Voice over WLAN Still a Joke Thats Not Funny

At the VON Europe show in London, columnist Guy Kewney finds that when it comes to real-time voice service, the technology has a long way to go.

Voice over wireless LAN? Not this year. Or so was my experience this week at Jeff Pulvers VON Europe show here in London.

It just so happened that before the show opened, I was on an assignment to test voice-over-IP (VOIP) telephony. So, I was pretty glad of the expertise Id find at the event.

Boy, was I disappointed!

The technology for doing VOIP is established, pretty stable and in use. According to Sonus, roughly 10 percent of the worlds wired phone networks are switched by IP switches—and a lot of those are owned by Sonus, of course.

But watching people trying to do voice over WLAN in London, youd never have guessed.

I was trying to install the software from a new SIP provider—and failing. The companys offering is brilliant: Like U.S. startup StanaPhone, which claims to be the first to do this, Gossiptel offers free land numbers so that incoming calls are charged at local rates, and it has number presence around the world. And I simply couldnt make it work.

VON Europe, of course, had WLAN coverage. "You should be here; you could get online and I could debug it for you," suggested the Gossiptel support guy. I was there; I went around to find him, and we spent a dispiriting half-hour failing.

The best result we got was that just once, I heard his voice with a delay of about 15 seconds, saying "You just have to speak up!"—which was part of a 20-second burst of speech from him. The rest was lost.

It wasnt his fault. I subsequently tried to set up Free World Dialup, which happens to be Pulvers favourite—it is said!—and got no further.

At least I was able to register. When I tried StanaPhone, it accepted my registration, but some days later, Im still waiting for that magic e-mail that tells me how to log in and use it.

Next Page: Most Wi-Fi gear simply wont stand up to serious voice carriage.