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Audible Buzz Around VoWi-Fi

With VoWi-Fi, employees "can take their extension wherever they go," says Joel Vincent, director of product marketing at Meru Networks.

There was an audible buzz at last week's Interop 2005 conference in Las Vegas about the potential for voice-over-Wi-Fi, known by the mouth-twisting acronym VoWi-Fi. In some instances, it could allow mobile devices to replace the role of the office desk phone.

Voice-over-IP allows the transmission of phone calls over the Internet using a wired network, eliminating traditional phone company fees. VoWi-Fi also uses the Internet, but no wires. Employees "can take their extension wherever they go," says Joel Vincent, director of product marketing at Meru Networks Inc.

VoWi-Fi provides better coverage indoors and higher voice quality than traditional cellular services. Also, unlike cellular services, it can be integrated with existing wired phone systems, says Ben Guderian, director of marketing at SpectraLink Corp.

At Interop, SpectraLink and Meru were among the vendors hawking their VoWi-Fi wares. SpectraLink introduced Wi-Fi telephones that support new wireless security and quality-of-service standards. The phones share a Wi-Fi network with other voice and data applications, allowing businesses to use such networks in more than one way. More than 100,000 SpectraLink NetLink Wireless Telephones have been sold, says Guderian. Customers include Giant Food Stores, Nike, and Pacific Sunwear of California.

Meru launched a new category of wireless products built for high-density data and VoIP applications. Its family of radio switches is designed to prevent drop-off spots in wireless networks. Meru says its customers include universities, school districts, public institutions, government agencies, convention centers, hotels, and branch offices.

Azulstar Networks, a division of Ottawa Wireless, rolled out a metropolitan-wide VoWi-Fi telephone service in the city of Rio Rancho, N.M., last week. About 60% of the city already is covered by Wi-Fi and the new service will allow the city to bypass the traditional "local loop" phone services. The VoWi-FI infrastructure is in response to spotty phone and cable-provider coverage in the city's remote areas.

But businesses should keep in mind that "putting voice over Wi-Fi opens it up to the shortcomings of wireless networks," says Yankee Group analyst Roberta Wiggins. This includes security issues, less bandwidth, and the battery life of mobile devices. Says Wiggins: "VoWi-Fi is definitely evolving, but it's still not as robust as the wired line."

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