Editor's Corner

wVoIP 2005: The Show in Review

I can't believe it. After six months of hard work and preparation, wVoIP 2005 is over. Today I am back in the office in Washington, DC, but my mind is still racing with details from the last two days.

Here is a run down of yesterday's sessions at wVoIP 2005. The second day opened with a keynote from Jack Dziak from MCI. The address, "Strategies for IP and Mobile Convergence," covered the need for business models for wireless VoIP service. Dziak defined wireless VoIP as mobile VoIP, stressing the importance of both mobility and seamless access. He also presented figures and estimates for how a service provider might launch a wireless VoIP service and make money while doing it. Although his figures were not necessarily new, they did highlight the fact that new wireless technologies like metro-scale WiFi and WiMax are going to let service providers launch mobile voice services at costs much lower than those of established cellular technologies. Dziak also demonstrated the cost savings wVoIP can bring to the average user, showing just how enticing these services are going to be for many consumers.

After the keynote, the focus turned to security. Securing wireless VoIP access is tough and requires network initiatives on both the WLAN and the VoIP fronts, as well as adding security to the client device. There are few established best practices for wVoIP security, and the speakers warned that early rollouts will likely face risks.

The next two sessions covered wVoIP in the enterprise. The enterprise market is the leading adopter of wireless VoIP. Many enterprises want to use their legacy WLANs to add campus mobility to their VoIP systems. Key vertical markets, such as hospitality, healthcare, and retail, are also deploying voice over WiFi systems.

Two themes emerged during wVoIP 2005. The first was that WiFi is the technology of choice for wireless VoIP... today. Many of the speakers were skeptical about mobile WiMax, claiming that the technology will be useful for backhaul but may not live up to its potential for wider area deployments. Wireless VoIP over cellular is interesting but not likely in the short term, leaving WiFi as the only viable access technology for wVoIP deployments for now.

The second theme was the need for dual-mode devices. While the enterprise and vertical industries may be adopting single-mode WiFi wVoIP solutions now, dual-mode handsets (i.e., phones that can access both cellular and WiFi networks) will be necessary if wVoIP is to gain any traction with consumers or professionals.

While we covered a lot of territory at wVoIP, we did not address all the hot button issues that surround this technology. One issue in particular, SIP, comes to mind. While most of our speakers touted SIP in one form or another, the technology has issues. First, SIP is a framework, not a complete standard. No two SIP installations look the same. If wVoIP is to become a true carrier-class service, SIP will need to be better standardized, or the industry will need to develop another standard to work with SIP.

Quality of Service is a big issue for wVoIP, and no one has the answers for this issue. Some insiders are skeptical about QoS standards 802.11e and 802.11r not because they fear these standards will fail but because these standards will likely not address all the issues wVoIP deployments will present.

Finally, wireless carriers have the advantage in mobility and will maintain that advantage for some time. Wireless VoIP, however, will impact this industry. If the wireless carriers can figure out a way to work with wireless VoIP, they can use this technology to create new opportunities for everyone. If they try to fight it, they might succeed in the short-term, in much the same way wireline carriers succeeded in delaying VoIP in the late 1990s. As we see today, however, that strategy ultimately did not work. No one can successfully fight a macro trend.

Heads up! Because of the success of this event, we plan to host wVoIP 2006 in the fall of 2006. Stay tuned for details in the weeks ahead. - Stephen