By Andrew Garcia  |  Posted 2006-02-20 Print this article Print

Zultys Technologies new WIP 2 voice-over-wireless handset is intriguing as a phone but underdeveloped as a wireless device. The WIP 2 provides outstanding battery life and a nice feature set in certain circumstances, but it has surprisingly subpar roaming performance in nonswitched wireless environments.

After a few months delay due to production difficulties as Zultys transferred WIP 2 manufacturing to China, the $316 WIP 2 wireless phone finally became widely available in the United States this month.

As with other Zultys telephony devices, the WIP 2 is a Linux-based device and is built to meet the SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) call control standard. During tests, the phone worked well in conjunction with either Zultys own MX voice switches or with the open-source Asterisk PBX.

Click here to read the Labs review of the open-souce Asterisk PBX. The WIP 2 is intended as a desktop-replacement phone in a corporate environment, so we concentrated our early testing on battery life and talk time. The WIP 2 hit the mark, with battery performance reaching an outstanding 8.75 hours of talk time on a single charge.

However, this benefit comes at a cost—weight. The WIP 2 weighs in at a beefy 8.5 ounces (without the included belt clip), 3.4 ounces of which is the battery itself. By comparison, the Zyxel Communications P-2000W Version 2 weighs in at a paltry 3.9 ounces for both phone and battery.

The WIP 2 does provide a number of other services unique to voice-over-wireless phones that make the device viable as a desktop replacement—as long as it is used in conjunction with Zultys voice switches.

The WIP 2 has a nice built-in speakerphone, which, when used with an MX switch, can provide push-to-talk-like service via paging groups. Users also can enable presence capabilities with the WIP 2, announcing their availability for SIP-based instant messaging or for call-group membership defined by an administrator on the PBX. This is a capability we havent seen from other voice-over-wireless devices.

Like every other voice-over-wireless phone weve seen to date, the WIP 2 includes an IEEE 802.11b radio. Wireless security also is decidedly retro, as the WIP 2 offers only WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) wireless encryption—lacking support for the more recent WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) or WPA2 security levels.

The WIP 2 does, however, offer optional point-to-point encryption using AES (Advanced Encryption Standard). Phones on both ends of the "line" must support AES, however, so this feature has the most relevance for all-Zultys VOIP (voice over IP) deployments. While we appreciate the application encryption, the lack of more-advanced wireless encryption means administrators will need to create a new SSID (service set identifier) with limited security for the voice network.

We were shocked by how poorly the WIP 2 performed in our roaming tests. We ran the phone through our Azimuth Systems testbed and found that the WIP 2 does not roam easily or well. Roam times averaged 4.8 seconds, which is appallingly slow considering that anything more than 80 milliseconds is noticeable to the human ear. When listening to the call quality during tests, we could tell precisely when a roam occurred because all sound dropped for about 5 seconds.

To read more about the Labs Azimuth testbed, click here. Zultys officials said the WIP 2 uses a wireless radio from Marvell, and its apparent that no optimizations were made to the radio to account for the particular demands of voice. The WIP 2 maintained association with one access point as long as possible, not roaming to another access point with a better signal until the session dropped.

The Zultys engineer with whom we spoke regarding this issue talked at length about wireless data clients propensity for sticking to a single access point as long as possible. But this perspective neglects the wide variability in data client roaming performance. It also hints that the WIP 2 uses a wireless radio designed for data.

Zultys officials said they concentrate the bulk of their voice-over-wireless performance testing in conjunction with wireless gear from a few select partners, namely, Meru Networks, Aruba Networks and Colubris Networks.

Wireless switches impart many advantages for voice traffic, as the switches play an active role in deciding when a client device should roam rather than relying on the client to make the decision. However, for the many businesses that still maintain decentralized wireless networks, the WIP 2 may not be a good fit.

Next page: Evaluation Shortlist: Related Products.

Andrew cut his teeth as a systems administrator at the University of California, learning the ins and outs of server migration, Windows desktop management, Unix and Novell administration. After a tour of duty as a team leader for PC Magazine's Labs, Andrew turned to system integration - providing network, server, and desktop consulting services for small businesses throughout the Bay Area. With eWEEK Labs since 2003, Andrew concentrates on wireless networking technologies while moonlighting with Microsoft Windows, mobile devices and management, and unified communications. He produces product reviews, technology analysis and opinion pieces for eWEEK.com, eWEEK magazine, and the Labs' Release Notes blog. Follow Andrew on Twitter at andrewrgarcia, or reach him by email at agarcia@eweek.com.

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