Wi-Fi's Voice Gets Stronger

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The maturation from data-only Wi-Fi networks to platforms capable of supporting voice -- voice over Wi-Fi (VoWiFi or VoFi) -- is filled with challenges. For instance, voice packets must be prioritized and allowed to cut the line and move ahead of less demanding data-only packets. Roaming -- the movement between access points (APs) without losing connectivity -- also is tricky.


The industry has been systematically addressing these issues. The Wi-Fi Alliance's unveiling this week of the Wi-Fi Certified Voice-Personal program is a possible sign that the work is coming close to fruition. The certification is aimed at consumers and small office/home office (SOHOs).


Projections that as many as 350 million combined Wi-Fi/cellular devices will ship in 2011 may have given the initiative a push, reports Wi-Fi Planet. This, then, is an effort to ensure that the Wi-Fi industry keeps up with its end of the bargain. Among companies with the first devices to be certified are Broadcom, the DSP Group, Meru, Redpine, Cisco and Intel.


Any business -- or consumer -- considering VoWiFi should obviously plan for adequate security. The problem is that the processing necessary to implement adequate security can interfere with the timely delivery of packets. Extra Reading Material provides background and context for the security discussion.


In general, the author advocates choosing a handset and determining if it can be supported in the network at the desired security level. If the answer is no, the response shouldn't be to give up. Instead, the designer should investigate what needs to be done in order to accommodate the handsets at a risk level with which the organization is comfortable.


This post provides a nice and simple explanation of a step taken by Ruckus. Most APs are dumb. Their job simply is to send out signals. That usually is enough, provided the data being sent isn't time sensitive and the misplacement of a packet here and there will go unnoticed. However, voice requires much better treatment.


One way to provide this, the writer says, is through intelligent APs that look for and avoid problems and conflicts. The writer says that Ruckus Wireless' new AP includes this intelligence. The AP is more expensive than dumb APs, but is not unreasonably priced, he says.


As recently as March, Garrett Smith of Smith on VoIP was wondering what Cisco's intentions were. That immediate question was answered in the Wi-Fi Alliance press release. The bigger issue of how aggressive vendors will be only will be answered over time. It is almost certain, however, that the close tie between VoWiFi, fixed mobile convergence and the general move toward mobile voice and multimedia means that this area will get hot -- and stay hot.