VoIP in the wireless world


The appetite for wireless applications continues to skyrocket, affecting everything from content delivery to business communications. Wireless service providers are adding video and social networking interfaces. Businesses are demanding unified communications that link email, instant messaging, land line and cell phone services. CTIA's Wireless I.T. & Entertainment show coming up in San Francisco Oct. 23-25 will cover the wireless application trends in the market today, while another looms on the horizon: wireless VoIP.

Handset makers increasingly are turning out WiFi-enabled phones, which could radically alter the wireless provision business model as we know it. Nokia appears to be on the forefront of WiFi-enabled handsets, with several models that hand off calls between cell and WiFi networks. That certainly may not be a service provider's dream, but how long after just one subsidizes a WiFi handset that others will follow? And it's not just about saving minutes, or Skyping on a cell. The handset becomes a PDA in hot spots. Somewhere there's a price point for people who don't necessarily want a Blackberry and the correlative service contract, but would like to occasionally check email on their cell phone.

WiFi-enabled handsets are still relatively new to the market, more so in the United States than Europe, but the introductions have picked up in recent weeks with two new Blackberrys and more new Nokia devices. It only makes sense for service providers to work WiFi into their plans, given the rise of enabled handsets and the army of coders making VoIP clients.

The same thing goes for business applications. Common wisdom holds that small- and medium-sized business are the most aggressive adopters of VoIP, yet almost every week, another huge enterprise VoIP project is revealed: Pizza Hut, the Department of Defense, the University of Buffalo, the U.S. Social Security Administration... the list continues to grow. Saving money is certainly a factor driving VoIP adoption, but so is a building migration toward unified communications. As the nation's workforce becomes more mobile, businesses are seeking ways to keep staff virtually connected in a way that allows emails, cell calls, instant messages and landline calls to be seamlessly accessible across all platforms. The first step toward unified communication is establishing a Internet Protocol foundation, most often by way of a VoIP platform.

The wireless/VoIP mashup is just now gaining momentum with a guarantee to change the carrier model. It's up to carriers in front of the wave to determine how that happens. --Deborah

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