Motorola offers smart phones for business WLANs

Motorola Inc. recently announced two smart phones that operate over wireless LANs and are focused on retail, health care and other business customers.

The phones, the EWP1000 and the EWP2000 will ship early next year. The phones must be paired with two servers and will start at prices of US$700 to $800 per user to cover handset and server costs, said Imran Akbar, general manager of converged communication in the enterprise mobility unit of Motorola, in an interview.

Akbar described the system of handsets and servers as a means for businesses to improve customer service and productivity with wireless voice and data communications.

The system is the first product offering in Motorola’s new Total Enterprise and Access Mobility (TEAM) concept, also announced today, for integrating voice and data with new products.

Both new phones run the Windows Mobile 6.1 operating system, giving IT shops access to a wide variety of applications already available to businesses, Akbar said. In addition, the phones can be used to access critical applications on business servers. Akbar said that since the phones use Windows Mobile and rely on the Session Initiation Protocol, they are automatically more open than voice-over-WLAN phones running proprietary software from companies such as Cisco Systems Inc. ; Polycom Inc., which supplies SpectraLink phones; and Vocera Communications, which provides devices used in many hospitals.

Motorola describes the EWP1000 as a durable phone that will handle drops and bumps, while the new EWP2000 is called a semi-rugged device that is sealed against moisture and dust and can handle more severe drops.

Both have push-to-talk functionality and can be used to extend the features of a desk phone, such as call forwarding and voice mail that are connected to a corporate PBX switch. Users can access corporate e-mail, calendars and contact lists as well as send text messages and access the Internet.

Both phones support seven hours of talk time and 170 hours of standby, but an expanded battery can extend the use to nine hours of talk and 200 hours of standby on a single charge. The EWP1000 is 4.72 by 2.05 by 0.68 in. and weighs 5.11 oz., while the EWP2000 is 4.74 by 2.13 by 0.74 in. and weighs 5.36 oz. The display is 2 in.

The two required servers are the Wireless Services Manager and the Network Services Manager. WSM supports push-to-talk, text messaging and interoperability with a PBX, while the NSM provides centralized provisioning and management of the devices. Up to 4,500 users are supported. A standard Radio Link server is also required.

The road map for 2009 enhancements includes extending the voice-over-WLAN capabilities to Motorola’s other handsets, including the MC55, the MC75 and other voice devices from Motorola, Akbar said. Also next year, Motorola plans to enable the voice-over-WLAN devices to reach cellular services in the wide area, making them dual-mode.

The servers today will work with PBXs from Cisco Systems, Avaya and Nortel Networks, with others to be added in the future, Akbar said. The phones also comply with WLAN access points from Motorola and Cisco.

Akbar said the phones can provide significant cost savings over long-distance toll calls by relying on WLAN connections at branch offices located far apart and connecting users with VoIP on the Internet.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J.Gold Associates in Northboro, Mass., said that because Motorola requires the new smart phones to connect with Motorola’s servers, the entire system is “somewhat limited.”

But overall, Gold said, Motorola’s general idea is to extend voice connectivity to rugged settings, where shift workers share phones. “It’s a good idea for the store manager to be able to call the warehouse and say, ‘Where’s my pallet?’ ” he noted. Using an IP voice system can reduce costs, but connecting the new Motorola system to the existing PBX could be complex, he added. “It’s not just plug-and-play,” he said.

And as with other voice-over-WLAN devices, the upfront cost of the systems and the handsets “hasn’t come down enough yet,” Gold said.

But Darryl Morin, CEO of Advanced Wireless Inc., a reseller of wireless handsets in Milwaukee, said he expects that the new Motorola phones will be less expensive than voice-over-WLAN phones on the market that only provide voice, or voice with limited push-to-talk.

As a result, he expects sales of the devices to be healthy, and he has already seen interest from IT managers in manufacturing, distribution, retail and health care.

Doctors and nurses in hospitals could theoretically use the Motorola handsets to replace three different devices they now carry, including a voice-over-WLAN device, a pager and a cell phone, he noted.

With dual-mode technology added to the devices by next spring, the new Motorola devices “will change the playing field” of devices, Morin said. The reason is that the Motorola handsets “are just about as open as you can get,” he said. Morin said his company, which has about $10 million in annual revenue, will continue to sell SpectraLink devices as well as the new Motorola gear.

Morin also predicted that the downturn in the economy will hurt device sales but said that the Motorola handsets are “still an area of potential growth, since they will be easy to cost-justify” within businesses.

He also said the new devices are part of the enterprise mobility business at Motorola, which is one of the company’s most profitable units. Devices sold by that division are separate from the Motorola handset division, which is being restructured and downsized next year as executives continue plans to spin off that division sometime after 2009.

Earlier, Motorola said it was planning to lay off 3,000 workers as part of the restructuring, with 2,000 coming from the handset division.

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