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WLAN Makes Its Voice Heard

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.

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