

Cellular, VoWLAN Convergence Coming Quickly: Study
Converged devices will speed trend toward enabling voice access via multiple methods, a new study says.

Study: Voice Over WiFi Ready To Emerge
ABI Research says the technology will move from the enterprise to the consumer market.

Boingo And Vodaphone Announce Major VoIP-Over-WiFi Service
Business travelers will be able to make VoIP calls at Boingo's 11,000 hot spots using the Vonage service and softphone. TI Builds WLAN VoIP Solution Using OMAP Architecture
Texas Instruments is tapping it OMAP processor architecture to craft a processing chip that will allow designers to support VoIP connections over WLAN links.

VoIP Support Added To Wireless-Wired SMB Routers
WLAN equipment vendors Linksys and Netgear announced wireless and wired routers with built-in voice-over-IP (VoIP) capabilities aimed at home uses and small offices


Nokia Teams With Hotsip To Provide Multimedia IP Services
Will use SIP to enable a wide range of new IP communication services between PCs and mobile devices.

VoIP Shows Signs Of Going Mainstream
The Fall 2004 Voice on the Net Conference in Boston this week expects to draw twice as much interest as it did last year, one of many signs that suggest voice-over-Internet Protocol technology is surging. Survey: VoIP To Become The New Standard For Voice Traffic
Technology leaps to the top of the corporate networking agenda; 61% of firms plan to deploy it.

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