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.
NEC America Inc., which is known for its PBX products, is also one of the leaders in the voice-over-WLAN trend. Last spring, the Irving, Texas, company announced broad plans for products that support voice over WLAN.
Sources close to the company said NEC is set to announce numerous products in the next several weeks, including a voice-enabled PDA.
The integration of NECs IP PBXes with startup Airespace Inc.s WLAN infrastructure equipment also is forthcoming.
While such integration is promising, the quality of voice calls across local wireless networks is still a concern.
Many businesses have proprietary software that helps, but the IEEE is still in the planning stages of a standard, 802.11e, that addresses this issue and will enable IT administrators to mix and match voice-enabled WLAN equipment.
“802.11e quality of service needs to address voice on a single channel, and mobile IP handoff speeds between access points need to improve,” said Fran Rabuck, an eWEEK Corporate Partner and president of Rabuck Associates, a Philadelphia-based mobile technology consultancy.
To that end, WLAN infrastructure startup Meru Networks Inc. will come out of stealth mode next week to launch a WLAN system that targets IT managers who need both voice and data support for their WLANs.
Officials at Meru, of Sunnyvale, Calif., declined to provide specific information about the product line. However, a spokesman said the Meru system is different from other WLAN infrastructure systems in that it offers “land-line-quality voice” over the WLAN.
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