SpectraLink will begin providing a version of its NetLink Softphone application for use with both Windows Mobile and Windows PocketPC operating systems this quarter, the company said.
This allows customers to provide a wireless VOIP (voice over IP) version of a full business telephone to users of the handheld devices, which means that users of a Windows Mobile device can have the full functionality of their digital business phone running on their PDA.
The NetLink software, which the company says operates as a thin client, is initially aimed at the retail industry, and was introduced at the convention of the National Retail Federation this week.
The primary customers of the new SpectraLink software are larger retailers who issue employees Windows Mobile PDAs for such things as inventory control. The new software would add a voice telephony capability to those existing devices, while also allowing their continued use as an inventory or data management device.
The SpectraLink client software works with the NetLink Telephony Gateway, also from SpectraLink, which is designed to interface with existing digital PBXs, including legacy PBXs. However, the gateway will also support standards based VOIP PBXs using the SIP protocol.
The handsets, when upgraded to use the new software, will work with SpectraLink Radio Protocol, which handles quality of service and security issues on the phone network. Users will get all of the functions they expect on a business phone, including voice mail, transfers, conferencing, and of course, the all-important ability to put people on hold.
"Weve taken the approach we use for our wireless gateway," said SpectraLink marketing VP Ben Guderian. "Now weve changed it to talk to a softphone application on a third-party Windows Mobile device. It allows the user to have one device that will serve as their data terminal and their telephone," he said.
Guderian said that most of the applications heavy lifting is actually handled by the SpectraLink server. The thin client on the PDA remains the same even if the phone system is changed from a legacy PBX to a new SIP-based IP PBX.
"You dont need to worry about changing the application even if you change features or go to SIP," he said. "It eliminates the constraints of the application because we have the server out there."
Guderian said SpectraLink is targeting it to the retail space first, but will extend to other devices this year. The company also plans to support other types of devices, like a Wi-Fi enabled cellular smart phone.
"Its going to be good for a very specific set of customers," said Brian Riggs, principal analyst for Current Analysis. He said that for companies and organizations that already have workers with appropriate PDAs, its a natural fit.
"This is going to allow retailers as well as hospitals and other companies to add a voice capability to those devices," Riggs said, adding that he thinks the SpectraLink softphone software will be of interest to larger retailers first.
"It would have to be a company that has the money to spend a couple of hundred dollars each on these devices," he said. "They use them for inventory control. The retailers would first deploy these to their staff. The software would be made available on it."
Riggs said that some retailers would be logical users of such a capability. "Retailers that would really want this would have large floors and few phones, or an employee might be 20 feet up a ladder and need to take a call," he said.
"Home Depot or Lowes, for example. A lumber yard might be a good example. An employee can be out among the stock and far from the telephone infrastructure."
Riggs said he didnt know for sure who the first customers of the SpectraLink product might be, but he did note, "Home Depot is a SpectraLink customer."
Guderian said that SpectraLink has plans for more such devices. "Were planning on Palm, Linux or Symbian devices," he said.
The market for the NetLink soft phone is also likely to expand, according to Guderian.
"As people try to bring dual-mode handsets into the enterprise, we can support that with our thin client approach on dual-mode devices," he said.
Pricing for the new NetLink thin client has not been announced.