We will find out over the next year whether vendors and service providers are serious about voice over Wi-Fi (VoWiFi) and voice over wireless local-area networks (VoWLAN).
That could have been the lead paragraph of this release from ABI Research, which publicizes a report on the hurdles the promising technology faces before it becomes truly mainstream. The writer of the release a bit more subtle, however. While the technology has made inroads in a number of areas, such as health care, retail, manufacturing and hospitality, it hasn't become an across-the-board corporate tool.The challenge is great. To become a broadly used platform, VoWiFi proponents must do two fairly difficult things: One is to create what the release refers to as "partnering models" that will ease confusion and make life easier for end users. ABI says a number of vendors have done this, but much work remains. The other task is to create interoperability between gear from different vendors. Testing is slated to begin in the spring, the release says.
This IT World Canada piece on the use of a WLAN at Jewish General Hospital in Montreal is interesting for a couple of reasons. The first is that the section explaining the benefits of the platform, from IBM Canada and Symbol Technologies, could have been written two or even three years ago. The technology has shown no real evolution. So why hasn't the category met with more success?
Another interesting element is an analyst's comment suggesting that organizations use VoWLAN primarily to cut costs. Only recently, the analyst says, are the more expansive applications taking root.
Though the approach has yet to catch fire, it hasn't been abandoned, either. In June, for instance, T-Mobile launched HotSpot@Home, which toggles between cellular and Wi-Fi voice service depending on where the caller is. Last week, according to this InformationWeek piece, T-Mobile said the Katalyst phone from Samsung can be used as a handset on the service. Other phones, such as the Nokia 6086 and the Samsung SGH-t409, already are customized for HotSpot@Home, the story says. The Samsung phone also can be used at the roughly 8,500 T-Mobile hotspots across the country.
There clearly are obstacles that VoWiFi must overcome. Indeed, Disruptive Analysis' well-known commentator Dean Bubley concludes that the preeminent access link to mobile VoIP will be 3G and not Wi-Fi. The firm is quoted in Enterprise VoIP Planet as saying that by 2021, 250 million people will be using VoIP over 3G compared with 100 million who will access the IP telephone network over Wi-Fi. A main reason, he says, is that Wi-Fi coverage is spotty. In addition, it is not carrier-controlled, which means that multiple logins and security steps may be necessary for a mobile user.
Earlier this month, AirMagnet announced it has updated its VoFi Analyzer. The release says that the new version serves Cisco's 7921 phones. In all, 13 alarms have been added to the company's AirWISE analysis functionality. AirWISE, which AirMagnet calls an "analysis engine," can diagnose more than 60 wireless call problems, including misconfiguration in dual-mode phones, problems with power-saving options, radio frequency rule violations and others. Two versions of the new software are available, the company says.
Voice over Wi-Fi or wireless LANs offers great advantages. It is a very competitive sector, however. Vendors, service providers and various members of the distribution channel have to determine during the next year whether they are up to the challenge. If so, these companies have a lot of hard work to do.