In a nod to voice over Wi-Fi, Symbol Technologies Inc. and Avaya Inc. are teaming up to combine Symbols wireless LAN hardware with Avayas IP phone software.
The software integration targets customers in markets such as manufacturing and health care who need to use handheld devices for phone calls across a WLAN.
It comprises Symbols semi-rugged MC50 EDA (Enterprise Digital Assistant), the WS5100 Wireless Switch and its centrally managed AP300 Access Port, and the Avaya IP Softphone and Communication Manager platform.
While the MC50 device supports VOIP (voice over IP) already, the integration of the Avaya IP Softphone and additional Symbol software will give the device several features that make Wi-Fi phone calls much more reliable, said officials at Symbol, in San Jose, Calif.
Avayas IP Softphone will let customers set up conference calls and also integrate phone calls with various customer-specific data applications, said company officials in Basking Ridge, N.J. Basically a software version of a desktop phone, it also includes features such as the ability to trace malicious calls and keep track of bridged lines.
Symbols Voice Quality Manager software works with Symbols WS5100 switch to provide echo cancellation, prioritization of voice over data and sub-second roaming among access points.
"As we continue to evolve our portfolio going forward, Symbol is definitely interested in building our infrastructure out around voice in the enterprise," said Chris McGugan, senior director of product management at Symbols wireless infrastructure division. "The architecture of wireless switching is why voice is uniquely positioned. You cant offer voice if you cant offer roaming."
Pricing for the Avaya IP Softphone is $130, on top of the price of the MC50, which ranges from $900 to $1,299. Avaya and Symbol will be teaming up on support services, officials said.
While Avaya has partnered with other wireless handset makers, this is its first partnership with Symbol; it is a boon to customers who need devices that are more durable than the IP phones designed for office use.
"If you bring a knife to a gunfight, youre gonna lose," said Jason Potter, vice president of client services at EnfoTrust Networks, in Kennesaw, Ga., a field force automation software company that custom-made a software application for Atlanta-based Home Depot U.S.A. Inc., which switched to MC50s after having breakage problems with less durable devices. Home Depot plans to integrate the devices with its corporate WLAN in the next year.
Durability aside, Symbol also is hoping that a focus on voice will give the company a competitive advantage in the Wi-Fi switching market.
The company pioneered the idea of a centrally managed WLAN with the introduction of a Wi-Fi switch in January 2002, but, in the past few years, several companies have popped up in the WLAN switching space. Early this year, Cisco Systems Inc. entered the market with the acquisition of WLAN switch startup Airespace Inc., and analysts say this spells trouble for Symbol.
According to Infonetics Research, a consultancy in San Jose, Calif., Symbol led the pack with a 28 percent revenue share for Wi-Fi switching last quarter, but Cisco is in a close second place. (Cisco remains the leader in the overall Wi-Fi hardware market.)
"Despite not having the wireless-only focus of some of its competitors, Cisco has the ability to integrate wireless, security, VPN, VOIP, routing and switching, giving it significant advantages in the enterprise market as wireless LAN converges with other technologies," said Infonetics Research analyst Richard Webb in a recent report. "Cisco is whittling down Symbols head start in the WLAN switch segment and may soon claim the No. 1 spot."
According to Infonetics, WLAN switch revenue last quarter grew 18 percent, to $95.1 million, and is forecast to reach $746.5 million in 2008.