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5/3/2005
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VoIP, Wi-Fi, And Last But Not Least: VoWi-Fi

Interop 2005 session panelists see voice as the next big thing for Wi-Fi-based networks.

On the first day of the Interop 2005 conference in Las Vegas, the greatest buzz is around two key technology trends: Voice-over-IP, or VoIP, which helps businesses cut telecommunications costs, and products that support the Wi-Fi standards for radio-frequency-based wireless-data networks.

Conference participants aren't stopping there. They're also discussing a combination that's a bit of a mouth-twister, even for an acronym: VoWiFi.

Panelists in a session Tuesday titled "802.11 and Wi-Fi: What's Next?" unanimously agreed that VoIP and Wi-Fi will have a major impact on companies and industries.

Most laptops shipped today are Wi-Fi-enabled, and there are more than 62,000 Wi-Fi "hot-spots" worldwide in restaurants, hotels, airports, and campuses, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance, an industry trade group.

New standards and certification will help foster further adoption of Wi-Fi technology, said panelist Frank Hanzlik, managing director of the Wi-Fi Alliance. The alliance is pushing the certification of the 802.11n standard, which is capable of delivering next-generation Wi-Fi technology that can reach 200 Mbps.

The standard, which isn't expected to be ratified until the end of 2006, will support spatial multiplexing, fast-frame, and compression capabilities that have big implications for Wi-Fi and VoIP. It 's also designed for intelligence-spectrum management, which allows 802.11n-based wireless networks to switch between 20-MHz and 40-MHz channels. That's a more efficient use of the spectrum, said Sheung Li, product marketing director at Atheros Communications, at the session.

Many see a strong need for more robust Wi-Fi networks. "We're making a transition from PC-centric applications to next-generation consumer electronics products and converged devices," said Hanzlik.

VoIP, meanwhile, allows the transmission of phone calls over the Internet. And the experts say Voice over Wi-Fi -- or VoWi-Fi -- for phones, laptops, and PDAs isn't too far off.

The convergence of voice and data networks will have important implications for the way businesses communicate, said Dave Borison, director of product management at Airgo Networks Inc. For example, one future vision for VoWi-Fi is to have office desk phones connected directly to Wi-Fi access points. VoWi-Fi will offer better coverage indoors and higher voice quality than traditional cellular services, Borison said.

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