Voice Via WLANs on Horizon

Mobile vendors are working to make PDAs a viable alternative to desktop phones.

With new products that support voice communication via WLANs, several companies are working toward the goal of having PDAs replace desktop phones.

Symbol Technologies Inc., which caters to vertical customers, has plans for several new devices that marry wireless LAN support with voice capabilities, according to officials at the Holtsville, N.Y., company.

The company plans to add voice support to several of its devices based on Microsoft Corp.s Pocket PC operating system, as well as a product road map that includes Pocket PC devices designed to support voice over Wi-Fi, officials said.

Through channel partners, Symbol in December will start selling a software option called Voice Communicator that turns a handheld device, running Pocket PC, into a walkie-talkie.

This will let users on an enterprise campus or warehouse push a button to talk over the company WLAN.

The application is already in wide beta tests with health care and retail workers who use Symbols 8146 Pocket PC device.

Analysts say it will be awhile before such applications become more widespread.

"I think this wireless voice-over-IP stuff is going to stay vertical," said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Inc., in San Jose, Calif. "The handsets are too expensive, and there isnt enough choice."


But the industry is working on those shortcomings.

Symbol plans to offer voice support add-ons for several of its devices, according to officials. Next week, the company will unveil a handheld device that has a built-in radio, and voice support for the device will be available next year, officials said.

Starting next year, Symbol will sell Pocket PC-based devices designed to support voice over WLAN, and the company is considering similar devices that support the Palm OS operating system, officials said.

Symbol continues to work closely with Microsoft to optimize the Pocket PC operating system for voice applications, Symbol officials said.

Symbol also will be working with telephony hardware manufacturers to make sure their PBXes support Symbols devices, officials said, so that customers can use their PDAs as phones in addition to walkie-talkies.

Symbol already offers a line of VOIP phones called Netvision, but the goal is to let customers replace desktop phones with PDAs, officials said.

Next page: NECs voice-over-WLAN plans.