Voice over Wi-Fi Soon to Take Off

As Wi-Fi becomes more accepted and widely used, the next step in the evolution of wireless technology inevitably turns to voice over Wi-Fi. This aspect of the telecom industry represents a good growth area for channel partners to learn about and a useful service to eventually offer to their clients.

ABI Research says the pieces are falling into place for VoWi-Fi, especially since the Wi-Fi Alliance has formed the Wi-Fi/Cellular Convergence working group, and the Unlicensed Mobile Access Consortium has approved a set of protocols for seamless handoffs between cellular networks and IP-based wireless networks such as Wi-Fi.

These initiatives are coming on the heels of new product introductions, products that are pushing VoWi-Fi from the enterprise to the greater consumer market, says ABI, which cites Vonage Holdings Corp., Net2Phone and Zyxel as being among the many vendors working to offer single-mode handsets.

Other companies, such as Motorola Inc., have dual-mode (cellular/VoIP) phones.

In fact, Infonetics Research predicts worldwide Wi-Fi VoIP handset revenue to show strong growth through 2009 as enterprises continue deploying VoWLANs. The firm says sales last year totaled $45 million; units sold came to 113,000.

Meanwhile, the firm says, worldwide dual-mode Wi-Fi/cellular handset revenue last year hit $6.6 million, with units totaling more than 8,000. The devices only have been commercially available since the fourth quarter of 2004.

Infonetics’ Wi-Fi phones report forecasts Wi-Fi VoIP handsets to be a significant part of the market in just a few years. The devices are particularly handy for vertical industries such as health care, where staff must be in contact at all times, in all areas. There also is marked potential for the consumer space as broadband providers of VoIP services and wireless gateways with a broadband connection, Infonetics says. And, as prices come down, more dual-mode Wi-Fi/cellular handsets will reach the market, enabling enterprise users and consumers to roam across wireless home networks, the corporate wireless LAN, and public Wi-Fi hotspots, according to Infonetics.

“Wi-Fi capability will eventually become a common feature in cell phones, just as it is becoming standard in laptops today, giving mobile operators a big opportunity with Wi-Fi voice,” says Richard Webb, directing analyst for Infonetics and author of the report. “There are technical issues to be worked through before wireless Internet calling becomes viable commercially, such as quality of service, roaming across different wireless platforms, and also the relatively short range of Wi-Fi signals. But with vendors currently working toward standards to address these challenges, it is likely we will be at the foot of the adoption bell-curve by mid-2006.”

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