Wireless local area network phones for use inside corporate networks will debut this week, promising to improve communications in far-flung workplaces such as warehouses, manufacturing plants and hospitals.
The phones, which use the 802.11b WLAN frequency, are about the size of standard wireless phones. On display at this weeks NetWorld+Interop tech show in Atlanta, they provide the same functionality as traditional desk phones, but with greater mobility.
"The idea here is the desktop phone is on your hip," said Richard Nedwich, senior product manager of Symbol Technologies, a WLAN equipment company, which will have its NetVision phone on display this week.
Early users will likely be workers who move around a lot, including IT helpdesk employees, said Karen Pearson, senior program manager at Intermec Technologies. In hospitals, cell phones and pagers can interfere with medical equipment. Pearson said doctors may come to work and check in their cell phones and pagers, then check out their WLAN phones.
Intermecs MobileLAN voice phone will be available at N+I, as will others, including one from SpectraLink, which works with Cisco Systems network equipment.
Tim Scannell, a Mobile Insights industry analyst, said the phones could be better used for data applications than voice. With devices such as NetVisions data phone, users can conduct instant messaging sessions, access e-mail or presentations, and locate work colleagues, he said.
"If you want to use an expensive device as a walkie-talkie, thats fine, but its not the most useful function," Scannell said. The startup cost for 16 phones, including the equipment needed to tie the phones into the network, is roughly $5,000.
To become widely used, backers think the WLAN phones need to work like regular mobile phones outside the office, as well as plug into the network inside. But such integration is several years away, experts said.