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Wi-Fi phones: a reality? The ability for your mobile phone to seamlessly roam between cellular networks and Wi-Fi networks is on the horizon, but there are obstacles to overcome before Wi-Fi phones are a reality.

Most mobile phone users are painfully aware of the fact that cell phone coverage isn't perfect--far from it. Cavernous office buildings, parking garages, elevators--all of these are cell phone dead zones. But, if your network group has done its job correctly, you'll have wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi) access in most of these places. Imagine being able to seamlessly roam from the cellular network to your wireless network in the office or at home. It'll probably save you money too, because the Wi-Fi phone calls, made over the Internet, are effectively free (for now).

Why Wi-Fi?

One key selling point of Wi-Fi is that it eliminates the need to snake miles of wires throughout a building. And, although still not up to wired speeds, Wi-Fi runs rings around third-generation (3G) wireless technology. The wireless phones carriers such as Verizon Wireless, AT&T Wireless, Sprint, Qwest, T-Mobile, US Cellular, Cingular Wireless, Cincinnati Bell, MCI Worldcom, PriCellular, Alltel, cricKet Wireless, and nTelos have recently released deliver data speeds of 120 to 180kbps.

But, the questions remain: Why Wi-Fi? Why add 802.11b networking capability into a cell phone? It's been tried before with not so stellar results. For example, Cisco released a Wi-Fi phone in 2003. The problem is that phone works when connected to a Cisco-based Wi-Fi network, but turns into a doorstop when the user walks out the door.

According to industry analysts, the key is to combine Wi-Fi and cellular phones. Ericsson recently announced a dual-mode chipset that combines CDMA2000 with 802.11b, a melding of technologies that lets users bypass the standard cell phone network whenever they're in range of an open Wi-Fi hub. And, Motorola recently announced a Wi-Fi-based iDEN phone for the Nextel network. These aren't just niche offerings. There are many lesser known manufactures with Wi-Fi phones in the works:

* Arca Technologies

* Agere Systems

* Arelnet

* AudioCodes

* Artdio

* Avaya

* AwalTech

* Azatel

* Bizvoice

* Broadcom

* Citel

* Boscom

* Edgewater

* Entel

* Encore Networks

* G3 Nova VoIP

* Flosys

* Freshtel

* Inalp Networks

* IFreedom

* IP Float

* Juniper Networks

* Mera Networks

* MetaSwitch

* MultiTech


* Nexdial

* Nuera

* Packetstorm

* Prominence Networks

* QtelNet

* Qualitylogic

* Quinturn


* Snom

* Sysmaster

* TalkSwitch

* Telcosat Inc.

* Telco Systems

* Syspol

* Virbiage

* VegaStream

* VocalData

* World on IP

* ZipCorn

Wi-Fi VoIP phones

By employing Voice over IP (VoIP) technology, a Wi-Fi phone converts analog voice into compressed digital packets sent via the Internet. Broad support of VoIP solutions from major telephony vendors allows integration into existing networks via a gateway for internal and external communication. Thus, with the addition of VoIP, most Wi-Fi handsets have the following advanced features:

* Dialing: peer-to-peer, extension, name, speed

* Call hold, park/unpark, transfer, conference, forwarding, waiting, mute, do not disturb

* Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) support

* H.323 authentication

* Vibrate, visual, ringer call alert

* Headset support

* Wireless radio frequency firmware/configuration updates

* Signal and battery strength indicators

* Shared and personal user mode support

* Push-to-talk

* Text messaging via Point of Presence 3 (POP3) services

* User configuration options: volume, liquid crystal display (LCD) contrast, and more

Private Branch Exchange (PBX) connectivity

Most Wi-Fi phones are designed to work with your existing phone system via a gateway through a standard analog or digital connection.

But, there are problems ...

Call routing with Wi-Fi phones is a serious obstacle. For example, if you place a call to a Wi-Fi phone user, what IP address does it go to? Then there's Network Address Translation (NAT), firewalls, and masquerading to consider. When you roam from the cell network to the IP network, how is the connection managed? What about hopping from one Wi-Fi network to another?

These are some big problems, but they're solvable. Even though voice is the goal, you first have to approach the problem from a data perspective. Imagine a similar infrastructure for Wi-Fi/mobile phone hybrid networks. When your mobile phone detects an 802.11b network, it hops on, and just works. The back-end should take care of roaming, call routing, and all the other miscellaneous details you take for granted in the cellular world.

All in one

So how does all this get you back to a single phone number for everyone? Remember the coverage problems cell phones have: They often don't work inside buildings, homes, garages, etc. But, imagine you had a Wi-Fi network at home and in the office, and a Wi-Fi-enabled mobile phone.

Suddenly, you'd have solid coverage at home and work (whenever you are within range of a 802.11 hub), because that phone would suddenly go Voice Over IP, instead of GSM, CDMA, etc. And, remember, the 2.4GHz spectrum used by 802.11b and by 802.11g is the same as used by modern home wireless phones.

You wouldn't need a separate phone line at home. As long as the network is up, your phone is too. Or, if you like having a work and home phone number, imagine both routing to the same handset! Off work? Just don't answer that line.

Of course there are roadblocks. The technology's still expensive right now (but getting cheaper by the month). And, a Wi-Fi phone today would still suck battery life at a quick pace. The phones would be pretty massive too--much bigger than today's svelte models.

So, what will the future bring? Let's take a quick look.

Wi-Fi cell phone future

As previously mentioned, because Wi-Fi networks can also ferry voice calls, these networks could be used in the future to improve cell phone reception in buildings, where cellular coverage is traditionally poor. With the preceding in mind, the following points illustrate the future potential of Wi-Fi technology in cell phones.

First, downloading data or applications of any size to a mobile phone or personal digital assistant (PDA) is a real task. That's where Wi-Fi comes in. It could be used to do the heavy lifting. For instance, a cell phone able to access a Wi-Fi network could use Wi-Fi to download a huge document to a personal computer, which has more computing power than a cell phone.

In addition, by using existing cell phone networks with Wi-Fi for the last few hundred feet, it can help create a high-speed and ubiquitous network. Furthermore, Wi-Fi could also be used as a way for carriers to meet the hype of 3G networks.

Nokia, according to industry analysts, which makes about 43 percent of the world's phones, intends to add Wi-Fi into some future wireless devices. It has already begun selling a wireless modem for laptops and PDAs that can access both a cellular phone and Wi-Fi network. Both Nokia and Motorola have announced Wi-Fi/cellular hybrid phones. (See the sidebar on this page.)

Finally, driven by mobile professionals' appetite for cheap and fast remote access to the Internet, the growth of the Wi-Fi market according to industry analysts, is set to rise both in the United States and Western Europe. Revenue will grow from $44.5 million in 2003 to $6.6 billion by 2008.

So, does all of this sound like some analyst's fantasy? Not really! The world of Wi-Fi phones is coming!

Nokia 9500 Communicator

This is an all-in-one Symbian device that's as close to a mini-laptop as it is to a smartphone. You get a full Qwerty keyboard, 80MB of storage space, a memory card slot for more storage if you ned it, a camera with 640x480 resolution, and two color screens (one on the inside and one on the outside when you close the phone). The 9500 also offers business applications such as a Microsoft Office-compatible word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation editor. Nokia is working with software vendors like IBM and Oracle to allow 9500 access to their business applications. You get a tri-band GSM/GRPS connection that delivers up to 53.6kbps, an EDGE connection that delivers up to 236.8kbps, 802.11b, and Bluetooth. Due for release Q4 2004.

Motorola MPx

This dual-hinge Pocket PC device opens both lengthways as a clamshell phone and in landscape mode as a data device with a wide screen and full Qwerty keyboard. You get up to 1GB of expandable memory, an integrated 1.3 mega-pixel camera with flash, a tri-band GSM/GRPS connection that delivers up to 53.6kbps, 802.11b, and Bluetooth. The MPx supports many business applications including Microsoft Outlook e-mail and PIM, Microsoft Word, Excel, and more. Due for release in the second half of 2004.

Longboard OnePhone

LongBoard OnePhone is an application that lets carriers give their customers ubiquitous voice services, using a single handset and phone number, across both the enterprise and the public cellular network. While the subscriber is inside the enterprise, OnePhone uses Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to deliver voice and data telephony services over the wireless local area network (WLAN). When the subscriber leaves the building, the handset connects to the cellular network. By integrating the mobile phone with the enterprise voice system, subscribers have access to the same IP Centrex-based enterprise telephony features whether they're sitting at a desk in a building, or outdoors on their mobile phone.

The OnePhone application acts as a bridge between the WLAN and cellular networks. OnePhone uses standards-based SIP signaling across both networks, to and from a OnePhone handset. When in the enterprise, the OnePhone handset registers its location with the OnePhone sever using SIP messages. All calls are then routed through the IP network over the enterprise's WLAN to the OnePhone handset.

LongBoard offers a sort of "phased" approach to roaming. Instead of a black-and-white separation between the Wi-Fi and cell network, the handset tracks the signal strength; as the user approaches the edge of the Wi-Fi network and the signal weakens, the system dials a separate cellular call. During the transition, the user is actually using both the Wi-Fi and cell connections until the Wi-F-i signal drops out.

When the OnePhone subscriber roams onto the cellular network the OnePhone handset registers its new location with the One-Phone server over the packet data network. This is also done using SIP messages. The OnePhone server then proxies all calls to the Mobile Switching Center (MSC) through a Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) gateway. Mobile phone service providers don't have to make any changes to their networks to deliver OnePhone services.

John R. Vacca is an information technology consultant and internationally known author based in Pomeroy, Ohio. Since 1982, John has written 42 books and more than 480 articles in the areas of advanced storage, computer security, and aerospace. John was also a configuration management specialist, computer specialist, and the computer security official (CSO) for NASA's space station program (Freedom) and the International Space Station Program, from 1988 until his early retirement from NASA in 1995. In addition, John is also a freelance online editorial reviewer for Barnes and Noble. John was also one of the security consultants for the MGM movie AntiTrust, released in January 2001.
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Title Annotation:Mobile Phones
Author:Vacca, John R.
Publication:Mobile Business Advisor
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2004
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