In the wake of much industry consolidation, WLAN switch startup Meru Networks Inc. is working to stay in the game with a focus on voice traffic and related partnerships.
The Sunnyvale, Calif., company this week will announce agreements with three significant Japanese companies that play in the VOIP (voice over IP) space—Hitachi High-Technologies Corp., Fujitsu Ltd. and Oki Electric Industry Co. Ltd. All three will resell Merus switches as part of their enterprise VOIP offerings internationally, Meru officials said.
"Japan, in particular, has been pushing aggressively on using Wi-Fi for voice support," said Ihab Abu-Hakima, Merus president and CEO, who joined the company in January. "In all our trials there, voice is the driving application."
The agreements follow Merus February introduction of new management software, System Director Version 3, which was designed with voice traffic in mind; it manages access points as a coordinated group rather than as independent entities so as to mitigate interference, officials said.
The company last month also introduced three new WLAN (wireless LAN) controllers, as well as a "remote" access point. Designed for branch offices, the AP200 can be controlled from a switch in a companys main office.
Voice over Wi-Fi has been gaining ground in locations such as hospitals and warehouses, where mobility is par for the course and cellular signals dont always work. But analysts say the case is not the same for traditional enterprise environments.
"Voice over Wi-Fi is still a vendor-driven issue, and the market demand is very soft except in verticals," said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Inc., in San Jose, Calif. "When you are outside, why would you use Wi-Fi when you have so many spare minutes? When you are inside, you have wired phones and your cellular phone works as well. Im not sure there is a money savings here."
Abu-Hakima acknowledged that he hasnt seen a huge demand for voice over Wi-Fi among American customers, but he noted that several phone makers are adding Wi-Fi support to their handsets.
Research In Motion Ltd. recently announced a BlackBerry device that supports voice over Wi-Fi. Motorola Inc. is expected to announce such a product by summer.
"A key driver in the U.S. will be when a carrier sticks its head into the market," Abu-Hakima said. "And as voice starts to pick up, thats where Meru comes into play."