VoIP Unplugged: Meru Takes the Guesswork out of Voice over Wireless LANs

By 2006, according to estimates by Infonetics Research, 27 percent of enterprises will use VoWLAN, a figure that attests to the burgeoning use of Wi-Fi networks in businesses of all kinds. With that popularity, comes a correspondingly ballooning need for reliable installation and performance of those networks. To deal with those issues, Meru Networks Inc., a provider of wireless VoIP infrastructure, last fall launched VoIP Unplugged, an industry-wide partnering program to establish a set of technology requirements and best practices for Wi-Fi VoIP.

Todays VoIP Unplugged session, led by Ken Creager, senior director of channel marketing and vertical market development at Meru Networks, aims to fill a gap in knowledge and established practices for deploying wireless VoIP networks. While the basic VoIP functions can rely on SIP to provide a rough framework for deployments, and Wi-Fi is certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance, no guidelines exist to deal with issues such as seamless hand-offs, security and voice quality in wireless VoIP.

We took the lead because weve been deploying the wireless infrastructure, but there were a lot of questions about handsets and back-end equipment, says Joel Vincent, director of marketing at Meru. And our partners get the same questions. We work with people who do IP PBXs, who are asked which LANs to use and how to connect it all together. So, we set out to make guidelines on how to do it.

The VoIP Unplugged group includes enterprise VoIP infrastructure providers, makers of wireless VoIP devices, wireless VoIP management and planning software providers, and a metro broadband wireless infrastructure vendor (see at right).

Since its launch, VoIP Unplugged has picked up speed, not only developing best practices, but also conducting interoperability testing and certification, creating complete installation guides and providing an ongoing support system.

Most recently, the group announced it is working with the The Tolly Group Inc. to provide independent testing and certification. The Tolly Group will test wireless VoIP products for interoperability and verify vendors meet the VoIP Unplugged guidelines. Further, the VoIP Unplugged partners and The Tolly Group will create solution guides for a number of vertical markets. The solution guides will be verified in Tollys independent testing lab, in order to be certified by the Tolly Group Up-to-Spec program.

That program tests a multivendor deployment from LAN to endpoints. Testing was just getting started in December, but early in 2006 the group expects to deliver a guide for enterprises and another for health care companies. Already, a Midwest health facility, St. Josephs Hospital in Springfield, Ill., has deployed one of the typical installations. The VoIP Unplugged effort means they dont have to reinvent the wheel every time, says Vincent.

One priority for the group is to expand its membership to include other important Wi-Fi VoIP vendors, such as SpectraLink Corp. We are in the process of working through the SpectraLink partnership, says Vincent.

Another value of the organization is to help resellers bridge the gaps in their knowledge, Vincent says. Many have tons of PBX and voice experience, and are starting to learn VoIP but dont have a lot of wireless experience. The same is true with wireless resellers. … Wi-Fi grew up on data, and VoIP grew up out of the PBX world, and now they are starting to overlap.

In addition to Creager, todays panel includes Roger Beharry Lall, senior marketing manager of WLAN solutions at Research In Motion, and Kelly Driscoll, channel manager at Juniper Networks.

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