NEC Plans for Voice Over Wi-Fi

Momentum building for 802.11 telephony.

The Wi-Fi buzz is reaching new heights, as companies consider the potential of WLANs as telephony networks.

The concept will get a boost this week at the NetWorld + Interop trade show in Las Vegas, when NEC America Inc. announces broad plans for hardware and software that support voice-over-802.11-based wireless LANs.

"What were doing is building an infrastructure, integrating it with our telephony products and delivering several end-user terminals," said Paul Weismantel, director of enterprise solutions at NEC America, in Irving, Texas.

The company is also partnering with Airespace Inc. to integrate the startups WLAN infrastructure equipment with NECs IP-PBX platforms.

NECs handset plans include a basic voice-over-WLAN phone, due this summer, with more complex devices due by years end. These will include Session Initiation Protocol-based handsets, phones with Web browsers, voice-enabled PDAs and a software phone client for notebook computers.

At the same time, the company is developing ways to improve roaming, security and battery life, which can all affect data communications but are more dramatic problems with voice, Weismantel said.

NEC joins several companies banking on the idea that Wi-Fi makes sense for voice. Symbol Technologies Inc. sells handsets that support 802.11b, mainly in vertical markets. Cisco Systems Inc.s Integrated Communications Business Unit plans to unveil a Wi-Fi phone in June. And with the proliferation of public WLAN hot spots in airports, coffee shops and hotels, several major carriers have announced plans for WLAN services.

Talk to the WLAN

NEC Americas plans include:
  • Integrating existing IP-PBX platforms with equipment from Airespace and other WLAN equipment companies
  • Building handsets designed for voice calls over WLAN
  • Focusing on roaming, authentication and battery life
Most of these will focus on data initially, but Nextel Communications Inc. has plans for a phone that will support Wi-Fi.

Last week, the industry was buzzing with the idea that Wi-Fi would make a good replacement telephony network for Iraq. Experts complain, however, that the hype may be getting out of hand.

"This cover-the-earth with Wi-Fi argument comes up a lot lately," said Fran Rabuck, president of Rabuck Associates, a wireless consultancy in Philadelphia, and an eWEEK Corporate Partner. "Its just foolish. Just take the area that a normal access point covers and try to cover the whole city. Its a herculean effort.

"Youre dealing with two emerging technologies: Wi-Fi and VOIP [voice over IP]. Youre doubling the risks," Rabuck said. "For voice, I need much less bandwidth to be effective, but at the same time, I need it to be a constant stream."

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