Editor's Corner

I'm reporting live today from wVoIP 2005 in San Jose, California. Our attendees are incredibly excited about wireless IP telephony and their enthusiasm has carried over to our keynote addresses and panel sessions. People here are talking wireless VoIP, and they see the opportunities this technology will create.

Here is a run down of yesterday's sessions at wVoIP 2005. The highlight of the morning was our first panel, "The Race for Wireless VoIP Access: Which Technologies Will Win?," during which the speakers engaged the big issue facing wireless VoIP: Which wireless access technology will win? The panelists not only debated the merits of WiFi and WiMax but also the validity of 3G itself. The consensus of the session was that WiMax is still unproven and that WiFi, at least for the time being, is the best positioned technology to take VoIP into the wireless industry.

During the afternoon, speakers debated the merits of dual-mode devices (i.e., handsets that can access both cellular and WiFi networks). While single mode WiFi phones are catching on in the enterprise, dual-mode devices will be necessary if wireless VoIP is going to catch on with consumers. The biggest hurdle facing dual-mode devices, however, is the wireless carriers. As everyone knows, carriers control the cell phone distribution channel, and they do not want to sell mobile phones that can access networks other than their own, especially if that access means users will take their voice minutes off carrier networks and over to wireless VoIP connections.

One of the trends that might help dual-mode devices is the Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO). Several speakers suggested that big-name MVNOs like Virgin Mobile and ESPN may be able to pressure wireless carriers to allow dual-mode phones on carrier networks. They claim that many MVNOs are eager to use WiFi, both to save on carrier minutes and to give their subscribers a better data experience.

Another theme that emerged is that wVoIP and 3G are both competing and complimentary technologies. They will compete in that wVoIP will take cellular voice minutes away from wireless carriers. They will be complimentary if carriers can see the opportunities. Carriers that are willing to embrace wVoIP can position themselves to make money through partnerships while offloading network traffic to WiFi systems. Some technologies, like UMA, promise to let carriers use dual-mode devices while not sacrificing network control or losing cellular voice minutes.

In our sessions today we are going to dig deeper into the enterprise side of wireless VoIP. While the consumer and carrier side of wVoIP is just emerging, enterprises have been adopting wireless VoIP for some time now. The enterprise market is the test market for wVoIP and it is in this market that service providers and vendors will learn the best practices needed to take wVoIP mainstream. Stay tuned for tomorrow's issue of FierceWireless for my wrap-up of the show. - Stephen