VoIP Reaches Out, Wirelessly

Two hot technologies, Wi-Fi and VoIP, are on a convergence path.

The talk at the VON (Voice On the Net) conference this week in Silicon Valley is not just about Voice over IP (VoIP) technology, but the coming convergence of Wi-Fi wireless LAN technology and VoIP services. That melding is already leading to the development of new products and services, with many more expected later this year.

VoIP is already in the middle of a major comeback, and most observers think thats because widespread broadband adoption and other more reliable high-data-rate technologies have finally made sound quality and ease of use good enough for phone calls placed over the Internet. VoIP is saving businesses and consumers money, and is also raising sticky issues, such as whether the Federal Communications Commission should levy tariffs on VoIP players. According to Arizona research firm In-Stat/MDR, over 5 million people will subscribe to VoIP services by 2007—five times more than there were in 2002, a trend which could represent a trouble spot for other kinds of telecommunications companies.

Vonage, Broadvox, and other companies have carved out niches offering unlimited or nearly unlimited calling plans to anywhere in the world for fees ranging from $25 to $40 a month. There is some setup involved with their services. Each company provides customers with an analog telephone adapter (ATA), which they connect to their network routers and analog phones. There are alternatives to using your standard phone. Skype, from the creators of the Kazaa peer-to-peer service, offers free, PC-based VoIP calling, which has been a hit with college students, among others.