Contrary to popular belief, cell phones are not the ideal
mobile telephony tools. Sure they come in handy when we travel, but in the
office they just plain stink. There are many reasons, among which is the
high cost of cell airtime coupled with the limited control a cell phone
gives the management of any organization.
LACK OF CONTROL
Not only do most telecom managers have to contend with allowing users
to choose cell phone carriers that have the best coverage according to
their usage/travel patterns, there are many problems with allowing your
workers to give out their cell phone numbers. If an employee uses their
personal phone for business, giving out that number to customers, and then
leaves on bad terms, how do you recover from the fact that your best
customers could be calling your newly disgruntled employee?
Many companies have an auto-attendant with a well thought out message
or a message-on-hold recording or both. These technologies help deliver a
consistent message to callers into our organizations. It is not easy to
get cell phones to work with our in-house systems. Even when you do, users
can run up big bills using their cell-phone mostly in the office.
WiFi TELEPHONY ANSWERS THE CALL
The solution to these problems is simply piggybacking voice over todays
WiFi networks. It should be noted that WiFi telephony allows users to
become more productive -- answering calls they want to answer and missing
virtually no calls (unless they choose to). Best of all, once telephony is
packetized, it is ready to be terminated by an ITSP who will drastically
reduce your costs. In some situations, you might even eliminate the ITSP
I recently had a chance to interview Ben Guderian, Director of
Marketing at SpectraLink regarding that companys take on the future of
WiFi telephony. I hope his responses get the juices flowing as you begin
to explore the exciting world of WiFi telephony for your own organization!
RT: At the last Internet Telephony
Conference and EXPO in California, WiFi telephony was all the rage. Do
you see this technology solving real business applications or is WiFi
telephony useful in select niches?
BG: The business application for WiFi telephony is already well
understood. Everyone is familiar with wireless voice devices from using
cordless phones at home and cellular phones outside the home. But most
people give up that mobility when they go to work because there hasnt
been a cost-effective wireless voice solution for the enterprise. Thats
where WiFi telephony makes sense, and technologies like wireless LAN and
voice over IP are bringing the cost of implementation down. But there are
still markets that can easily justify the investment today because of the
impact on mobility, responsiveness, productivity, or customer service.
Thats why we see a lot of activity in healthcare, retail,
manufacturing, and education markets.
RT: What unique challenges does QoS in a wireless environment present for
BG: The biggest challenge we had in delivering a WiFi telephony solution
was to come up with a QoS approach that the access point manufacturers
would be willing to implement while the 802.11e standard was still being
crafted. We developed SpectraLink Voice Priority, or SVP, as a way to
bring WiFi voice applications to market quickly and help establish voice
as a viable solution for wireless LANs. Today all of the major providers
of WiFi access points to the enterprise market support SVP, which shows
their commitment to WiFi telephony as well.
RT: What are common problems inherent to WiFi telephony running over
equipment that doesnt necessarily support VoIP with QoS or other packet
BG: Wireless LAN access points work like Ethernet hubs -- they have to
share their limited bandwidth between multiple wireless client devices.
Without some kind of QoS mechanism, voice packets can get queued up behind
long data packets and be delayed long enough to impact voice quality. So
while you might be able to get by without QoS in a lab environment or on a
lightly used network, users wont put up with dropouts and lost
syllables in real-world applications.
RT: How many devices can you support with your technology and how much
does it cost?
BG: Theres really no physical limit, but there are practical
limitations based on the network topology. For example, a single access
point can support about a dozen simultaneous calls if all the users are
close enough to maintain an 11 Mb/s data rate. The percentage of bandwidth
required increases as the data rate drops, so youll only get about six
calls if everyone is running at 2 Mb/s. So in many cases the limiting
factor is the number of access points deployed throughout the facility.
Our NetLink Wireless Telephones have a list price of $679.
RT: What do we lose by using WiFi telephony? There must be some
BG: Not really. The only drawback is that youre putting more client
devices onto the WiFi network, which may require additional access points
to support the additional traffic load. In some cases you may lose some
telephone functionality, but were investing heavily in developing the
VoIP protocols that deliver the same features and functions that are
available in a wired desk set.
RT: What are the economics of providing a service based on your technology
when faced with competition from 1x networks? How will service providers
using your equipment compete with the likes of Verizon, Sprint, and
T-Mobile? Please detail the value proposition.
BG: The wireless carriers are doing a good job of serving our
communication needs outside the home or office. But they dont have a
good solution for inside the enterprise. WiFi networks are much more cost
effective for providing good coverage throughout a facility, and there are
no airtime or usage charges. We also provide deep integration with the
corporate telephone switch, so the wireless telephone has the same
features and dialing plan.
RT: Do you envision cell phones eventually running exclusively on WiFi
telephony networks? On a combination of WiFi and cellular (PCS, CDMA, GSM,
and the like)?
BG: We have tens of thousands of handsets already running exclusively on
WiFi networks in lots of different enterprise environments. But cellular
technologies have a big advantage in terms of range that make them
difficult to compete with for rural coverage and use in vehicles. So its
likely that well see devices that support cellular for use on the road
and WiFi for use in the office.
RT: I understand youve announced some healthcare deployments. Please
give us some details.
BG: Healthcare has always been a primary market for mobile solutions. In
the past year weve had some pretty large deployments of NetLink
Wireless Telephones in hospitals. One example is USCs University
Hospital in Los Angeles. They have nearly 300 handsets being used by
nurses, doctors, and administrative staff. They are using access points
that can be upgraded to support both 802.11b and 802.11a technologies, so
they can be prepared for future wireless applications that are more
bandwidth intensive, such as imaging. And they chose to install a Cisco
CallManager for an end-to-end voice over IP solution instead of using VoIP
gateways with their existing PBX. The end users dont really care about
the underlying technologies -- theyre just glad to have a high-quality
wireless telephony solution.
RT: How can using WiFi telephony make companies more productive and/or
BG: Productivity gains come from doing business in real time,
without the delays caused by voice mail or trying to hunt down a key
decision maker. Were finding that a lot of companies today are trying
to do more with less, so they are making investments in technologies that
improve communication and responsiveness. In industries where uptime is
directly correlated to profitability, the ability to reach technicians and
plant managers is well worth the investment. And being more responsive to
customers is critical for any enterprise that is trying to build or retain
RT: What advantages do you have over some of your competitors? How will
the competitive landscape evolve?
BG: Our biggest advantage is that we are focused on meeting the needs of
enterprise users. Enterprise wireless is not like consumer wireless. You
have to provide a higher level of voice quality and functionality than
whats expected of cellular or cordless phones. In order to do that, weve
had to make significant investments in developing the various protocols
used by enterprise telephone systems, and developing client devices that
can stand up to use in some pretty hostile environments. In the past this
market has been too small to get the attention of the big wireless
players, but that will probably change as we see growth in the WiFi and
VoIP markets. Our challenge is to stay ahead by knowing our customers
needs and meeting them with high-quality, reliable products.
RT: What are some of the biggest inroads WiFi will make this year? Give us
a timeline of how you see enterprises picking up this technology.
BG: Getting the standards for QoS and security ratified and implemented
will be the most significant events for the WiFi telephony market. A lot
of enterprises are waiting for the wireless security issues to be resolved
before rolling out any kind of WiFi applications, and even though SVP is a
viable QoS solution today, having a standard will help stimulate
deployment of wireless telephones. So were hopeful that the standards
will be done this year and well see enterprise adoption take off.
RT: Are there any unique security issues with voice over WiFi networks?
BG: Some of the wireless security solutions available today dont
take into account the requirements of voice traffic. For example, if you
require re-authentication every time you roam to a different access point,
a wireless telephone will have dead air for as long as that authentication
takes -- which could be several seconds. Voice users are much more mobile
and change access points frequently, so clearly this would be unacceptable
to most users. Fortunately there are more sophisticated solutions such as
access control devices and VLANs that allow different levels of security
to be used for different types of applications.
WiFi telephony continues to evolve and excite telecom and MIS managers
everywhere. If you have a study worth sharing about WiFi telephony, please
drop me a line at email@example.com
so we may share it with the rest of the Internet Telephony magazine
community of readers.
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