Voice Over Wireless Dials In

IT departments must weigh technical and social variables when planning a voice-over-wireless network.

As voice-over-wireless technologies creep toward enterprise adoption, network administrators must account for myriad variables—both technical and social—as they work to implement the technology.

Based on what we saw at the CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment exposition, held last month at San Franciscos Moscone Center, eWEEK Labs believes that administrators should not consider voice over wireless as a point solution when purchasing or implementing the technology. Rather, voice-over-wireless capabilities are a logical evolution of other networking technologies—namely, the wireless network and the VOIP (voice-over-IP) implementation.

Any existing problems with WLAN (wireless LAN) or VOIP components will be amplified as voice over wireless is introduced to the network. And with wireless networks, surprises often equal outages. Administrators need to plan for excess capacity to handle traffic spikes on the wireless network and must thoroughly understand client use patterns. Once users are untethered from the desk for voice calls, it is safe to assume that usage patterns will change, so ongoing vigilance and flexibility is a must.

At the CTIA expo, we met with an impressive cadre of vendors collaborating to provide wireless data and voice services to the attendees, and we took the opportunity to test their voice-over-wireless implementation .

For the wireless infrastructure, Chantry Networks Inc. supplied the access points and centralized controllers, and PowerDsine Ltd. provided power over Ethernet to the access points. SpectraLink Corp. pitched in the VOIP infrastructure equipment and handsets, while AirMagnet Inc.s Enterprise 5.0 provided distributed WLAN performance and security monitoring.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read Labs review of AirMagnet Enterprise 5.0.

Our voice-over-wireless call clarity was quite good, and certainly better than what we could achieve with our cell phones within the building confines. However, we suffered an extraordinary number of dropped calls, particularly as we roamed the second-floor foyer. Almost 75 percent of our calls from there eventually terminated with a "network not found" error on the handset.

Throughout the facility, Chantry deployed 55 BeaconPoint access points connected to two BeaconMaster wireless controllers. Network coverage spanned three floors of the exposition hall, covering the lobbies and conference rooms, but not the exposition floor because of the congested radio environment there.

Chantry officials expected the majority of users to connect from the first floor near the registration booths and outside the exposition floor, or on the third floor where the cafe and conference breakout rooms were located. They deployed the BeaconPoints accordingly, leaving the second floor covered by a mere five access points.

However, a large number of users attached to the WLAN from the second floor: Almost 50 percent of the 300-plus users concurrently attached to the WLAN at the time of our tests were connected via second-floor access points. Despite the scarcity of tables and places to sit, the second floor was the quietest place in the building. The dearth of second-floor access points had little effect on our data connection, but our voice service suffered tremendously.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to find out why eWEEK.com columnist Guy Kewney thinks wireless VOIP is a joke.

Wireless administrators should take note: Without proper vigilance to matters both technical and social, companies of all sizes might suffer the same conditions with their own networks.

Technical Analyst Andrew Garcia can be reached at andrew_garcia@ziffdavis.com.

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